23, 2003: by Dan Kneipp
It’s interesting how representing your country affects
different players. For some it acts as a legal steroid, enhancing the
player’s performance with strength, fitness and determination that
otherwise isn’t usually there. For other players the extra adrenaline
coursing through the veins brings with it nervous tension that seems to
bring about a sporting version of tetanus – tense muscles that become
fatigued easily, and lethargy and disorientation that aren’t normally
games at the World Team Championships you get to see some great examples
of how a belly-full of national pride affects different players.
Stepan is a promising young player from the Czech Republic. I
was in Prague recently coaching the top national players and got to work
with him. He moves well, can read the game okay, has decent racquet skills
and doesn’t mind running. But when they slap a Czech flag on the
breast of his shirt he transmogrifies into a D grade junior. Bad movement,
rushed shots, loose drive that don’t go to length, and his specialty
– loopy drop shots that seem to float in slow motion and scream
out to the opponent ‘Smash me for a winner! Smash me for a winner!’
Martin came into
these Championships with the undesirable record of 9 national matches
and 9 national losses. The other Czech players love talking about how
at the European Championships he lost to a 46 year old man who out ran
him. It will help this story if you understand that Martin is a very loud
and confident person. Yesterday he tried to break that losing streak against
Slovenia. To try to give him extra focus and incentive his Czech teammates
told him that the #2 on their team who was yet to play had pulled a muscle
in his leg and that Martin had to win for the team to win.
He finally had a victory, but still managed to play below his capabilities
and nearly clutch defeat from the jaws of victory. At 8 love, match ball
in the fourth his glass arm appeared and he let his opponent claw back
to 7-8. (A side note on this – glass arm is a term that has been
used for a long time by players to describe someone who cracks under pressure.
Knowing this, it’s interesting that the top Swiss player is named
Lars Harms.) Martin was finally able to break his losing streak, but until
he learns how to control the nervousness National representation brings
him, he’ll never play his best squash for his country.
A team (I haven’t
gotten the permission of the player or team involved, and don’t
expect it’s a subject he wants to talk about in a hurry, so I’ll
leave the team anonymous) already has done much worse than expected. A
friend was talking to the team’s #1 after the loss. He was saying
how he’d have to call the squash federation back home and relay
the disappointing news to them and that the loss could mean huge cuts
to the national squash federation, probably lost jobs, and long term ramifications
for squash in that country. Try playing a game of squash with that pressure
resting on your shoulders as you lunge for a volley drop.
dramatic upset of Malaysia by Hong Kong was a great example of two players
affected by national jitters. Hong Kong’s Wong Wai Hang
played wonderful squash, ridiculously higher than his ranking of 222 suggests
– more like 32. His opponent Iskandar was in the situation where
he had to win for his team to progress to the quarter finals, Hong Kong’s
man played better because of the situation (and being the underdog and
having nothing to lose), Malaysia played worse than normal.
and Tommy Berden both showed yesterday that you can be
playing a crucial match for your country and still be gentlemanly and
sporting. Both players called their doubles bounces, scoops or dodgy pickups.
Dutchman Berden was on the end of some bad calls and on two occasions
he was having a fruitless argument with the ref trying to plead his case.
Both times the situation was resolved by Palmer saying that Berden was
right, and he conceded the point.
culminated in a long rally during which Berden lunged for a drop shot
and it was difficult to see if he got it or not. The rally continued and
was long and tough and an important one for the Dutchman to win, which
he did. Palmer understandably questioned the pickup and the ref called
infuriated and frustrated Berden who was confident of the pickup and unconfident
that a conversation with the ref would change anything, but he tried anyhow.
When he realised this wasn’t going anywhere, he took the ball and
went to serve, but from the box as if he had won the point. He then called
out to the ref “He (Palmer) trusts my word if I say I got the ball”.
The crowd and the ref all looked at Palmer for a reaction. He simply nodded
and stood to receive the ball.
It was a wonderful
display of sportsmanship and I was the only person that gave Palmer a
clap! Perhaps even the crowd was under performing due to national jitters.
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