|Doubles Action Get
underway in Manchester (Ryding and Razik in foreground) (photo ©
2002 Fritz Borchert)
With the conclusion of the singles
event the doubles have finally started.
The atmosphere of the Commonwealth
Games is incredible, but when you play single squash for a living itÂs
very hard to spend over a week sitting around cheering and supporting
players that youÂd prefer to be on court vying for medals against.
For the first time in my life I have
some sympathy and understandings for how the US 100 metre sprint athletes
must feel. The Commonwealth Games for most sports arenÂt as competitive
as the Olympics. Obviously there are still world records being broken
and some athletes are going to win regardless of who they are competing
against (Ian Thorpe being the most obvious example). But other sports
like Gymnastics donÂt have the same standard without countries like Russian,
US, Germany and China in the competition.
This brings me to the US Olympic 100metre
sprinters. It doesnÂt matter how fast you are there are quotas on the
number of athletes per country. So you may be the twelfth fastest sprinter
in the world, but if five other US sprinters are faster than that, you
just wonÂt make the Olympic team. If you competed for any other country
youÂd be the national champion and perhaps even make the sprint final,
but you canÂt make your home team if the country is particularly strong.
Squash in the Commonwealth Games
is one of the few sports that are absolutely world class. There are only
two players missing from the top fifteen and one of them is John White
who is a Commonwealth athlete anyway (Aussie with Scottish tendencies).
Unfortunately this elite competition means that I am in a similar situation
to a US sprinter. The menÂs singles was a 64 draw. Ten players had first
round byes so there were 54 athletes competing. Of those 54 athletes I
have a higher world ranking than 39 of them. If I was able to compete
I would have been the 16th seed. But unfortunately for me four of the
other Aussies in the team are all ranked better than 16. With strict quotas
of a maximum of four athletes per country I was forced to sit out.
As you can imagine this was very frustrating.
But this has meant I have had to put my efforts and concentration into
the mixed doubles with my partner Robin Cooper. Robin has been off the
tour for awhile but still possessed spectacular racquet skills, which
are most important in doubles.
Doubles squash is closer to a game
of racquetball than to normal singles squash. ItÂs very fast with little
chance to wear a player out physically. Instead of the calculating rallies
that you can have in singles that can have both players tearing into all
corners, doubles is more about fast racquet skills and forcing a mistake
from the opponent. Because the men hit the ball harder and faster than
the women this usually means that both teams concentrate most of their
shots towards the opposite female player.
On average during a mixed game I would
estimate that only 15% of the balls are hit by the men. It becomes a frantic
hitting match between the two girls. The male players walk off the court
virtually as fresh as a daisy, while the women are tired and worn out.
When the male player eventually does hit the ball there is a greater pressure
on trying to put the ball away.
Most of the girls donÂt cover the
court as quickly as the men (notice IÂve said most Â some are unbelievably
fast). So on the rare occasion that you get a shot that isnÂt at smash
at your body, you try to create a winner out of it Â usually towards the
girlÂs side. ItÂs easy to go for too much and hit a tin. So your confidence
drops and youÂre hesitant to attempt a winner the next time. This means
that frequently the women are playing long rallies against each other
up and down the wall with volley drops being played whenever possible,
and the men mostly smashing cross courts at the women. ItÂs a completely
ItÂs very exciting to finally be playing
in the Commonwealth games for my country and having a chance to get a
medal. I was leaving the squash centre with Paul Price today when we walked
past the medal dais. I had to step onto the gold medal podium and feel
what it would be like to be looking down from it. The view is great from
there and I just need to work on having a medal around my neck and the
Aussie anthem blaring out loud.