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versus Tennis – Part I

14, 2002 by Joe Kneipp (Kah-nipe)    

Squash versus tennis is an age old
discussion that has at one time or another gotten the blood churning in
most pro squash players of both yesterday and today. The physical and
mental demands placed upon a squash player outweigh those of a tennis
player. It can be a tender point in the life of an athlete who excels
in an area only to be shadowed in recognition and wealth by another racket
sport that isn’t nearly as difficult, or is it?

The winner of the most prestigious
tennis tournament, Wimbledon, walks away with US$750 000.

Mark Philippoussis the big serving
Aussie collects Ferrari’s as one of his hobbies, and what has he won?
Granted he has had some good results but we are talking about a player
who has never even been in the top five and has so much money he doesn’t
know what to do with it You may be asking yourself why does this bother

Joe Kneipp tries out
the Dutch clay courts (above) as a breather from the normal squash court

I would be lying if I said that it had
nothing to do with the me not living in a big house, driving a fancy car and
having wads of cash to throw around like so many tennis players. The difference
in prize money is upsetting for an athlete in a physically and mentally comparable
sport, and when you hear people saying that tennis is a harder game than squash
on top of that then it is more frustrating.

It is not a subject that I think about
very often at all but since becoming friends with ex-Wimbledon champion Richard
Krajicek’s coach, Rohan Goetzke, I have been able to get the tennis player’s
perspective on the argument. Rohan doesn’t agree with my opinion but reluctantly
concedes that the average squash pro is fitter than the average tennis pro.
He hasn’t been able to dissuade my belief that the amount of training and
pain a squash pro inflicts upon himself from day to day is without any doubt
at a level superior to that of your average tennis pro.

The evidence of such things are indicated
by how few retired tennis champions are struggling to simply walk properly
because their hips have degenerated to such a level they’re portraying
the gait of a man thirty years their senior.

Australia’s Crippled Ex-Champions
I have just come back from Australia where I was attending a training
camp in preparation for The Commonwealth Games. Three coaches have been
appointed for the event and one of them is the legendary Geoff Hunt. Geoff,
along with Victorian Institute of Sport coach Roger Flynn have both had
multiple operations as a result of a career of elite squash, including
hip replacement surgery.

I have been watching these two men
limp around for years and it is not until now that the technology and
expertise has become available so that they can walk with a new set of
titanium hips and the range of movement befitting of something close to
normal. They had been restricted in their movement to such an extent that
getting in and out of a car had become a dilemma.

The third Commonwealth Games coach
spent the week limping around saying how he had managed to avoid surgery
so far but didn’t think he could put it off any longer. Ex-greats of the
game Jansher Khan, Rodney Martin, Chris Robertson and others have also
had to quit the game either towards middle or end of their careers due
to serious injury. Rodney Martin is also a member of the Hip Replacement
Squad. I got a bit further into that than I expected but it is shocking
how many ex-players have been humbled by this game and a reminder of what
this sport has done to people who have trained hard to excel in their

Play and Rest
I am training extremely hard to get myself in good enough shape so that
I can win five 1hr 45 mins matches in succession and I know for a fact
that some of the other guys are doing more intensive programs with more
weight work and drills or more road running, sprints or whatever else.
The training we are doing now has reached this point as a result of different
factors, the most important ones being that we know a variety of activities
or training methods we can do to push ourselves to a level of pain that
can help us reach the necessary condition.

One of the other most important factors
is that we have learnt from people before us, anyone who has ever heard
some of the training schedules of such former players as Geoff Hunt will
know what kind of scary extremes players have gone to in the past.

Two that spring to mind are Chris
Dittmar taking an exercise machine known as a versa climber into the sauna
and training on it to prepare himself for having to take on the mighty
Jansher Khan in hot and humid Malalysia. The other is Geoff Hunt urinating
blood after playing Jahangir Khan in the final of the British Open. I
put this to you , have you ever heard of similar things in the world of

The pioneer of physical training for squash was of course Jonah Barrington.
In fact before Jonah came along squash was purely played in the winter
months and totally left alone in the summer for the fear of getting “stale”.
He was to say years later that he had a lot of training failures while
experimenting but this was because there was no example to work off or
book to follow on squash training.

One of Jonah’s methods was to run
around Sloane square until he was sick, an interesting training method
if ever there was one! He did weights for the strengthening of the body
and was also known to run up to 100 miles per week.. When injured Jonah
would train in the boiler room at the Lansdowne club doing push ups, sit
ups, star jumps ,etc.

There is a comment that I hear from
time to time that I would like to address now, ‘Tennis players are fitter,
look how much longer the matches are’ This is one of my absolute favourites.

For anyone who hasn’t ever noticed
it, the amount of rest time involved in tennis matches is unbelievable.
They get a sit-down break after every two games (which can be as little
as eight points). But the biggest breaks really are in between points,
when you add all of these up it is by far the majority of the match time.
Surprisingly enough, players are allowed to get the ballboys to give them
a towel to wipe themselves down between points, and every point if they

If you have ever watched much of
Greg Rusedski‘s matches then you will know exactly what I am talking about.
It used to be that when I would think of Greg Rusedski I would think of
his huge serve but now it is of him pointing at a ballboy after a rally
to get his towel and wipe his face. A sweaty face is not in fact the reason
he is continually going for his towel but more because it acts as a routine
of sorts to help compose himself between points, but, how is this allowed
or even tolerated? Can you imagine the squash pro’s having someone throw
them a towel after every point or even third or fourth point?

They also let the players go to their
bags in the MIDDLE of a game and get a small tool to straighten their
strings whilst their opponent waits to serve. Even John McEnroe while
commentating at Wimbledon has questioned why these unnecessary breaks
are not being prevented. Of course not everyone is doing these things
during their matches but even the players that play quite quickly have
so much time between points, games and sets that the fitness of the players
are never really tested in the same way as that of a squasher.

Personally I think that the racket skills of the average tennis pro is
better than those of a squash pro and is very physically challenging but
we are comparing the two sports and that is something else. There is so
much more rest and also less energy exerted compared to squash, mostly
due to the nature of squash being more stop-start and explosive as well
as the rallies lasting longer.

In order to compare the fitness levels
of two similar sports we need to look at the time spent in motion and
time spent at rest. With this equation being applied squash has to come
in first.

To be certain of the difference we
recorded a set of tennis (Wimbledon final 2002 Hewitt and Nalbandian)
between two baseliners , this means that the rallies are going to be longer
than normal.

The figures are quite staggering
when you have them in front of you. The set lasted for 38 minutes (the
overall match was one hour forty-nine minutes so this was over a third
of the total match time). The average rally length was 6.5 seconds. The
average rest between points was 31 seconds. The average rest just between
serves (after a fault) was over eight seconds. There were two rallies
that lasted over thirty seconds. The total time that the ball was in play
for the set was 8.5 minutes. 29.5 minutes of the set no balls were being

Now lets have a look at a squash game.
My game against Peter Nicol at the PSA Masters in Qatar. The first game
lasted nearly 29 minutes. Ten minutes short of the Hewitt / Nalbandian
set. The average rally between Peter and me was 28.5 seconds. The average
break between rallies was 15 seconds. The total amount of rest for our
first set was 9.5 minutes. The ball was in motion for 19 minutes. Well
over twice the length of the tennis set
. Our match had 15 rallies
over 30 seconds in length and three over a minute. Only four rallies lasted
less than ten seconds which was the average tennis rally length.

I heard a great statistic some years
back about one of the Wimbledon finals between Sampras and Ivanisevic,
the match lasted something in the vicinity of four and a half hours but
there was a grand total of 17 minutes of actual play! After working out
the statistic of Hewitt’s Wimbledon win I can understand the Ivanisevic/Sampras
statistic is likely to be accurate, remembering they are both serve and
volley player.

The matches on clay can be a whole
different story, some of the matches at Roland Garros are extremely long,
physical and draining and could compare with the amount of playing time
of a squash match.

This is obviously a complex issue
and there’s clear reasons why tennis players earn the big bucks. We’re
going to tackle this issue as well as get the tennis player’s perspective
in a future article.

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