Having watched plenty of elite squash over the years, I’m beginning to get the feeling that some top players actually inhabit a parallel universe. Not in a quantum mechanical sense, of course, but more in the way of their ability to live in a constant state of possibility and surprise. So much so that, in some cases, it’s difficult if not impossible to tell whether a player has intended to make a ‘surprising’ shot, has made a ‘surprising’ shot without intending it, or has intentionally (or unintentionally) deceived their opponent in the course of doing so. If you see what I mean.
Take this shot by Ramy Ashour against Gregory Gaulter in the 2013 Tournament of Champions in New York.
Second-guessing where your opponent is going to hit the ball and positioning yourself to intercept successfully it would seem to be a ‘black art’ at best. When your guess proves to be correct and your execution is as fortunate as in this case, the effect can be joyful as demonstrated by the reaction of all present. This, in a human sense, is what surprise looks like.
Then, of course, there’s the out-and-out fake shot demonstrated in this case by James Willstrop against Ramy Ashour at the 2013 North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.
In this case, Willstrop has intentionally sought to deceive his opponent as to when he will actually hit the ball even though where he intends to direct it seems fairly obvious. Willstrop’s successful execution of his deception again leads to unbounded joy for all present, with one notable exception. Surprise, in this instance, is not universally shared.
But what about those cases where intention is graced with good fortune? Take a look at these nominations for the 2014 shot of the year.
In elite squash, the margins for error in intentionally attempting a successful shot are small. Yet, there is still room for surprise – the exhilarating effect triggered by a disconnection between the combined expectations of all those present and their subsequent shared experience of a beautiful moment.
Whether we’re playing squash or watching squash, deep down, we all want to be surprised.
Thanks to PSA Squash TV via YouTube for the video clips.