I recently analysed England’s Sarah-Jane Perry’s dramatic 2020 Black Ball Open victory over Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy in the form of a series of shots into the tin at game- and match-ball. Apart from the squash, the match was notable for the socially-distanced Cairo crowd’s vociferous support for the home favourite. Perry’s vocal support was less vociferous due partly, I suspect, to an absence of English supporters who were not only confined to their homes under the terms of a pandemic lockdown but banned from leaving Blighty to boot.
In my analysis I contrasted the Cairo crowd’s involvement in the match to that of the non socially-distanced Doha crowd at the 2014 World Open Championship final.
In that 90-minute contest, Cairo’s Ramy Ashour, returning from a six-month injury lay-off, defeated Alexandria’s Mohammed El Shorbagy 14-12 in the fifth. The cacophony generated by the spectators reflected divided Egyptian loyalties, the victory of a much-loved ambassador for the game over an up-and-coming star, and the sheer drama of the match as it unfolded. Let’s hope we’ll all hear something similar again.
As the basis of a game plan for winning a prestigious PSA World Tour final against an in-form 20-year old defending champion playing in her home town, it looks a bit, well, risky.
Game 1: At 2-2, hit the ball into the tin in
successive rallies and lose the game 4-11.
Game 2: At 9-10 down, hit the ball into the
Game 3: At 10-9 up, get your opponent to hit
the ball into the tin.
Game 4: Save two championship balls. At 11-10 up, get your opponent to hit the ball into the tin.
Game 5: Go 5-8 down. Then, at 10-9 up, get your opponent to hit the ball into the tin.
Yet, in the last women’s tournament of 2020, that’s exactly how England’s Sarah-Jane Perry became CIB Back Ball Open champion, overcoming Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy in Cairo.
Coming from two games and two match balls down, Perry eventually closed out the match in 75 minutes to add to the 10 PSA titles already in her locker. Which, of course, goes to show that some game plans can really pay off.
As comebacks go, Perry’s, in its own way, ranks alongside Ramy Ashour’s against Mohammed El Shorbagy in the 2014 World Open Championship final minus, sadly, the latter match’s deafening spectator involvement.
But with hopeful signs that squash across the world will soon be able to re-emerge from its enforced hiatus, let’s look forward to the sounds of the game being played, and appreciated, with energy and passion.
Even when it’s punctuated by the sound of the ball being hit into the tin.
As someone with his finger on the pulse of world squash (no, really), I have to admit that a recent article in The Times came as a bit of a surprise. It drew my attention to the existence of the multi-event sport of racketlon which not only incorporates squash as one of its four racket-based activities but also has a global governing body vying for its inclusion in the 2024 Olympics. Not only that, but a bit of digging around the racketlon press revealed that the 2019 World Team Championships had just been held in Germany.
Well, so much
for fingers and pulses.
players compete individually, or as part of doubles pairs, in each of four racket
sports: table tennis, badminton, squash
and tennis. One ‘set’ is played in each sport, the sequence of sports beginning
with the smallest (table tennis) and ending with the biggest (tennis) racket. Squash slots in at number three in the
matches each of the four sets is scored to 21 points, with a margin of two
points needed to win a set tied at 20 points all. In team competitions, sets
are played to 11 points with setting coming into effect at 10 points all.
of a match is the player or doubles pair accumulating the highest number of
points in total. If the score is tied after all four sports, a single extra
tennis point is played to decide the
match winner, the server being decided by drawing lots.
In doubles matches, the squash set is played by one member of each team until one player reaches 11 points; the set is then completed by the two remaining team members.
Racketlon originated in 1980s Finland and Sweden but it wasn’t until 2001 that its first international tournament was held in Gothenburg. Now, its governing body, the Federation Internationale de Racketlon (FIR), oversees a World Tour which, in 2019, consisted of 20 tournaments held at venues in Europe, the US and Asia. These included an inaugural London Open, held in August at the prestigious Roehampton Club, and, in November, the World Singles and Team Championships in Leipzig. And it was in Leipzig that Great Britain lifted the World and Nations titles for the first time with India winning the Challenge Cup tournament.
Racketlon has obviously come a long way in the thirty years since its first appearance. With its format modelled on other combination Olympic sports such as the triathlon and pentathlon, and with squash again being passed over, perhaps racketlon can help to raise the profile of the soft-ball game.
Eagle and Evans was an episodic Australian TV sketch show first screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. The series was set in a fictional variety show “The Blaze da Silva Experience”, the main characters, Eagle and Evans, being the warm-up guys for da Silva himself, the self-titled “most loved man on television”.
In reality, they hang around in the green room trying to put off anyone they think might do a better comedy routine than them. But what they really want is to score a proper guest spot on the show.
In this squash post-match interview sketch, Craig Eagle and Dailan Evans give an honest, if cliche-ridden, analysis of their on-court performances.
Thanks to Wikipedia, IMDB, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and YouTube.
Salazar’s effort came in a first-round match against Number 2 seed Karim Abdel Gawad in the 2017 Hong Kong Open. The Mexican’s strategy can be summarised as follows:
1. Wrongly try to second-guess the direction of your opponent’s next shot and dive forward, full length, to return the ball.
2. Get to your feet.
3. Fall over your opponent’s leg and launch yourself horizontally towards the right-hand wall to return the ball.
4. Get up again.
5. Repeat step 1.
6. Return opponent’s next shot from a kneeling position.
7. Regain your footing.
8. Watch your opponent put the ball into the tin.
Salazar went on to lose the match 3-1 to Gawad who eventually reached the semi-finals, going out to fellow Egyptian Ali Farag who, one assumes, upset Gawad’s rhythm by remaining on his feet through the entire 55 minute encounter.
It’s amazing what some players will do to win a rally.
Thanks to PSA Squash TV for the clip. You can find their YouTube channel here.
Having written recently of the domination of Egyptian and, more specifically, Alexandrian players in the men’s and women’s games, I was, in retrospect, cruising for a bruising.
True, the appearance of Alexandria’s Mohamed El Shorbagy and Cairo’s Tarek Momen in the March final of The Canary Wharf Classic in London followed the pattern I’d written about, El Shorbagy winning in a five-game thriller. The final of the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich later in the month (see below) also featured an Alexandria / Cairo pairing with El Shorbagy taking on, and losing to, a revitalised Ramy Ashour.
Even the El Gouna International tournament in April went to form, Alexandrians Marwan El Shorbagy and Raneem El Welily taking the men’s and women’s titles defeating Cairo’s Ali Farag and Alexandrian Noor El Sherbini respectively.
No change there.
The pattern repeated in May where El Sherbini and El Welily met again, this time in the final of the Allam British Open in Hull. On this occasion, El Sherbini was to reverse the El Gouna result, beating El Welily in three games.
And so to the men’s final.
If, from an Egyptian point of view, Simon Rosner had proved to be the party-pooper by winning January’s Tournament of Champions in New York, Colombia’s Miguel Ángel Rodríguez was to make a similar impact in Hull (see below). In another five-game epic, the “Colombian Cannonball” maintained his high-energy form over 100 minutes to upset two time winner Mohamed El Shorbagy.
Despite Rodriguez’s heroics, however, Egyptian players still took eleven out of the twelve finalist spots in the four world-ranking tournaments held from March to May.
After all, cannonballs don’t always show up on finals day.
Before finding fame as television’s “Sherlock“, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch had already acquired a sizeable following through his role as Captain Martin Crieff in John Finnemore’s radio comedy series “Cabin Pressure.”
A short film that explores the abstract narrative of an enthusiastic and passionate “squash” player.
Tim Patterson as Tommy Williams
John Hill as Jon Hill
Written and Directed by Derek Goulet and Tyler Chauncey
Director of Photography – Tyler Chauncey
Editor – Derek Goulet
Producer – Jill Bailey, Derek Goulet, and Tyler Chauncey
Gaffer – Ben King
Sound Recordist – Davis Bannister
There’s a lot to like about Goulet and Chauncey’s short film, not least the bewildering number and variety of ‘that’s not really squash‘ references, possibly referring to the ‘Ω’ of the fiilm’s title.
There’s the actual squash reference, of course, namely the main character’s narrative tribute to his hero Jahangir Khan and his astonishing 555 match unbeaten run. But then the film introduces a series of images which, whilst not distracting from the story, kept this viewer at least wondering where the plot was heading. There’s Tommy’s training regime which shows him roller-blading whilst playing air-shots with a racquetball racquet. Crossed badminton racquets adorn the wall of his room above a photograph of Jahangir. When the on-court action begins, Tommy and his opponent, Jon, enter a giant glass-backed court with no wall markings or tin. The court’s floor bears several sets of markings, including (possibly) badminton, whilst an on-court umpire completes the surreal setting.
Finally, having been knocked unconscious during his match, a dream sequence (Tommy’s sitting fully-clothed in a milk-filled bath being sponged down by the umpire and two assistants) is intercut with unsuccessful on-court attempts to resuscitate him.
I have to admit that until recently I’d never heard of the Colombian city of Floridablanca.
True, thirty years ago I probably flew over it en route to a memorable stay in the Colombian capital of Bogota. but, at the time, my attention was focussed on reaching Lima where I was due to join a group destined for Andean adventure, Amazonian exploration and, although I didn’t yet know it, severe food poisoning. Nevertheless, at 928 metres above sea level, Floridablanca had, and presumably still has, something that, at 2640 metres, Bogota noticeably lacked; namely, enough air to breathe whilst playing squash.
In March this year, Floridablanca hosted the inaugural Ciudad de Floridablanca PSA Women’s World Tour tournament, the final rounds of which were played on an open air court located in the city’s Parque el Santisimo. In the final, former World Number 1 Nicole David defeated America’s Olivia Blatchford 11-3 11-4 11-8.
All this might not sound particularly special but the location of the court certainly was, sharing an elevated plaza with the tallest “Christ the Redeemer” statue in South America. At 43 metres, the Floridablanca statue dwarfs its 30 metres tall rival in Rio de Janeiro which, as I recently discovered first-hand, shares its vantage point on top of Corcovado mountain with up to 14,000 visitors a day most of whom spend their time getting in each others’ way and taking photographs of themselves and each other with smart-phones.
The Floridablanca venue joins other iconic squash court locations, including the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, the Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in New York and The Peninsula in Shanghai, in providing an providing an incredible setting for some of the best on-court action.
So the next time you consider visiting Rio for the holiday of a life-time, why not check out ticket availability for the next Ciudad de Floridablanca? You could even fly down to the fascinating city of Bogota for a few days.
But if you do decide to visit Floridablanca, be sure to pack your umbrella. And if you decide to check out Bogota, you might want to consider an oxygen tank.
Thanks to Squash Site for its review of the inaugural final and to My Rio Travel Guide for its information on visitors to Rio’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue. Thanks also to Colombia Reports for its article on Floridablanca’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue.
With the Oscar-nominated “Manchester by the Sea” still playing in the local cinemas, a return visit to the National Squash Centre seemed appropriate. Located in the Ancoats district of Manchester (England) within spitting distance of the Ashton Canal, the Centre was hosting the finals of the 2017 British National Squash Championships.
The last time I’d been to the finals, in 2011, reigning men’s champion Nick Matthew had been denied a hat-trick of consecutive titles by Essex’s Daryl Selby in a combative five-game affair. Since then, however, top-seeded Matthew had reeled off five titles in a row and was now aiming for his ninth overall, this time against first-time finalist Joe Lee.
In the women’s final another top seed and reigning champion, Laura Massaro, was aiming for her fourth title, her opponent being another first-time finalist Sarah-Jane Perry. On my last visit to the finals, Massaro had won her first title against Jenny Duncalf in another five-game epic.
This time, there were to be no fairy-tale endings for Lee or Perry, both going down 3-0 in entertaining matches.
In the final of the men’s over-45 competition, former two-time men’s champion Peter Marshall lost 3-1 to Manchester’s Nick Taylor whom I’d seen take the over-35 title in 2011. In 1994, Marshall, with his distinctive double-fisted style, had reached the final of the World Open in Barcelona where he’d lost to eight-times winner Jansher Khan.
Before the men’s and women’s finals, I watched the winners and runners-up of the rest of the competitions taking place during the week presented with their medals. I distinctly remembered that during my last visit to the championships, the finalists of the first men’s over-75 competition had been presented with their medals; this year, it was the finalists of the first men’s over-80 competition that were added to the role-call.
I made a mental note to be around for the first men’s over-85 competition but not necessarily to take part.