How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 3

Hot on the heels of “How To Win A Squash Rally” and “How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 2” comes this offering from Mexico’s César Salazar. Well, perhaps “hot on the heels” is a little misleading as the two aforementioned posts appeared on this blog in 2016.

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.

Classic.

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.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV for the clip. You can find their YouTube channel here.

James Willstrop: Treading The Boards – Part 2

Some readers of this blog will remember that, in a previous post, I mentioned that former World Number 1 James Willstrop was, amongst other things, a dramatic actor. Since then, it’s been pointed out to me that two of the ‘other things’ may be of interest to the curious, not to say obsessive, squash fan.

Author

First up is Willstrop’s 2012 well-received autobiography “A Shot and a Ghost.” Unlike most ghost-written ‘in my own words’ sports ‘autobiographies’, Willstrop’s book was actually written by Willstrop and, therefore, really is an autobiography and a very personal one at that. It was journalist Rod Gilmour who originally approached Willstrop offering his services as ghost-writer, an action which possibly helped to motivate the latter to go it alone as an author.

Motivational Speaker

Second up, perhaps not surprisingly, is Willstrop’s role as a motivational speaker in the ‘up-and-coming and can’t-get-away-from-it’ field of personal development. As readers of “A Shot and a Ghost” will recognise, becoming an elite sports champion requires the ability to set and realise goals, overcome adversity, develop a winning mindset and adapt to changes in the competitive environment. No wonder sports metaphors play well in the world of business and management ‘role modelling.’

Artist

Third up. OK, this one is a bit of a stretch. We’ve already addressed James Willstrop’s off-court identities as an actor, an author and a motivational speaker. But what about the small matter of artistry on the squash court.

I don’t know about you, but I think that Willstrop’s execution of the “Triple Fake” or “Windmill” shot is, to all intents and purposes, performance art. See what you think and spare a thought for Willstrop’s opponent, Karim Abdel Gawad, in the quarter-final of 2018’s Grasshopper Cup in Zurich.

The rally leading up to Willstrop’s winning shot wasn’t bad either…

Sources

Thanks to the Daily Telegraph for Rod Gilmour’s review of “A Shot and a Ghost” and PSA Squash TV for the clip.

Monday Night (2011) – Short Film

A short film about appalling behaviour.

Cast

Larry Day and Bruce Dinsmore as The Players

Credits

A film by Karl Raudsapp-Hearne

Funded by Bravo! FACT

Presented by Pulsing Calf Pictures

Written, Directed and Produced by Karl R. Hearne

****

“Monday Night” isn’t the first squash-themed short film to serve as a cypher for dubious behaviour in business and, I suspect, it won’t be the last. As a case in point, French director Lionel Bailliu’s 2003 film Squash showed two business rivals involved in on-court combat of the “fight to the death” variety.

In contrast, Karl Raudsapp-Hearne’s 2011 film contrasts on-court etiquette (or lack of it in the case of Larry Day’s self-destructive player) with off-court subterfuge, both opponents happy to plot against a new colleague to further their own financial ends.

“I guess that’s the game,” says Day’s character at the death.

For some players, I suspect that’s just what it is.

 

 

Squash and The Asian Games

During my visit to the Punjab Squash Complex in Lahore, I was reminded that the start of the 2018 Asian Games, including squash, was only a few weeks away. Held in Jakarta, the Games were to include players from 18 countries, the largest number ever to take part in the four competitions to be contested. Unlike the Commonwealth Games held earlier in the year on Australia’s Gold Coast, the Asian Games would not include doubles events in addition to men’s and women’s singles competitions. However, men’s and women’s team competitions would be included for a third time following their introduction in Guangzhou in 2010.

The first appearance of squash at the Asian Games took place in 1998 when Pakistan took gold and silver in the men’s singles, Zarak Jahan Khan beating Amjad Khan. Four years later, in Busan, Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman and Shahid Zaman took silver and bronze respectively, the gold going to Malaysia’s Ong Beng Hee. In Doha, in 2006, Pakistan’s men’s singles medal haul continued with Mansoor this time taking bronze along with, for the first time, an Indian player, the evergreen Saurav Ghosal. In 2010, in Guangzhou, Ghosal was to take bronze again with Pakistan’s Aamir Atlas Khan taking silver.

Dipika Pallikal and Nicol David in the 2018 Women’s Singles Semi-final

In one way, 2010 was to prove a turning point for squash in the sub-continent with the first medals for women players with India, including Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa, taking bronze in the team event. In the first ever men’s team competition, there was also to be success for the men with Pakistan taking gold and India, Saurav Ghosal included, taking bronze.

Four years later, Pallikal, Chinappa and Ghosal were again to appear amongst the medal winners in Incheon. India’s women took silver in the team event with its men’s team winning gold for the first time in any Games squash competition. Pallikal was to take bronze in the women’s singles, the first ever singles medal for a female player from the sub-continent.

Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Cinappa at the 2018 Asian Games

And so to 2018, with singles bronze medals for three Indian players, Saurav Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa. In the team competitions, India’s men failed to repeat their gold medal success of 2014, taking bronze after losing to eventual silver medallists Hong Kong in the semi-finals. Pakistan’s men also had to settle for bronze, losing to eventual gold medallists, Malaysia. In the women’s team competition, India went one better than the men, winning through to the final before succumbing to Hong Kong.

So where does that leave India and Pakistan in terms of the two countries’ all-time Asian Games medals haul? India have now won thirteen medals (one gold, three silver and nine bronze) and Pakistan eight (two gold, three silver and three bronze).

Nicol David after beating Subramaniam Sivasangari

But, after 2018’s Games, the largest hauls belong to Hong Kong with 17 medals and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Malaysia with 26. There are, after all, advantages in having 9-times medallist Nicol David in your squad.

Sources

Thanks to Squash Info, Malaysiakini, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Free Press Journal and Wikipedia.

Lahore Squash

After two weeks travelling along the Karakorum Highway, arriving in Lahore in late June can be quite a shock. With bustling streets, noisy traffic and pre-monsoon temperatures in the mid-40s, life in the city stands in stark contrast with that found along the cool mountain roads winding north towards the Chinese border.

Punjab Squash Complex

Posters stuck on telegraph poles opposite my hotel announced the Pakistan International Squash Circuit-II tournament being held at the city’s Punjab Squash Complex. Unfortunately, I’d missed the finals by one day but decided to visit the venue on Lower Mall Road where all three recently-renovated courts were in use. There, I met Khurram Shehzad whose coaching pedigree extends to Dubai and Malaysia.

Compared to the glory days of Gogi Alauddin, Hiddy Jahan, Qamar Zaman and the Khans, Pakistan’s international squash presence is now relatively low key. Its two highest ranked male players, Asim Khan and Tayyab Aslam (both from Lahore), currently occupy positions 88 and 95 respectively in the PSA world rankings. In the women’s rankings, Sialkot-born Faiza Zafar, currently resident in Lahore, is the country’s highest ranked player at 99. Both Aslam and Zafar featured in the Circuit-II finals, Aslam going down 3-2 to Peshawar’s Farhan Mehboob and Zafar 3-0 to her younger sister Madina.

Pakistan International Squash Circuit II Awards

But it’s the restricted access to visas, said Shehzad, that, together with limited funding, continues to limit the opportunities for home-grown players to develop through international competition.

In a recent exception Mehboob, Aslam, the Zafar sisters and Peshawar’s Farhan Zaman all featured in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, held on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Aslam and Zaman reached the last 16 of the men’s doubles with Aslam also reaching the last 16 of the mixed doubles with Madina Zafar. Zafar also reached the women’s singles plate semi-final, losing to the eventual winner, Barbados’s Meagan Best.

****

The day after my visit was the last I spent in Pakistan. It was also the first day of the monsoon.

Sources

Thanks to The Nation, the Khilari sports website, the Squash Info website and, as always, Wikipedia.

The Cannonball Run

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.

Sources

Thanks to the PSA Squash TV Channel.

 

 

James Willstrop: Treading The Boards

Time for some quick-fire questions for all you squash lovers.

(1) What links Bill Paterson, Richard Dreyfuss and James Willstrop?

No? OK, here’s an easier one.

(2) What links Colin Firth, Tom Hiddlestone and James Willstrop?

Can’t get that one either? Oh, dear. How about:

(3) What links Laurence Olivier, James Norton and James Willstrop?

Well, yes, I suppose that most of you spotted that recently-crowned Commonwealth Men’s Singles Squash Champion James Willstrop is mentioned in all three questions. But, then, that wasn’t the question was it?

So here are the answers:

(1) All have played the role of prominent lawyer Gerardo Escobar in Ariel Dorfman’s play “Death and The Maiden.”

(2) All have played the role of former pilot Freddie Page in Terence Rattigan’s play “The Deep Blue Sea.”

(3) All have played the role of British Army commander Captain Stanhope in R.C. Sherriff’s play “Journey’s End.”

In short, professional squash player James Willstrop is also a dramatic actor.

Death and The Maiden

Those of you wanting to catch James treading the boards will be able to do so next month (June 2018) at the Harrogate Dramatic Society where he appears in a new production of “Death and The Maiden.”

James Willstrop and Clare Evans-Argent in “Death and The Maiden”

Premiered in 1991, the play is a three-hander set in an unnamed South American country in which a new, democratic age is dawning. Housewife Paulina Escobar’s husband, Gerardo (James Willstrop), brings home a charming stranger he has found stranded on the road. Paulina (played by Clare Evans-Argent) becomes convinced that the stranger, Dr.Miranda, was part of the old regime and that he tortured and raped her for weeks while she was blindfolded. She takes Miranda captive to determine the truth despite attempts by both her husband and Miranda to convince her that Miranda is innocent.

Ariel Dorfman’s explosively provocative, award-winning play was written in the wake of the Pinochet regime in Chile and continues to resonate with modern audiences as a stark reminder of the human rights violations we continue to witness in the world today.

The Deep Blue Sea

James Willstrop’s dramatic role in “Death and The Maiden” follows his well-received 2017 performance in ”The Deep Blue Sea” at the Ilkley Playhouse. Described as “an extraordinary exploration of love, desire, delusion and despair,” the play takes place over the course of one day.

James Willstrop and Louise Button in “The Deep Blue Sea”

First performed in 1952, it begins with the discovery of Hester Collyer (Louise Button) in her flat by her neighbours after she has failed in an attempt to commit suicide by gassing herself. In flashback, some time before, Hester left her husband, Sir William Collyer, a respectable High Court judge, for a semi-alcoholic former RAF pilot, Freddie Page (James Willstrop). Hester’s relationship with Page was physical and passionate, but his ardour eventually cooled, leaving her emotionally stranded and desperate.

The part of Freddie was “played with great languid nonchalance by James Willstrop” reported the Ilkley News in 2017.

Journey’s End

James Willstrop in “Journey’s End”

Last, but not least, Willstrop’s role in “The Deep Blue Sea” was preceded, in 2015, by a performance for which he received a best actor award at the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre. His role as Stanhope in the Adel Players production of “Journey’s End” was “particularly demanding as it required him to be on stage for almost all of the play” said one review. First performed in 1928 at the Apollo Theatre in London the role of Stanhope was played by the young Laurence Olivier.

Set in the trenches near Saint-Quentin, Aisne, in 1918 towards the end of the First World War, “Journey’s End” gives a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company in World War I. The entire story plays out in the officers’ dugout over four days from 18 March 1918 to 21 March 1918, during the run-up to the real-life events of Operation Michael, a major German military offensive during the First World War that began the Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918.

The Acting Game

In addition to his acting career, Willstrop has carved a niche for himself as a theatre critic with reviews of plays in London’s West End as well as in the North of England. In one, he compares the roles of actor and sportsman:

“The acting game does differ from sport in that it is all subjectivity. In sport, you are either good or not. Rankings or titles tend not to lie.”

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, PSA World Tour, Harrogate Advertiser, Keighley News, The Adel Players and The Huffington Post.

 

 

Squash: Inner Toddler (Radio Sketch)

As a fan of British comedy writer and actor John Finnemore (check out his “Cabin Pressure” series), stumbling upon this two-minute sketch from a recent BBC radio broadcast was a pleasant surprise.

The on-court sound effects provide the background for a conversation between the players which moves from portentous business-speak to child-parent dialogue, finishing with bloke-ish bravado.

Now, that’s what I call cheeky.

Sources

Thanks to the BBC for posting this clip from “John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.” You can find out more about John Finnemore from his Wikipedia entry and his highly entertaining blog.

Note

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.”

Women’s Squash And The House Of Saud

By any account, 2018 is shaping up to be a ground-breaking year for women, sport and road transport in Saudi Arabia. In early January women were, for the first time ever, allowed to attend (men’s) professional football matches albeit accompanied by their male chaperones and confined to segregated seating areas. This revolutionary relaxation of The Kingdom’s strict laws followed last year’s announcement that, from June 2018, women would, also for the first time, be allowed to drive cars thus raising the possibility of increased female car ownership, demand for driving lessons, congestion on Saudi roads, attendances at Saudi football matches and development of sports stadiums to cater for dedicated toilet and refreshment facilities for women.

Later in January, women spectators were similarly let loose in Riyadh’s Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University to watch the first PSA world series squash tournament for women to be held in Saudi Arabia. And that’s not all. Not only did the tournament attract many of the world’s best players but, in a symbolic move, a last-32 wildcard entry was granted to The Kingdom’s highest-ranked player, Nada Abo Al Naja, who thus became the first Saudi woman to play in a world series PSA event. Al Naja went out of the competition, losing to number 2 seed Camille Serme of France.

Saudi PSA Women’s Squash Masters Finalists 2018

The tournament, originally scheduled to take place in November 2017, was held with Saudi Arabia in the throes of internal reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman including the lifting of restrictions on the activities of women. With total prize money of US$165,000 up for grabs, the tournament was won by World number 1 Nour El Sherbini of Egypt who defeated her compatriot Raneem El Weleily 3-0.

Footnote

As a matter of interest (well, it is to me anyway) Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which I have a 100% record of squash success having played and won two matches there. The matches were both played on a court at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh (where I was staying) against fellow hotel guests, both of whom were travelling with their racquets in the hope of bumming a match with anyone they could find.

So, the next time you’re visiting Riyadh…

Sources

Thanks to Arab News, The Times of Saudia and TheSports.org.

 

The Alexandria Quartet

Following, as I do, the progress of PSA tournaments, one can’t help but notice certain patterns. One such pattern, namely the appearance of Egyptian players in world ranking tournament finals, hardly needs mention. But the background of those players also lends itself to some interesting statistics.

Not surprisingly, most of Egypt’s top players originate mainly from the capital, Cairo, and the country’s second largest city, Alexandria. So, how have world ranked players from the two cities fared over recent months?

I decided to find out and looked at the results from 10 world ranking tournament finals (5 men’s and 5 women’s) over the last 4 months, namely:

The Tournament of Champions (January 2018)

The Saudi Women’s Masters (January 2018)

The World Championships (December 2017)

The Hong Kong Open (November 2017)

The Qatar Classic (October 2017)

The US Open (October 2017)

Of the 20 finalist places, 19 were filled by Egyptian players and just one by a non-Egyptian, Germany’s Simon Rosner, Winner of the Tournament of Champions in New York. Of the 19 places occupied by Egyptians, 6 were taken by 3 players from Cairo with 13 being taken by 4 players hailing from Alexandria. The ‘Alexandria quartet’ won 7 tournaments and was runner up in 6 while the ‘Cairo trio’ won 2 and was runner-up in 4.

The Alexandria quartet, as you may have guessed, comprises: current women’s world Nos.1 and 2, Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Welily respectively; and current men’s world No. 2 Mohamed El Shorbagy together with his older brother (and world No.4), Marwan. Of the four, only Marwan El Shorbagy has failed to win at least one tournament, his defeat in the final of The World Championships (at the hands of his brother) being his only contribution to the quartet’s finalist haul (see below.)

The Cairo trio comprises: current women’s world No.3, Nour El Tayeb, men’s world No.3, Ali Farag, and world No.7, Tarek Momen. At the US Open, El Tayeb and Farag had the distinction of becoming the first married couple to win their tournaments  at the same world-ranked event.

As I write, the Windy City Open in Chicago has reached the semi-final stage. Three of the Alexandria quartet, the El Shorbagy brothers and Raneem El Welily, are still in contention, the latter having beaten the fourth member, Nour El Sherbini, in their quarter-final match (see below.) All three of the Cairo trio are also through.

I make that 6 semi-finalists out of 8.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that history has a 75% chance of repeating itself. But then, statistics has never been my strong point.

Sources

Thanks to PSA World Tour.