Squash Tournament Poster of the Year 2019

OK, I’ll admit that I don’t spend much time scouring squash club notice boards, internet websites or street signs looking for posters advertising squash tournaments. But wherever I am or whatever I’m doing, my squash radar is switched on, sweeping the environment for tell-tale signs of squash life. A bit like a squash archaeologist wandering through cultural landscapes, if you will.

Not only that, friends and family members are well aware that sniffing out traces of squash culture is a feature of my behaviour and actually provides me with what is, to them, a form of pleasure as inexplicable as it is baffling. So much so that some amongst them have been known to indulge me by drawing my attention to squash stories and artefacts I may not have encountered much in the manner as one might throw a bone to a hungry dog.

Final of the 2019 CIB Egyptian Open between Ali Farag and Karim Abdel Gawad

In the case of a Belgian friend with absolutely no interest in squash or, for that matter, dogs a recent event occurred which demonstrates the power of acquired squash autosuggestion. Walking through the arrivals hall at Cairo’s International Airport, she noticed a colourful poster in the style of an ancient Egyptian tomb painting. Further examination showed it to be for a squash tournament, the latter stages of which were to be staged outdoors at a site overlooking the Pyramids at Giza.

Equipped, as always, with a smart-phone and the patience to wait until she had a clear field of view, she took a photograph of the poster, a copy of which arrived on my own phone shortly afterwards. I present it here in the hope that I will not be breaking Egyptian copyright law which I understand does not prevent artists from drawing images of the monuments or historic sites, as long as said images are not exact copies.

Poster in the Arrivals Hall of Cairo International Airport

So, as long as no tombs are unearthed which depict an anonymous Pharoah holding a squash racquet being offered squash balls by a servant girl, I think I’m safe.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV for covering the 2019 CIB Egyptian Squash Open and an anonymous friend for photographing the poster.

Great Britain Are World Team Champions! (…in Racketlon)

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.

The Rules

In racketlon 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 sequence.

In singles 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.

The winner 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.

Simple, eh?

Racketlon sports

The Tour

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.

Maybe it’s time to add to our racket collections.

Sources

Thanks to The Times, Wikipedia and tournamentsoftware.com.

Hijab Stories – Part 2

For Part 1 of “Hijab Stories” go to the following link.

In the space of a few days in early August, I stumbled across two stories connected by a common theme: female squash players who represent their countries in international competition…and who wear the hijab.

Competition

The first story covered the final of the World Junior Womens Squash Team Championships held in Kuala Lumpur. As has become de rigeur in recent years, the final was contested between Egypt and another country, this time that country being the hosts, Malaysia. Both finalists in each of the other competitions taking place at the Championships, namely the Mens and Womens Singles, were, yes you’ve guessed it, also Egyptian.

World Junior Squash Womens Team Championships 2019 (Final)

But it was Malaysia’s 17-year old first string, Aifa Azman, that caught my attention by virtue of the fact that her kit incorporated a hijab. Although Azman lost her match to Egyptian first string (and just-crowned Junior Womens Singles champion) Hania El Hamammy, her performance in winning the first game pretty much demonstrated that, in squash at least, dress codes have adapted in recognition of the nature of the opportunities presented by international competition.

Gossip

The second story described the experience of 12-year old US squash player Fatima Abdelrahman. En route to play in a tournament in Toronto, Abdelrahman had, according to news reports, cleared security at San Francisco Airport to board an Air Canada flight. Travelling with her older sister, she was reportedly asked by a ‘gate agent’ to remove her hijab, apparently without being given the option of doing so in private.

Irrespective of the circumstances, the social media storm triggered by the incident is, at the time of writing, still going strong. Yet, unlike Aifa Azman’s participation in a squash tournament, the Abdelrahman incident demonstrates how a single human conversation lasting seconds can generate so many secondary communications, between individuals not actually present at the time, unfamiliar with any of the people involved and, almost certainly, unaware of the existence of squash. Whether or not any of those communications will ultimately be helpful to any of the parties involved in the incident, I’ll leave for others to judge. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on looking for stories which celebrate a sport which, in my opinion, can compete with the best.

In public or in private.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia and The National Post.

Teamwork

Watching this year’s European Team Squash Championships (ETC) prompted me to find out more about the competition and its global counterparts. Here’s the result.

Europe

The ETC is an annual competition for teams representing countries belonging to the European Squash Federation. Every year, men’s and women’s competitions are held at the same venue at the same time with this year’s event taking place at Edgbaston Priory in Birmingham, England.

England squad for the 2019 European Team Squash Championships: Left to right – James Willstrop, Sarah-Jane Perry, Tom Richards, Alison Waters, Declan James, Victoria Lust, Adrian Waller, Laura Massaro and Daryl Selby

Countries enter teams of four or five players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-four singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for  individual games won.

This year twenty-two countries entered teams with England beating Spain to win the men’s title and France beating England to take the women’s title.

England vs Spain – Men’s Final Highlights

World

The World Team Squash Championships (WTC) are also held annually although men’s and women’s competitions are biennial, taking place in alternate years and at different venues. This year, it’s the turn of the men to compete at the dramatically-named ‘Squash on Fire’ venue in Washington DC, USA. Last year, Egypt beat England in the final of the women’s competition held in Dalian, China. The 2020 women’s championship will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

England vs France – Women’s Final Highlights

The WTC is organised for teams representing countries belonging to the World Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in a best-of-three singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual  games won.

Asia

Last, but not least, the Asian Team Squash Championships (ATC) are held every two years, with men’s and women’s competitions being held at the same venue at the same time. In 2018, Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s teams both won their events, beating Pakistan and South Korea respectively. The championships were held in Cheongju, South Korea

The ATC is organised for teams representing countries belonging to the Asia Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-three singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual  games won.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, England Squash, PSA Squash TV, Facebook and Squash On Fire.

Squash in Sixty Seconds

Take a look at the following two rallies, both taken from Canary Wharf Squash Classic matches played in London.

The first, taken from the 2016 tournament, is from a match between the eventual champion, France’s Mathieu Castagnet, and England’s Joe Lee. The second, from the 2019 tournament, also features its eventual winner, New Zealand’s Paul Coll, and England’s Tom Richards.

Neither rally lasts for much more than 60 seconds but both include a range of shots which could easily form the basis of a ‘how to play’ guide for beginners. If you take forehand and backhand shots separately, I counted over twenty types of shot played from the ‘T’, the front and back corners of the court, and mid-court. There are even back wall boasts and flying (attempted) volley-drops as a bonus.

Mathieu Castagnet vs Joe Lee (Canary Wharf Classic 2016)

Apart from the shots displayed, the ways in which the two rallies unfold lend themselves nicely to higher level analysis for learning and coaching purposes. For example, positioning, footwork, speed around the court and the sheer persistence needed to turn a losing position into a winning one are all on display. The need to retrieve is as important as the desire to dominate a rally.

Paul Coll vs Tom Richards (Canary Wharf Classic 2019)

And what about the value of the rallies in teaching markers or referees? Noticeably,there’s not a sign of an ‘out of court’ shot, a tinned shot, any body contact, or even a possible let or stroke. All players involved just get on with the game leaving the officials free to keep an eye open for anything which could affect their safety.

All that in two sixty-second snapshots. I never realised how easy it was.

Sources

Canary Wharf Classic video clips courtesy of PSA SquashTV .

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.

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.

 

 

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.