Ramy Ashour - Photo credit to squashsite.co.uk
The main round of the 2013 Allam British Open Squash Championship is now under-way and Ramy Ashour is seeded to win. There certainly is some very stiff competition he will have to beat though to win this year’s British Open. Ramy has never won the British Open and if he does he will have gone a whole year without losing a match on the PSA tour. The last tournament he lost was the British Open last year when Nick Matthew beat him. Going a whole year without losing a match would be an incredible accomplishment especially considering how talented the current top 4 players are! Let’s take a look at Ramy’s career.
I recently played two tournaments near Canada’s west coast, in Alberta. The first tournament was a 10k PSA event in downtown Calgary at the lovely Bankers Hall Club. I wasn’t meant to be in the event, but due to a last minute withdrawal I was given a spot in the main draw. Continue reading
The 2013 PSA Squash Finals have been extremely entertain thus far. The semi-finals today look to be two highly competitive matches. The first match between Gregory Gaultier and Nick Matthew. The second semi-final features James Willstrop and Amr Shabana.
Gaultier has been on in very fine so far this tournament. In particular his match against James Willstrop was highly competitive and top quality squash. He managed to beat Willstrop who was the #1 ranked player of all of 2012.
Nick Matthew needed a win yesterday. After having lost his first match against Amr Shabana he found himself in a must win match for the rest of the group matches. Not an enviable task but one that he took on and succeeded at. He took advantage of the loose play of Shorbagy in his second match and closed the match in 2 games. He was able to get past Peter Barker in 2 straight games as well.
The first semi is a very tough match for me to pick a winner of. Nick had to win yesterday but did so in convincing fashion and did it in 2 games. Gregory did not look up for his match against Karim yesterday and went down in 2 games. Both should be on pretty equal footing physically. I am going to pick Nick in a very tough match to go through to the final.
James found himself in a must win situation yesterday as well having lost to Gaultier in the second round of group play. He played Simon Rosner yesterday and managed to close out the match in 2 straight games and should be fairly fresh for today’s match.
Amr’s match yesterday was probably the hardest match on paper and it lived up to its billing. He was up against Mohamed el Shorbagy who no doubt wanted was really up for his match with Shabana. Amr had already qualified for semi’s but came out determined as ever to get the win yesterday. Off all the players in this tournament he has been in the best form so far and is the defending champion. Can he retain the title or did he expend a little too much energy yesterday?
I am really excited about the second semi-final. Amr has been playing so well having gone undefeated so far. Willstrop though is such an incredible tactician on court and may well be able to contain Shabana’s brilliant attack. My pick is Willstrop in another tightly contested match setting up an all English final.
If you have any thoughts about today’s semi’s leave a comment below.
It is the beginning of October and squash season has arrived! Hopefully everyone had a good summer training and getting ready for this upcoming season. The PSA is back in swing now with the US Open coming up, leagues are starting – it is an exciting time!
As mentioned in an earlier entry Mike McCue who blogs for us is playing in this year’s PSA 5K National Squash Academy Open. Mike played his first match last night which I was lucky enough to see and he won convincingly! Mike played Tyler Hamilton who is also from Canada. Tyler is the higher ranked player ranked #170 in the world to Mike’s #197 ranking so this was a bit of an upset.
From the outset Mike was very focused on the task at hand. This was evident in his demeanor even during the warm-up. Once the match started Mike got off to a very quick start and never really looked back. He put Tyler under a lot of pressure with some exceptional length. There were several points won on straight length balls that Tyler looked to play early, decided not to because they were just too tight to the side wall and let them pass only to watch them die in the back court nick. Tyler was clearly not having one his better days on court but part of that was due to the quality of Mike’s shots.
When Mike was put under some pressure by Tyler he was able to play some good defensive squash. He covered the court very well. Tyler was able to play some nice tight drop shots in to the front but Mike covered them well and was able to get the ball behind Tyler even from this difficult position consistently. When Mike was given a good chance to attack he was able to either put Tyler under a great deal of pressure or hit some great outright winners.
Mike won the first two games convincingly but winning the match is not always as easy. I know Mike well enough to know how much he wanted the result. He wanted the win. He is at the beginning of his PSA career and training extremely hard. Playing in these challenger tournaments is tough. They are hard to get in to and with a bad result it is one match and out. Knowing how much Mike wanted to win the match I was really hoping he could close it out. Mike managed to maintain is focus brilliantly in the last game. Even when there was some discussion with the ref by Tyler about a call you could still see the focus on Mike’s face the same as you could early in the match. It is very important in situations like these to maintain that focus. It is easy to let up a bit when you are up two games and your opponent is struggling. Letting up though can result in your opponent getting back in to the game and finding some form. This can lead to a momentum switch and really put the pressure back on the guy who controlling play early. Tyler pressed back a bit late in the third game but Mike was having none of it. He closed out the match and moved on to the second round match where he will play Colin West.
Congratulations Mike on a well-deserved victory!
Mike McCue who blogs for us is entered in the National Squash Academy Open 2012 that starts next week and we would like to wish him the best of luck. Mike trains out of the National Squash Academy (NSA) so this is a tournament on his home court. Many of the entrants in this tournament train out of the NSA. Mike’s first match is against Tyler Hamilton a fellow Canadian. It should be a very tough match.
I will be going to watch the first day of the tournament at least next Wednesday and expect to see Mike’s first match. I definitely hope to be watching a win for Mike but I know for certain I will be watching some very high quality squash. If you are in the Toronto, Ontario area this is definitely an event worth seeing. Will this years top seed, Dane Sharp repeat as champion or will someone else take the title?
Good luck Mike!
To check out the draw click here
Although spring time usually marks the end of squash season and beginning of activities not confined to four white walls, the schedule this year has worked out such that I will be playing my biggest string of tournaments in these warmer months. There were no PSA tournaments I could realistically play during the winter; my last tournaments were in Saskatoon and Edmonton back in November. There have been other tournaments in between, but frankly they were a string of disappointments for me. However, the last 10 weeks have been a good training period, fueled by the motivation of this upcoming tour.
My first event is the PSA in Sudbury. I was born and raised there, and the tournament is played at my home club. It’s the only time I get to play a competitive match in front of the local squash community who I grew up learning from. I look forward to it all year. I am drawn to play Canadian champ Shahier Razik, which is clearly a tough prospect. However, I will be extremely amped up for the match and have nothing to lose. After that, there is a PSA in Rochester NY, followed by the Canadian Nationals in Niagara. From there I am heading south to Atlanta for another PSA, and then (way) further south to Argentina and possibly Paraguay.
So much time off from competition has given me ample chance to think about my matches, visualize what might happen, and imagine the potential wins or losses. Training hard is clearly necessary, but everything rides on playing well when it actually matters. All the bike sprints, length drills and ghosting in the world amount to nothing if you fail to capitalize on these opportunities. The idea of flying 10 hours to South America to possibly play one match can be rattling. But these doubts do nothing to further your cause, which is to win matches. Based on my relatively few PSA experiences, desperation can take over in these high-pressure situations. For me, that sort of life-or-death mentality usually leads to a better performance. The other possibility is being so afraid to lose that you forget to play positive squash.
I am indeed very excited to kick off this 6 week roadtrip. It will be my longest series of consecutive events ever, so there will surely be some ups and downs. I will keep the blog updated, likely one post from each city with a quick synopsis of my time there.
Last night I had the opportunity to play an exhibition match at the Barrie Athletic Club, as a crowd warmer for the main event which was Karim Darwish vs Thierry Lincou. This was part of the Cambridge Cup, which is an invitational tournament held around Toronto featuring many of the world’s top 8 players. As I watched these two former world #1’s, I was once again reminded how amazing the very best players in the world are. Darwish is one of the truly elite players and Lincou is now in the tier just below the very top guys.
There is a distinct difference between the top 16 and the 10-20 players below them. The upper echelon have a certain presence on court that exudes confidence and experience. They are very assertive in the warmup, do everything with a purpose and do not get fazed by unfavourable conditions. Their basic length and width is already in place from the first rally, and they never put themselves in a bad position or make a bad tactical decision. Their ball striking is severe and aggressive; if a ball is floated back down the wall, it is with the purpose of regaining the ‘T’. Any ball that isn’t within inches of the wall is volleyed and probably sent to the front of the court. Between rallies, they are always entirely composed and don’t give off any indications of fatigue or frustration.
I believe the real difference between the best and the rest is really exposed as a match wears on though. The very best guys have a certain creativity and speed of thought that the slightly lower ranked players lack. They don’t fall into a comfort zone of playing predictable patterns, and know exactly when to break up the rhythm of play with a boast or crosscourt flick. This innate sense of the game affords them the ability to hit outright winners. At that level, it is impossible to hit a clean winner if your opponent has a read on where it is going. The ability to counter attack from compromised positions is also an important asset. If these guys were to play defense every time they were put under pressure, they would never get control of a rally. Countering an aggressive attack with an even more aggressive shot can quickly shift the balance of a rally.
All of these differences are very, very subtle and could easily go unnoticed. In fact, it is easy to miss them when two top boys are playing each other, because both of them do everything so well it appears standard! But watching someone from the top 16 play someone ranked 20 or lower will highlight these differences. The guys ranked in the 20s and 30s are still incredible players who have achieved something most people couldn’t dream of, but they are often dispatched in the minimum 3 games by the very best. So next time you are in the mood to watch a match video, fire up an early round contest from the latest tournament, and see the true class of the best squash players on earth.
James Willstrop has won the North American Open and regained the #1 ranking on the PSA Tour.
James performance against Ramy Ashour in the final was incredible. Actually it was inspiring. Having watched the match on PSASquashtv.com I was so impressed not only with James play but with his strategy. He came in with a plan to contain Ramy, stuck with it, played beautifully and did what most thought he would not – win.
James’ use of height was what really won him the match. If he was under any duress at all he got the ball high and in to the back corner and really limited Ramy’s ability to attack. Tied together with James use of height was his use of the straight ball. High, soft and straight balls that Ramy had to let pass. When Ramy tried to pick up the tempo James was able to deal with it when needed and would slow it back down with the lob. His accuracy on the lob was terrific. He managed to get it over Ramy and forced him to let it drop and did not over hit them either having them come off the back wall.
How effective was James in executing his game plan? How many nicks did Ramy hit? First report was none but there was one in the second game that was in back court. Even that was not a roll out nick. It took a funny bounce when it hit the nick and James could not get it back. Not actually hitting the nick though could just be Ramy being off. What really tells the tale of how effective James was how many front court nick attempts did Ramy even attempt? I have not gone through and counted them but there were very few attempts. Why? Simply put James hardly ever gave him the ball where Ramy could attempt it.
Congratulation to James Willstrop on winning the North American Open and on regaining the #1 ranking on the PSA Tour. The North American Open was the first time in months where all of the top players in the world were in the draw. James came through brilliantly and truly showed the quality of player he is.
James Willstrop is a Prince sponsored played and plays with the Prince EXO3 Rebel Squash Racquet.
Some of the most frequent questions people ask about life as a squash player (other than “How much money do you make?”) have to do with day-to-day training routines. After all, the main reason top pros are so good is the years of dedicated, methodical training they have done. Most squash fans know that the average pro is doing two or three sessions a day five days a week, so without discussing the obvious I will try to give some insight into what myself and my training partners do in a given week.
Since the National Squash Academy opened last year, training for players based in Toronto has become centralized. Obviously this is a big step forward for Canadian squash. Any day of the week, you can find 6-10 of the best players in Canada and the odd international guest on court at the NSA. There are two sessions per day most days. One of them is either match play (three times a week) or drills involving lots of movement and options. The other one is usually a “closed” session, with the purpose of improving technique, accuracy and consistency. The more intense sessions are a great time to implement new skills being perfected in the closed sessions. Total time on court each day is usually around four hours, and there is always work to be done in the gym afterwards. Due to each player having different tournament schedules, it is rare to have everyone on the exact same program for a day. The core values of each session remain the same, and it is up to the players to tailor their training around tournaments as they see fit. This is a whole science of its own and often takes years to master.
Training full-time is a huge mental battle and there are ups and downs within each month, week and day. On the one hand, you have to put 100% effort mentally and physically into every session in order to see results. On the other, showing up to the courts every morning with weary legs and doing boast-drive for the thousandth time can leave anyone struggling for motivation. In my few months of being dedicate full-time I have started to understand two major points: 1) you absolutely cannot get caught-up in micro-frustrations. On a given day you might be a bit tired, a bit slow, or a bit inaccurate. This obviously happens to everyone, but letting bad days undermine your confidence and limit your enjoyment will only turn squash into a chore rather than a passion. 2) you can’t train with an insane intensity every day without burning out at some point. It can be tempting to exhaust yourself to satisfaction on a Monday or Tuesday, but the rest of the week will be compromised. Five days at 85% are better than one day all out. I’m always looking to derive new lessons from my training experiences. Hopefully they will pay off some day!