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. As luck would have it, my opponent was fellow Canadian and training partner Dane Sharp. Dane is ranked around 90 in the world, so the match was a good opportunity to play with no pressure against someone whose game I know well. The match turned out to be by far the longest (and one of the best) matches of my career. After 93 minutes I had lost 11-9 in the fifth after several massive momentum swings. After winning the first comfortably, I came back from 2-8 down in the second to earn game balls for a 2-0 lead, but failed to convert. After dropping the third and falling behind 8-10 in the fourth, I saved two match balls and won the game in a tiebreak after some fortunate refereeing decisions. I played an ideal fifth game to lead 8-3, at which point I started thinking; not that the match was over, but about the benefits of a win. Undoubtedly, every squash player has done this before. In the blink of an eye, I was down 8-9, and ultimately lost on a No Let decision. I was extremely frustrated with the final score, especially after being in a winning position, but there were many positives to be taken: lasting over 90 minutes takes some serious fitness (mental and physical), saving match balls in the fourth when I was feeling defeated, and coming within an inch of beating a top-100 player.
The second tournament was in nearby Medicine Hat and carried a prize purse of $5000. I was drawn against top seed Jan Koukal, a top-50 player who has been playing PSA since I still thought squash was an odd-tasting vegetable. Despite taking an early 5-0 lead, I felt constantly under pressure. Koukal was reading my game perfectly and injecting his own creativity and unorthodox choices into the rallies. I have not felt so outclassed on court in a long time. I managed to win the third game by digging in and forcing some errors, but he always had the necessary extra gear. Again, some valuable lessons to be learned: how to weight the ball and not over-hit length, how to counter-attack while under pressure, and how to vary your attacks and stay unpredictable. All things I desperately need to improve on!
Overall it had been an encouraging two weeks. I feel like I'm getting closer to some big wins, and now just need the confidence to win crucial games and matches. The non-PSA Ontario Open is next week in Toronto, featuring a field primarily composed of top juniors and young pros from around the province.