Time waits for no man, apart from the never-ending knock-ups in squash
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
At long last, the PSA are planning to reduce the length of pre-match knock-ups.
A trial will be held in the forthcoming World Series Finals taking place on stage at Dubai Opera House. And I hope all major tournaments and players at all levels will take this lesson on board.
The current pre-match niceties are way too long, and for some time now TV directors have been asking for things to be speeded up.
At the moment we have several random elements that can hold things up beyond the end of one match and the start of another.
This can involve wiping sweat marks and dust off the floor, and removing the unsightly marks where players have wiped their hands on the back wall. They should be fined for doing that, by the way. It’s clearly time to bring back the 1970s fashion favourite of a towelling strip down the side of your shorts.
Tidying up the player areas at the side of the court is another issue, where some stars may still be signing autographs for a long queue of admirers while you are trying desperately to get the next match on, and others may have left a trail of discarded grips, scattered drinks bottles and the occasional broken racket smashed in frustration.
With the increased demand for live television, squash tournaments are at the mercy of TV production schedules. Hopefully, this will lead to better discipline in this very important moment of the pre-match build-up.
When the gladiators enter the field of combat, squash can learn so much from the pyrotechnics used in boxing, darts and Strictly Come Dancing. Thank God Bruce has gone and taken his long, tired, boring jokes with him. Although I’m not sure seeing more of Ed Balls and Ann Widdecombe galumphing round the dance floor is the perfect solution to snappier intros.
Over the years I have seen too many announcers hold things up with long, rambling introductions before the players set foot on a squash court.
My preferred style is a quick intro and then talk about the players once they are inside the glass box.
I have seen too many embarrassing episodes where a lower-ranked player is brought on to court and is forced to stand there like a lemon while the MC rambles on incessantly about his or her opponent. It may surprise them to learn that most people in the audience might possibly know this stuff already.
I remember watching a National League match in Birmingham a few years ago where both teams were on court and the rest of the players and the crowd were kept waiting for an eternity while the MC ran through a list of every tournament won by Sarah Fitz-Gerald! There was time for at least three beers before he finally got to the end of his long, droning intro.
Once the players finally begin the knock-up, they might often discard a ball that they consider to be too bouncy, or too lifeless, and the whole process begins again.
Then, when their five minutes is up, the players leave the court, return to their chairs, remove their tracksuits, make last-minute adjustments to their hairstyles, and eventually head back to the court … by which time the ball has gone cold and they need to warm it up all over again!
At least the pros always try to warm up their bodies before the match starts, with skipping ropes or exercise bikes, unlike a lot of canny old club players who try to spin out the knock-up for as long as they can.
As well as removing or adding various layers of clothing, some opponents of my acquaintance will extend the pre-match routine by squeezing into a variety of neoprene-based items, change their grips, head to the bar for a drink, or have a last-minute tactics talk with their best friend. All of which reduces the amount of time available to do the very thing you have paid for when you book the court, which is to play squash!
Many individuals are playing mind games with all of these rituals. Some are immensely irritating, especially when players take their mobile phones on court with them and answer a call just as you are ready to serve to begin the match.
Perhaps the funniest piece of pre-match psychological warfare I have ever seen involved a player in Kent who would unscrew and replace his plastic false leg.
Hogging the knock-up is another sure way to rile an opponent, and possibly the worst excess I have ever witnessed occurred in the Kent Open a few years ago when a French player hit 14 shots back to himself before burying a crosscourt nick which meant the ball rolled across the floor in front of his bewildered opponent, who happened to be Canterbury legend Joe Magor, who had been awarded one of the local spots.
Having played for squash so many years, it’s only right that I should own up to causing one unfortunate delay during my Hampshire days.
Before a match at Redrice, near Andover, I wiped my hand across a steamed-up mirror in the changing room before putting in my contact lenses only to come into contact with a rather sharp edge on the glass. My racket hand would not stop bleeding so, to avoid delaying the match any longer, I managed to tape the racket and my hand together. Somehow I managed to take the match to five before my still-leaking hand lost complete control of the grip.
Anyway, I wish the PSA every success with this latest innovation. I will be watching closely to see how things progress in Dubai.
Here’s the official release from the PSA.
The Professional Squash Association (PSA) have announced that a reduction in the amount of time that players have to warm-up the ball up on court at the start of matches will be trialled at the upcoming PSA Dubai World Series Finals, while there will be an increase in the time given to players between games.
Taking place in Dubai Opera between June 6-10, the World Series Finals will see the warm-up period reduced from five minutes to three minutes after which point players will be given 90 seconds in which to prepare for the start of play.
Meanwhile, the time allowed between games has been increased from two minutes to two minutes and 30 seconds at which point play must begin immediately. A countdown clock will be visible for both players and spectators in addition to announcements from the referee to inform players as to how much time they have left.
Players not in a position to either serve or return a serve after the interval is up will receive a time violation, with the potential of penalty points being awarded against them for further time violations.
“Squash is a vibrant and dynamic sport and we feel that altering the time taken during the warm-up period and game intervals will improve the flow of the matches for spectators and TV audiences,” said PSA Chief Operating Officer Lee Beachill.
“We believe that this trial period will be an important step into further increasing the sport’s visual appeal and look forward to witnessing the effects of the trial during what promises to be a world-class week of squash in Dubai.”
Pictures from Squash Mad archive