‘Astounding for players to perform at that level after 12 months of uncertainty and lack of competition’
By ANDY WHIPP – Squash Mad Columnist
I think everybody loved watching the last two weeks of squash at the Black Ball Open in Egypt.
Not only is it nice to have some new squash to watch, but the level of squash being played by both the men and women is fantastic. It’s simply astounding for the players to be performing at that level after 12 months of uncertainty and lack of competition. How they have managed to maintain the high standard that we saw in 2019-2020 is beyond me.
It’s truly impressive to see how the likes of Mohamed ElShorbagy, Ali Farag, Tarek Momen, Camille Serme and Nour El Sherbini have maintained their high performance levels.
However, I think two players deserve special mention. Two players who have not just maintained their pre-pandemic level but found a way to improve: Fares Dessouky and Amanda Sobhy.
Fares Dessouky has emerged after lockdown as arguably the person playing the best quality squash in the world. In his last two events (both Black Ball Opens, one in December and one this last week) he has beaten Karim Gawad, Diego Elias, Tarek Momen twice and also Ali Farag twice!
He always had the potential but rarely delivered, and especially not able to back up result after result against fellow top 10 players. The mental improvements to his on-court composure are obvious and surely the main reason behind his success. I have noticed a few other aspects of his squash which have changed slightly, helping his recent success.
His movement was always fast and explosive, but he now has an aura of calm and economy to his movement. This calm, relaxed movement surely helps to keep his thoughts calm and relaxed also?
He has the ability to stroll around the squash court, similar to Ali Farag, Gregory Gaultier, Diego Elias and Jansher Khan. He also possesses a raw power to his movement which I’ve rarely seen. He can inject speed not just to recover shots which most people couldn’t even get close to, but to reach the ball and to hit with ferocious power at full stretch. Mohamed ElShorbagy would be the best comparison of this trait.
Fares is the only player who seems to have the perfect combination of both movement styles – like a light-footed Ali Farag and an explosive Mohamed ElShorbagy. As awesome as Ali Farag is, it would be very difficult for him to develop this raw explosivity. Like Fares, Mohamed is definitely improving at controlling his movement in this way, too.
Dessouky’s backhand drops have been a real strength. His technique has always been lovely. Very simple, nothing too big or elaborate. This has always given him the potential to develop consistently accurate drop shots, which he has now begun to do.
He hits with ease on the volley from mid-court, and now doesn’t look like he’ll ever hit the tin. He recognises the situations when to play a firmer volley and when to play a softer volley drop and he can execute both superbly well.
His counter drop in the front left corner won him the most points this week. What I love is his lack of theatrics when playing this shot. Combined with his smooth movement, he controls the ball perfectly every time into this front corner, with the ball staying tight against the side wall. Simplicity itself but extremely hard to execute.
I believe Ali and Mohamed are still the players to beat, so whether it’s Tarek, Marwan, Gawad or Dessouky, for anyone wishing to get inside the world’s top two they need to be better than Mo and Ali, which is not going to be easy!
Amanda Sobhy has really impressed me. I see some very nice subtleties developing in her game. Like a Marwan or Dessouky, she has the ability to score a run of points quickly given her attacking minded nature.
She’s always been hailed for her powerful forehand. Her forehand reminds me of Laurens Jan (LJ) Anjema. I love her exaggerated shoulder rotation and tilted wrist position. It gives her the option to hold and snap the ball crosscourt, hard and low.
Being able to quickly turn your opponent is a massive strength in the women’s game, as quick changes of direction are traditionally the weakest area of their movement.
The real difference for me in Amanda’s game has been the use of the crosscourt lob from the back of the court. Whenever she wants to change the side and to add variation, she plays a simple cross-court lift.
Nick Matthew always did this to great effect. This is a nice way to stop her opponent volleying and dominating the rally, and when executed well it can force her opponent to hit up out of the back corners for her to then step in and dominate on the volley.
When played really well it will force her opponent to boast and Amanda can control the rally and inject pace from the front.
This tactic shows Amanda is really thinking on court and trying to work the rally to her strengths – so she can dominate and hit powerfully from the middle of the court.
Even given the challenges of other men and women outside the current top three players like Marwan, Mostafa Asal, Joel Makin, Paul Coll, Hania El Hammamy, Sarah-Jane Perry and Joelle King, I will be surprised not to see Fares and Amanda playing in the semi-finals of every major event from now on.
Andy Whipp launches Squash Consultancy
AWsome Sports creator Andy Whipp is now offering squash consultancy / sports club consultancy. Given his many years’ experience of all things squash at every level of the sport, and after countless people asking for his advice on a range of squash and club matters, he has decided to use his expertise to offer a FREE squash consultancy service!
AWsome Sports are happy to help with league and club committee ideas and decisions, as well as squash advice to parents and professionals.
So if you need some general advice, inspiration, fresh ideas, or a mediator for your club or league committee debates – please contact Andy at [email protected] for more information.
Pictures courtesy of PSA