Camille Serme is punished for opening the court door in Dubai
By KIEFER WAITE – Squash Mad Corespondent
The first semi-final match of the World Series Finals between Nour El Sherbini and Camille Serme was unfortunately overshadowed by a slightly silly rule that has been recently implemented by the PSA.
In a very close and exciting third game, the score stood at 8-6 to El-Sherbini. Serme accidentally caught El Sherbini with the racket while hitting the ball and stopped the rally to ask for a let.
Without getting into the nuances of this decision, Serme was given a let but was evidently hoping to be awarded a stroke. Serme then opened the door and very politely asked for an explanation from the referee. The French star was immediately punished with an automatic conduct stroke for opening the door. Serme was now down 9-6, and the match ended with a whimper as the energy was sucked from the building and El Sherbini cruised to victory.
Although she finished out the match like a consummate professional, one can’t help but feel as though the result was stolen from Serme (below). From a viewer’s perspective, this single decision overshadowed what was an otherwise very exciting match.
This should have been the exact kind of match that would be a great advertisement for the quality of the PSA World Tour right now, with two players from different parts of the world playing contrasting styles of squash pushing each other to the limits with very few decisions and stoppages of play.
The problem with this rule is that the referee has no discretion as to when they can award conduct strokes. For matches televised on SquashTV, the referees very rarely go to code of conduct when players are arguing, blocking, or otherwise misbehaving on court; however, under the current rules, a simple opening of the door to better hear what the referee is saying warrants a conduct stroke no matter the context.
A player opening the door to scream at the referee is punished the same as Serme’s polite request for a clarification of a decision (which, I might add, was never given).
To be fair, the blame can’t be placed squarely on the referee, Roy Gingell, as he is simply following the word of the rule book. Would Gingell have awarded a conduct stroke to Serme if he had been able to use his own discretion? Not a chance!
The PSA has demonstrated that they are willing to tinker with rules to improve the presentation of squash. For example, the fact that the referees have been forcing players to start immediately after coming on court between games keeps the action flowing and makes for a better viewing experience with less down time.
But although positive changes have been made on cleaning up certain aspects of the game, any rule that rewards an automatic conduct stroke will, in my books, inevitably create problems.
Given that the referees we see on SquashTV are the top officials in the world, we do not need to be tying their hands by forcing automatic code of conduct penalty points; they are capable of making such decisions themselves based on the context of the call within the match.
As a viewer of squash, the primary things that I don’t like to see are excessive stoppages in play and excessive arguing with referees. While referees do have the ability to, at the very least, mitigate these issues by awarding conduct points, the fact of the matter is that referees very rarely go to code of conduct when players are blatantly blocking or behaving badly on court.
To see a player punished with code of conduct for opening the door to politely ask for an explanation of the rules is a particularly difficult pill to swallow when thinking of some of the blatant blocking that often occurs on SquashTV that goes unpunished (and even rewarded).
From this viewer’s perspective, if the PSA is interested in improving their product for the casual squash fan, they should be looking at reducing the amount of blocking that occurs on SquashTV and resort to code of conduct perhaps more often, but always at the discretion of the referees based on the context of the match.
Readers are invited to join the debate and add their comments below
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON and PSA