The 2013 Squash Mad Review
By MICHAEL CATLING – Squash Mad Reporter
With 2013 finally drawing to a close, the Squash Mad awards have been finalised, the winners have been contacted and the prizes are in the post. It may not hold the same prestige as the Oscars but we are confident professionals view it in a more positive light than the Golden Raspberry awards at least.
Following on from revealing the ‘Shot of the Year’ and the ‘Top Five Matches’ in 2013 yesterday, the Squash Mad Team continue the seasonal festivities by dishing out a further six awards. From the Breakthrough Player of the Year to the Tournament of the Year, we honour some of the champs (and chumps) from the past 12 months.
PSA Player of the Year – Ramy Ashour
It was the proverbial year of two halves in the men’s game as first Ramy Ashour conquered all that stood in his way, before Nick Matthew rolled back the years to win the World Championship and Hong Kong Open. But while the 33-year-old Englishman will reclaim his world number one ranking tomorrow, there is a sense that Matthew will relinquish the position once Ashour is fighting on all cylinders again.
Before Ashour’s 49-match undefeated streak came to an end in Manchester last month, the 26-year-old astounded and amazed supporters as he romped to an incredible six PSA Tour titles in 2013. He battled back from the brink of defeat against Gregory Gaultier in the final of the Tournament of Champions, before delivering one of the finest performances ever seen in a single game against James Willstrop at the British Open (right). At one stage, he even topped the world rankings with the highest points average ever-recorded.
A first Open title was the icing on the cake for the Egyptian and while he succumbed to injury in devastating fashion at the World Championship and Hong Kong Open, many players consider his unbeaten streak to still be intact. That would make it 51 not out for the Cairo-based player. Discounting the last two months of the season, it was the picture perfect year for the Egyptian number one.
WSA Player of the Year – Nicol David
Despite suffering a drop in the form during the middle of the year, once again Nicol David soared above expectations and reaffirmed her status as the best player in the world. Not that it should ever have been in doubt but after suffering back-to back defeats to Laura Massaro at the KL Open semi-final and British Open final respectively, question marks were beginning to be raised.
Since then, though, her response has been emphatic and after leading her country to success at the World Games, she has won five successive WSA titles. The fact she has dropped just eight games in six months and is currently undefeated in 27 matches speaks volumes about her consistency and battling qualities.
Yet despite equalling Sarah Fitz-Gerald’s record of competing in 90 WSA Tour finals at the Hong Kong Open earlier this month, we almost remain unsurprised by her continued period of dominance. Perhaps that is the truest indication of how highly David is rated worldwide. A true modern great.
PSA Breakthrough Player of the Year – Miguel Angel Rodriguez
When people look back and reflect on Miguel Angel Rodriguez’s career, many may pinpoint the first-round of the Canary Wharf Squash Classic as being the biggest turning point. With over 600 spectators watching at the East Wintergarden venue, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for three-time champion Nick Matthew as he stepped on court for the first-time against the diminutive Colombian.
Over an hour of gruelling squash later and both players left the court to a standing ovation. Matthew had won in four games but the quickness, dives and shot-making of Rodriguez had left many eyebrows raised and the looks of astonishment continued long into the night. Many posed the question afterwards: ‘where has he been hiding on Tour?’
Fast forward nearly nine months and Rodriguez is finally beginning to showcase his undoubted potential. Under the tutelage of former world number one David Palmer, the 28-year-old won the Internacional Sporta Open and Bluenose Classic and defeated several big-names along the way. A surprise third-place finish at the World Games elevated his standing on Tour; to the extent that he recently rose to a career-high 13th in the December world rankings. And with the Bogota-based player seeded to face Gregory Gaultier in the second-round of the Tournament of Champions in January, who would bet against Rodriguez springing an upset…
WSA Breakthrough Player of the Year – Camille Serme
After celebrating her maiden spot in the top 10 of the world rankings in 2010, many expected French starlet Camille Serme to challenge Nicol David atop the world rankings. But after a prolonged period of inconsistency, the 24-year-old from Creteil enjoyed her most productive year to date in 2013 with victories at the European Individual Championship and Monte Carlo Classic.
Semi-final finishes at the Greenwich Open and Malaysian Open, coupled with a final loss to Nicol David at the Carol Weymuller Open, showcased Serme’s improvement under coach Philippe Signoret and culminated in a career-high fifth in the December world rankings.
Big names scalps against Laura Massaro and Alison Waters were the catalyst for a superb end to the year and while a first-round exit at the British Open blotted her copybook somewhat, the French number one could be a force to be reckoned with in the New Year.
Tournament of the Year – Tournament of Champions
In terms of sheer beauty, innovation and drama, the Tournament of Champions stood out like a sore thumb this year as the Grand Central Terminal crowd were treated to a litany of breathtaking shots and high-octane matches.
The semi-finals between the top four seeds in the men’s draw were equally gripping and breathtaking to watch, with the final living up to expectations as Ramy Ashour battled past Gregory Gaultier to win the tournament for a third time and extend his incredible undefeated streak. And with the likes of Nicol David, Laura Massaro and Raneem El Weleily set to make their debuts in the New York-based event in January, its popularity and location could start to rival some of the most prestigious tournaments on Tour.
*The Canary Wharf Squash Classic also deserves a special mention for its smooth organisation and the ability to attract near sell-out crowds throughout the week. In contrast to events like the Qatar Classic where empty seats were clearly palpable, Peter Nicol revealed earlier this year that they were already looking to extend areas of seating at the East Wintergarden venue.
Controversy of the Year – The PSA’s Gagging Order
In terms of action on the court, you could possibly give the award to the officials who refereed Borja Golan’s win over Gregory Gaultier at the Qatar Classic in November. Failing that, James Willstrop’s epic victory against Mohamed Elshorbagy at the Hong Kong Open (pictured right) was just as bad; such were the amount of stoppages for lets and strokes.
Off the court however, we believe the award should be given to the PSA for their ridiculous decision to silence Ben Coleman after his comments on Twitter regarding equal prize money. While his remarks provoked outrage in some quarters, they were neither offensive, sexist or of a bullying nature. After all, freedom of speech dictates that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
His apology on Twitter the following day was cringe-worthy at best and once again highlighted the all-too frequent need to cover up any adverse publicity for the sport. The fact that no action was taken against PSA Chief Executive Alex Gough after his incredible outburst at a PSL match smacked of hypocrisy as well!
Do you agree with our selections? Please post your views below and have your say now!
Pictures by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite) and Michael Catling