Pat Rooney has admitted that he is determined to “block out the noise” when he faces newly-crowned world squash No.1 Mostafa Asal in the second round of the J.P Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York on Thursday night.
The England No.1 negotiated his first round against wild card Dillon Huang for the loss of just 11 points to book a match-up with Asal as the Egyptian starts his campaign to win a first ever ToC at Grand Central Station.
Asal went No.1 last Saturday after his controversial defeat of Marwan ElShorbagy in the semi-final at the Houston Open, which hinged on referee Sheldon Anderson’s controversial decision to award victory to Asal after the 21-year-old appeared to connect an elbow with his compatriot’s groin.
This subsequently triggered a 30-minute injury break which has caused much conjecture and controversy in the ensuing five days.
But Rooney, who has lost both his previous two meetings with Asal in straight games, says he will focus on his game while admitting that he is still undecided whether the circus that seems to follow in the new world No.1’s wake is a good thing or a negative vibe for squash.
The world No.18 said: “Asal is in very good form, very aggressive and he is a bit love and hate at the minute, maybe more hate at present with a lot of people but I will try to ignore all that and all his antics on court and just try and play well against him. So I will just have to block out the noise.
“It’s a shame really, as he doesn’t need to get involved like he does, I am not sure if it is an entertainment thing and he is playing to the crowd but you can’t lie, people are certainly talking about him, even if it is not in the best way.
“So he is getting people talking about squash but is it good for the sport? I’m not sure.”
Rooney continued: “For me it’s always about concentrating on my game and producing the best performance I can but probably even more so against Asal as if you let any other antics get in your head it’s a one way ticket to lose.
“You can easily get involved in arguing with him or the referee and that is not for me so I will just try and keep concentrating on my own game.
“I have played him twice before and lost 3-0 both times. His movement on to the ball is really powerful and when he is over stretching he can hit dangerous shots or winners from extreme positions which you feel he shouldn’t be able to do and that really keeps you on your toes.
“Obviously he has a big powerful forehand that is really tough to deal with and he is quite disciplined in not making errors, so he is a handful and then you have the mental side as well.
“But I have never played at ToC although I’ve been to New York, so I’m really excited about it.”
Rooney is now working under James Willstrop at Pontefract Squash Club where he trains four times a week with the great Yorkshireman. He has admitted that the former world No.1 has already started to improve a key aspect of his game.
The 25-year-old said: “James has really helped with my decision making on court and when to play the right shot, when to attack and not to attack as my shot selection can let me down.
“With the top players that is what makes the difference in terms of playing the right shot at the right time and James has made a big difference to me in this respect.
“Obviously James has huge experience and was a former World No.1 and he was a very skilful player but he is very strong on the mentality aspect and for me that has been very useful and it’s been great to work with him, hear his thoughts on my matches and even on the game in general.
“James is doing it his own way at Pontefract and we are working four times a week there and I love it.”
Rooney came into ToC with a confidence boosting victory over Joel Makin in the final of the Edinburgh Sports Club Open in the freezing Scottish capital and he admits that is a result that has allowed him to set his sights high for the remainder of the campaign.
The St Helens born ace said: “I played well against Joel who is always very difficult to beat, never gives up, gets every ball back and is always consistent and that is shown in his results.
“I think the head to head was 11-1 to Joel so to get that win was amazing. From my point of view I just made less errors, played more accurately and stuck in these hard points and I didn’t make flaky errors.
“I felt good physically and it was one of these days it all came together. But also I know Joel has had a bit of time off so I will be a lot more satisfied If I can repeat this in a PSA event.
“But training has been going well and that showed in Edinburgh and I feel like I came to New York with confidence high that I could step on court with anyone and give it a good go.
“I’m at 18 in the rankings and that is my highest and I will sit down to set proper targets and time frames after ToC but I’m just concentrating on putting the results together. That said, top 10 is the next goal and it will happen when it happens.
“The key is not to put too much pressure on the ranking and just focus day-to-day.”