Thursday, December 7, 2023

Why Willstrop hates antagonistic squash

A win is a win…but I get no satisfaction from playing antagonistic squash
By JAMES WILLSTROP – Courtesy of Yorkshire Evening Post

THE last stop on the PSA World Tour for 2013 was for the Hong Kong Open, one of the most established and prestigious tournaments on the calendar.

It brings the men’s and women’s tours back together again; good to see the two associations working alongside each other. It brings a balance and a business to the event.

The Hong Kong squash centre was the stage up until the semi-finals; the main court there can only hold 300-400 people and so was teeming with atmosphere on quarter-finals day.

I played a match with Mohamed Elshorbagy that someone said was the second-longest of my career, at 122 minutes. I lost the first two games 11-9 11-9 and so was in a precarious position against the man in form at present, winner in tournaments in Qatar and Egypt recently.

I managed to dig deep, and brought the next two games home in an exact echo of the scoreline in the first two, meaning we went into a fifth-game decider unusually exactly level on points.

This parity threatened to end when I took a 6-3 lead in the fifth and then 8-5, but soon enough we were level again at 10-10, and in to a tie break. I had seven match balls before I ended up the winner, 20-18 in a bruising battle which ruined the match schedule for the day.

It had many of the ingredients of a classic: the quality of play and the intensity I felt was very high and I wouldn’t say that lightly, but was ultimately spoiled by lots of stoppages and let and no let calls, especially in the fifth game.

We were both complaining to the referees, arguing with each other and getting in the way and for me this is not what it’s about. I lose the sense of satisfaction playing squash when it is played in antagonistic fashion.

I suppose sport can’t always be cups of tea and cake. It seems almost old fashioned in these days of sledging, outward aggression and disrespect to hanker for a game to be played in a civil way, but it’s what I aim for and it is how I have been taught. Sport can still be played with extreme inward aggression whilst preserving a level of respect and fair play during the big contest.


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1 Comment

  1. Despite there being no ‘special allowance’ in the Rule Book for players who are 6’4″ and over, many referees are making decisions based on “well, there is more of him to clear”. Not only do clear strokes receive a ‘let’ call, but often crucial points are not awarded as a result. Whether non-clearance is deliberate, minimal, or accidental, the Rules should still apply.
    Stepping, or shuffling, forwards after a back-hand straight drive is NOT clearing, it is a deliberate action to block a volley, to send an opponent to the back of the court, and to gain control of the T. Denied the volley option at the risk of being hit in the face with the follow-through, points are lost when the ball dies in the back corner and the ref gives a ‘no let’ call. The ‘movement in an arc to clear the ball’ is not happening, and without a caution from the ref will become the pattern for the match and a lot of cheap points. Not too difficult to spot, very easy to realise the number of let requests, but refs are more inclined to apply the “must make more effort” Rule whenever there is congestion. A mere caution early in a match would reduce the problem, far too late half-way through the 3rd or 4th game, if at all, which is usually the case. We are talking about Massive Advantage and Massive Disadvantage when it comes to referees recognising and acting upon Non-clearance and Blocking.

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