Tuesday, October 23, 2012


PST Cleveland Open Oct 19-21

So here I was, excited to play another pro squash event, which at my age are fewer and further between so I cherish them more, secretly hoping that Joe McManus will be friendlier with my draw than he was last year when he threw me to the lions to play David Palmer, only to be nailed to the cross this time when I saw my opponent would be Stephane Galifi.

Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoyed the butchering I received. Stephane was the perfect Italian gentleman, carving me up with deft volley drops and boasts, (seemingly) physically impossible retrievals with stretches that extended into next week, lengthening the rallies well beyond my fitness levels that at certain points I just couldn’t lift my racquet up enough to take a normally comfortable volley, testing the limits of my lung capacity and the strength of my rib cage keeping my heart inside of my body… In fact, he was so much of a gentleman he allowed me to win the third game just to torture me a little longer in the fourth. I was happy with my 3-1 loss.

Thierry Lincou and David Palmer supporting
World Squash Day in Cleveland

The quality of squash for these major PST events has risen considerably. I am not just talking about Stephane. Even after upsetting the pundits and getting past me in his first match – he still didn’t manage to win the tournament. He came fourth. In fact, if you remember who played in the event at the DAC we had in May, none of those guys won the event either. Newcomer Thierry Lincou did. Lincou beat David Palmer in the semi final 3-1, then Wael El Hindi in the final 3-2. Quality squash at its finest. For the record, Stephane lost the third / fourth play-off to David Palmer in 5 games.

Even the first round ‘qualifying’ matches were top notch. Youngster Alex Grayson from New Zealand had a groaner against Joe Russell from England winning 11-8 in the fifth. Amazing game, very cleanly played. Alex is remarkably quick and Joe is very steady as all Englishman are prone to be. Missing from the draw was Irishman John Rooney, who had to withdraw due to work commitments as he recently just started a coaching job in Buffalo. He should, however, be able to play more events as the season progresses and is of a very high standard with every chance of making the final 8 here at the DAC.

But as with every event, nothing runs perfectly smoothly, and Joe McManus had his fair share of hiccups over the weekend. None more embarrassing than the live webcast – “Pro Squash TV”. It was a ‘soft’ launch, so not too much advertising was put into it. The first round matches on Friday (including mine) were supposed to be broadcast live but there was an issue with the connection and a solution could not be found in time. All was deciphered by Saturday morning, but that didn’t help my poor mother in Australia who got up especially early to watch me play. Many of you who tried to log on to watch would have been wondering why it wasn’t working and you may have been blaming your device – be assured the glitch lay on the other end.

The referee also gave Joe a major headache. Simply from his absence. On short notice the head referee bailed on the weekend leaving a void to fill. The players came to the rescue, but it was the last resolution Joe was hoping for. He is an advocate that the players should not be refereeing their peers – even though they do sit in as line judges. A position I agree with. And it was a situation that was taken advantage of by a couple of the players. A new rule this season is that players are no allowed to argue any call. They can challenge it, but once the decision is final, that’s it, move on. Any arguing should result in a warning, or penalty point, and so on. However, it is awfully difficult and awkward for a fellow player to start issuing warnings and conduct points against their peers. I am not suggesting that the behavior was out of control – it was not. But there was the very odd ‘discussion’ and ‘pleading’ with the referee that under the rules should have dealt with immediately and harshly. They weren’t, and as soon as that precedent and understanding is set, it can open the flood gates. Luckily it was kept under control, but the new rule was basically ignored.

Which brings me to the interference calls themselves. The ‘no let’ rule is constantly a topic of conversation with Joe and the players and finding ways to improve it. Everybody agrees with the concept. Play must be continuous, ‘lets’ must be kept to a minimum. Eliminate fishing, eliminate playing the man instead of the ball, eliminate blocking, and punish the offenders. But squash is not black and white. Situations arise that – to me – are impossible to discern who is at fault. Feet can get tangled up, both players are making every effort to maneuver around themselves but still end up crashing into each other. Safety is also a concern. Stephane bought up a valid point during dinner on Saturday. He mentioned that sometimes players are forced to play a ball off balance – they would not get a ‘stroke’ if they asked for a one – and playing a ball out of position may cause injury by placing extra pressure, for example, on a knee.

Joe is nothing if not attentive. He listens. The decisions implemented in PST are based on player feedback and safety is definitely an important topic for him. It is also the reason he continues to fine-tune the rules. The problem as I see it is that in order for there to be no wiggle room when making decisions, the verbiage has to be able to define absolutely the situation. If ‘a’ occurs, then ‘b’ is the call. However, I am not sure you can define it – there are infinite amount of interference possibilities out there which are open to interpretation. It seems that in every match, something new and interesting pops up. But maybe Joe can find some way to narrow the discrepancies. He may not be able to cover all the bases, but nearly all of them. Either way, be assured that he knows the rule isn’t perfect and he is constantly trying to develop it.

That being said, I didn’t think many of the calls that were made this weekend were incorrect. A few were overturned by the line judges (as they should have been), and by and large controversies were nominal. Most importantly, I didn’t hear of any complaints from the spectators.
Stephane Galifi (lower right) enjoying his time with
kids from the Cleveland urban squash program

Last topic - eye-guards. Safety. I get it – and frankly, I don’t have much trouble wearing them since I am used to it. Unfortunately, many of the other players are not. Especially newcomers Monsieur’s Lincou and Galifi. Fresh of PSA, they probably don’t even own a pair of goggles. Once they get accustomed this won’t be so bad, but over the weekend a lot of time was spent by the players constantly cleaning and drying the lenses. It turned into a good excuse to get a rest. Understand that they play at a slightly higher pace than club level – the lunging, twisting, turning, in some cases diving – and the sweat flies everywhere. And the longer the matches took, the more often ‘lens-cleaning’ was required. I’m 50/50 on this subject. On one hand, I don’t think pros should have to wear them for the reason explained above and just because they are pros and know how to play. On the other hand, it’s an image and role-model for the club members and kids. As I have stated many times, PST is for the fans. In the USA, most clubs require eye-guards, PST respects and supports that safety rule. My advice to the players – wear a headband, and have a dry one or two spare to change during a match. The rule is here to stay.

Overall, Cleveland Open was a great success. Squash pro Ray Lindsay did a fantastic job, the fans had nothing but superlatives to describe the weekend, the squash was supreme, and Joe can breathe a huge sigh of relief, relax, and be very pleased at the result. Hurdles will come up – and they were met and dealt with quickly – and by the time the DAC tournament comes around hopefully all of those kinks will be in the past and we will be able to enjoy an even bigger and better event than our first.

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