Thursday, May 13, 2021

OUR DAC CLUB CHAMPIONS

2021 DAC Club Championships

The DAC Squash Club Championships is an event steeped in great tradition, with the names of the champions lining the walls of the club dating back decades. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic we could not hold the 2020 edition, and so we were chuffed when we were given the go ahead to run it this year. That fact alone made it a success before it began. Deciding the seedings this year was slightly more arduous than in the past considering a fair percentage of members hadn’t recorded any results going back almost 12 months or - in some cases - even picked up a racquet, Luckily, using the power of “gut-feeling”, reading tea-leaves, and downright guess work, the draws were put together with confident precision. About as much confident precision I had that one time I played “pin-the-tail-on-donkey” and managed to stab my brother in the side of the head. I swear it was accidental.

Overall entries were down comparatively speaking, which was totally understandable. Still, over 70 participants in the singles and 60 in the doubles was a very satisfying number, and didn’t diminish anyone’s fully deserved victory…:

2.5 – AJ’s day…

The 2.5 category was (again) the one with the most entrants and when looking at the draw it seemed to be wide open with dark horses in every quarter, highlighting the improving depth we have coming up in the lower ranks. Finalist Kyle Keppen squeaked out a 3-2 win in the first round against talented newcomer and shot maker Daniel Dusina, chalked up a 3-1 win in the second round before taking on top seed Paul Gormley in the semi. Stu was witness to this particular contest, and in his true non-sarcastic manner, proclaimed it was a “fantastic game of squash with both gents playing in the true spirit of the game”, Kyle getting through the carnage 3-1. Based on that assessment, Stu immediately predicted Kyle would win the final. Stu also once ate a hard-boiled egg with the shell on, so we’ll take that forecast with a grain of salt.

AJ Peleman was seeded 2 and proved that ranking correct reaching the final. It wasn’t straight forward though; he dropped a game in the second round to the crafty Fred Minturn before scraping through a 5 gamer against the strong but unseeded Niko Ahee in the semifinal. Both AJ and Kyle are rather quiet, gentlemanly characters, and the final must have been one of the most polite (and hushed) in the history of squash. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a ripsnorter. In fact, it was up there with one of the best finals of the tournament. Pity it wasn’t played on the Awards night in front of a crowd. We missed out. AJ, though, must have managed a tiny – even a barely audible whisper – squeal of joy as he took the match 3-2.

 3.0 – Jordan the-squash-machine Dean

In the 3.0 category, it got a bit wonky. Most of the matches ended up with a straightforward 3-0 or 3-1 win. Going against that trend however, Colin Casey and DAC newcomer Tom Pastore had a ding-dong battle in the first round with Colin eventually making it through in 5 agonizing games. Clearly inspired by his win, Colin toughened up his game face and took down the 3rd seeded Henry Gembis in straight sets in the quarter final. However, his run was brought to an abrupt halt at the hands of top seeded Jack Bernard in the semi.  Jack was clearly taking no prisoners and was carving through the draw in much the same way as I slice up my fruit for breakfast: quickly, quietly, happy not to lose any digits and a carnage of mess left behind.  

Jack’s final opponent would be Jordan Dean. Jordan had a tougher route to the final having to fight back the determined Ted Morris in his first match and then the much experienced David Walker in his second. Both results went to 4 games so based on these results and perceived form, Jack was heading into the final as the favorite. Of course, Jordan was having none of that. Despite a losing record against Jack in the past – and in fact the previous 2 recorded results, Jordan went down 0-3 - he brought a new found laser focus to the court, timed his precision strikes perfectly, and sent Jack packing 3-0.

3.5 – Iron-Mike

The 3.5 category was a different kettle of fish altogether with 7 of the 9 matches going 4 or 5 games. Arguably, the title of “dogfight of the tournament” could be awarded to this category’s quarter final match between two of the clubs most unorthodox players, Mike Parker and David Zack. Anyone who has played them will know they both hit a lot of cheeky winners into the front and that David is deceptively faster than one would expect. Mike ultimately managed to justify his place as second seed and shut the shop with his 187 boasts and a 12-10 in the fifth win. His semi final had him up against Dave Devine who is vastly improved thanks to regular lessons with Stu and upset the odd-makers with a 3-1 take down of Rich Stimson in his quarter-final. Dave clearly wasn’t bothered with Mike’s front corner assaults and marched himself to the final in straight games.

Seeded one, Mike Jenkins is another new young member gracing our courts. Mike runs like a greyhound chasing a rabbit and insisted on maximizing the court time to get his money’s worth in every match. From winning his first match against Dewey Steffen in 5 and probably hearing the familiar “BooYaah” more often than my wife asks me to take the trash out on a Sunday evening, to having to quarantine for 2 weeks, then edging past another slick quick customer in Shail Arora in the semifinal in a very tight 4-setter, to concluding his campaign against the great Double D in a marathon 5 game final. In fact, I think Mike is still running… 

4.0 – Bartes in Charge

No, Brian Bartes was not the oldest player in the 4.0 draw. He was the second oldest. But – as I have recently been reminded – age is but a number. It was a small draw of just 7 players, Brian was probably one of the fittest amongst the group despite his ‘veteran’ status. Because of that, I had him seeded number one, and in the end, he did prove me right (for a change!) although the final could have been completely different.

Jeff Rogers, Brian Bartes
Both semi finals came down to the wire. Brian had to withstand the stubborn persistence of Justin Jacobs, someone who manages to hang around for a lot longer than one would think. Justin has the knack of keeping opponents on court for extended periods of time and can be quite the steady-Eddie as well. Was it fitness in the end that carried Brian over the line in this challenging 5-setter? Either way, Brian earned his spot in the final where he would meet a very different type of player.

Jeff Rogers is a hustler. Unorthodox in his play, he can be an awkward fellow to counter. It also seems that Jeff loves to get the most out of his matchers and if squash is advertised as 1000 calories an hour, then gosh-darn-it, he’s getting his 1000 calories worth. He beat Han Peng in his first match in 5, a match that no doubt went way beyond the allowed booking time, then another 3-2 win over Josh Gershonowicz in the semis, because why not, right?

For the final, however, Brian was not having any part of Jeff’s desire to play until the sun went down, especially since it was arranged for 6.45 in the morning. In and out. Business like. No mucking around. Thanks for coming, but Brian was surgical with his “I’ll-take-the-3-0-win-if-you-don’t-mind” attitude. All at his pleasure as well.

4.5 – Ian is on It

Ian Edwards, Brandon Tasco
Another 7-man draw. One of the biggest improvers in the last 12 months is Ian Edwards, again thanks to regular lessons with Stu, regular hitting partners, and just being plain regular. His wins for the tournament weren’t all that regulation however, as squash never really is. You have to adjust and fight your way through stressful situations that sometimes no amount of coaching can teach you. You can’t train ‘doggedness’, or ‘effort’. You either have it… or you don’t. Ian’s opponents also had that intrinsic never-say-die defiance so it did make for entertaining contests, if not just lung-bursting marathons. After taking down Mack Gembis 3-2 in the semifinal, an opponent that up until that point he had an 8 to 10 match record against, he came up in the final versus another nemesis in Brandon Tasco. Brandon definitely held not only the head-to-head record here (10 wins to 4 losses) but also the mental one by a long way. He had won their last 7 contests.

I was fortunate enough to see some of this back-and-forth bout, both players determined not to give an inch. Long rallies, few lets (refreshing!), great court coverage. It really could have gone either way, but from what I observed, it was Ian who had the slightly more consistent length. Having Brandon dig the ball out of the back one or two extra times gave Ian the slender edge. And when you go deep into a 5th game, that’s all you need. Great effort from both players, but it was Ian breaking the Tasco losing streak and taking the 4.5 title with a 3-2 victory.

5.0 – Amore for De La Torre

I’ve got to give it David de la Torre. El Guapo. Nacho Libre. El Chapo… whatever you want to call him, he was a man on a mission. Between throwing around that Ecuadorian accent that weakens the knees, to heading down south every other week for golf outings, Dave must have been somehow secretly training as he hit form at the perfect time. I didn’t have him seeded to win this – on the contrary - I even gave him a feed-in match. A match, it turned out, to be his most difficult of the event! On paper, Dave has a decent record against John Rogers, but that didn’t stop John from pushing him all the way to 5 games only to run out of gas, a victim of the COVID fitness regime.

Matt Paradiso, Dave de la Torre

Dave only became stronger from there. A 3-0 drubbing in round 2, then up against one of his Achilles’ heels in Greg Allare in the semis. Greg would be going in with the confident edge. Of the 28 recorded results between the pair, Greg had won 21 of them – including the last two. But Dave was determined to change his fortune and went on with a specific game plan to counter the hard-hitting, bulldog like approach of his opponent. Not an easy thing to do since Dave’s game is also based on power shots. But he managed to keep to the script and sustain the ball controlled and tight enough for a 3-0 win.

A different tactic was required in the final against Matt Paradiso. Matt must be one of the fastest, most improved players in the club over the past 2 years, he is a smooth operator, never gets ruffled, reads to play very well. Dave was not going to be able to push Matt around, he needed to overpower him somewhat. And he did. Strong squash, not giving Matt much opportunity to control his front court game, and steady enough to survive three games. The 3rd was the closest of the match, and Dave admitted if he had lost that one, he probably would not have survived.

Open – Quick Flick Trick Vik

The Open category was one for the ages. It always is. This year, in person viewing was limited for the traditional Club Championships Finals Night so we were streaming it to the pavilion for the members to watch. Leading up to the Vik-Jed final were a couple of humdingers to mention. Derek Aguirre almost produced the big upset when he was 2-0 up on Robin Basil in the first round but failed to capitalize. Robin escaped the scare only to get the reward of being bounced by Jed in the semi. The other surprise came at the hands of Jason Currie who took down the 4th seeded Ryan Covell in 4 games. Of course, Jason’s prize wasn’t any better than Robin’s. Vikram was waiting in the wings for him to hand out the beating.

Vikram Chopra and Jed Elley
For the final both Vikram and Jed looked slightly nervous at the prospect of playing on the custard and jelly (British slang for the television: “telly”), something that I imagine may have been a first for both of them. This was evidenced by the lead up to the match, where Vik who is usually good for a bit of rabbit and pork (“trash-talk”) was uncharacteristically quiet and Jed took on Vik’s usual role as the entertainer. The nerves clearly led to a shaky first game from both gents, with Vikram hitting the lesser of the slew of errors and so took the game that was never really in doubt, 11-7.

Both men came out in the second looking more relaxed and the level of play shot up, with Vikram’s shot making ability on clear display and Jed hustling away we looked set for the rest of the match to be a cracker. Down to the tie-break, it was Vikram pinching the 13-11 win, an important mental boost for him and a clear blow for the now desperate Jed. But you could see on Vikram’s face he was hurting from the effort and slightly concerned that the big springbok was about to bring it in the third which he duly did. Jed came out hitting the ball like he was trying to break it and Vikram was now on the back foot defending for the whole game. Jed rolled through 11-6. The fourth set was full of drama, with it being nip and tuck most of the way. The lads kept it tight, but Vikram seemed to have one or two more answers and slowly increased his lead, eventually earning 3 match-points at 10-7 and only needing one. Vikram would hold his nerve and buried a wide forehand crosscourt to close out the match and win the open title for the third time.

Doubles

Adding on to a very successful 2021 Club Championships for Vikram, he also dominated the Open Doubles category. He couldn’t hook up with his usual partner who he won the 2019 title with – Stefan Houbtchev – thanks to the ongoing COVID restrictions that prevents Stefan from crossing the border, so he took the next best option… Robin Basil. Robin has proved himself to be a formidable doubles player, translating that Racquetball knowledge of angles and natural power to the squash court. Vikram and Robin had to overcome the 2018 Club Champions in Jed Elley and Ryan Covell and did so without too much bother it seemed. The first 2 games were pretty much one-way traffic before Jed and Ryan found their footing in the third albeit way too late to make much of a difference. A convincing win for Chopra / Basil 15-6; 15-8; 15-13. The tough question for Vikram now presents itself: next year will you stay with Robin or switch back to Stefan? Should make for a fascinating event if all our top boys can play…

Roarty, Stimson, Jeff Rogers, John Rogers
In the Doubles A, we had 14 pairs, with nine results going to 4 or 5 games, 3 scores that were 3-0 and one forfeit due to an injury. Very competitive. No surprise really of who came out on top in the end, the top 2 seeded pairs did make the final – but only just. Both semifinals were 5-set encounters. Rich Stimson and John Roarty squeaked by Shail Arora and Manny Tancer, and then the Rogers boys John and Jeff had the see-saw battle of the titans against Ian Edwards and Matt Paradiso, that – if memory serves me correctly (which is sketchy at best these days!) – was a 15-14 in the 5th result… Matt and Ian were also 2-0, 1-7 down in the 3rd … almost a comeback of the ages before it wasn’t! The final was another hard fought match. Certainly Rich and John have the more experience, but the Rogers team have the legs and the lungs. And even though on the doubles court where experience is a huge advantage, the younger guns here prevailed to take the doubles title 3-1.

We had 10 pairs fight it out for the Doubles B. This category truly does get the mix of veteran teams and the fledglings to doubles that seriously have barely removed their training wheels. It’s great to see some new competitors and hopefully it encourages them to join the doubles leagues and get more involved in the future! Especially when you win… Tripp Kennedy is no stranger to the doubles, but his partner this year certainly was – Spencer Eick. Talk about being thrown into the deep end, Spencer had to learn to stay afloat without the water-wings. A quick study it appears. Making their way through to the final, they had their hands full against Jordan Dean and Colin Casey, both of whom are still relatively green but aren’t neophytes to the games either. Just like Trip and Spencer, Jordan and Colin only dropped one game to get to the championship match. Jumping out the gate with the same determination as a sumo wrestler running to the buffet table, the Casey / Dean combination took control of the match early and showed their opponents they meant business. It was a quick 2-0 lead. But not to be outdone, Kennedy / Eick calmed the storm and settled in pegging back the advantage and suddenly the pressure shifted. One game back, then two and now they could feel the Casey / Dean team cracking…  It was all they needed. A great come from behind victory, Tripp and Spencer took the match 3-2.

So there you have it. Winners and finalists of the singles category have qualified to represent the DAC at the 2022 Farris Cup versus the BAC next January (we are hosting). Congratulations to our winners, many of whom are first time title holders so it’s fantastic to see the new names making DAC history.

Monday, May 3, 2021

RAISE YOUR DRINKS FOR THE WINKY-DINKS

 Boasters League Final

In these very strange times we are living through, it’s often comforting to just simply grab onto a security blanket, curl up into the fetal position and think of a happy place. Do we even remember what normal was? Well, the Tigers are terrible this season… that’s normal… The Pistons are also terrible this season… that’s normal too… The Lions outlook for next season is disastrous… nothing more normal than that I guess! And best of all, we played and completed the Boasters League season.

Yes, it was an adjusted format, a little smaller than years past, but just getting through it and announcing a winner is reassuring that life is getting back to where it once was.

I wish I could report on the individual matches for the Winky-Dinks v Over Served final but since all of them were self-scheduled, I didn’t witness any of the epic results that came through. Good news is that all the matches were played – 10 of them- and only 3 ended up with a 3-0 score line. Each team ended up winning 5 matches each but the difference were those 3-0 results. Winky-Dinks won all 3 of them which gave them the not-so-close-looking-but-in-reality-it-could-have-easily-gone-the-other-way 18 to 12 victory.

In fact, Winky-Dinks were rather fortunate to be in the final in the first place. They won their semi-final against Wardogs on the tie-break. Scores were tied at 12-all but Winky-Dinks had won more matches on the day (6 wins to 2) giving them the advantage. I must say though, hats off to them. Between all the matches they played in the semi and final combined, they only lost 1 match 3-0. They picked up at least 1 game in every other contest. Impressive. Goes completely against their season average.

Winky-Dinks deserve every bit of the title. They were the bench mark all season long, played the most matches, scored the most bonus points. It is captain Justin Winkelman’s 3rd Boasters League championship, where he went back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.

Monday, April 12, 2021

GETTING THROUGH BOASTERS

Boasters League February – March 2021


The most satisfying part of this Boasters League was the fact that we were able to run it at all. Pandemic affected like everything else, we had to adjust the structure a little in order to accommodate which of course made everything that smidgeon more complicated. All the matches were self-scheduled to avoid the Wednesday night congregations and only 4 teams advanced to the finals as opposed to the usual six. The bonus point structure was also modified, rewarding players that completed more matches overall.

Additionally, the captains did not draft their own teams. I took it upon myself to do that as randomly and fairly as possible. Ranking players accurately was made all the more difficult since many players that entered the league hadn’t picked up a racquet since the initial lockdown – almost a full 12 months ago. Given all that, was it surprising that the same familiar teams reached the finals? Mongoose and Winky-Dinks once again ended up in the mix. The one common denominator here are obviously the captains… or is simply coincidence this time? It wasn’t their drafting prowess. The stats will explain why:

·         We had 99 registrations. Pre-pandemic times, we cap it at 153. We ended up with 94 players in the end. A couple of injuries and a couple who decided that they weren’t actually comfortable playing after all.

·         33% of matches were completed overall. Yes, that’s very low. But no, I’m not overly shocked. Given that all matches were self-schedule, expectations were rather bleak.

·         Round 1 had the most matches played. Round 9 the least.

·         Winky-Dinks played the most matches with 38%. Over Served and Wardogs were next with 36%, and then Mongoose with 35%. Guess where these 4 teams ended up?

·         Nicker Ballers and Nick at Night played the least. Guess where they ended up?

·         Mongoose had the best win percentage with 62.5%. Of those wins, they would win 3-0 53% of the time.

·         When Foss Nation would win a match, they would win it 3-0 67% of the time – the highest in the league. Unfortunately, their win percentage overall was only 43.9%.  

·         Lowest win percentage was Nick at Night with 37.5%.

·         The most points scored in any one round was the Nicker Ballers in round 1 with 17 (not including bonus points). They only reached double digits once more all season. They scored zero in round 9.

·         The top 4 teams also picked up the most bonus points. Not surprising considering they also played the most matches.

·         4 players played all 8 matches – none of them were undefeated. 4 players didn’t play any.

·         Matt Wilson from Vivio’s scored the most points in the league with 21. In fact, he scored 23% of his team’s total. 

The top 4 teams have advanced. Winky-Dinks v Wardogs on the top half. These two played each other in round eight and 7 of the 11 matches were completed (not bad!) with Wardogs coming out barely with their noses in front 11-10. We’ll have 2 byes, which means only 9 matches can be played here. Too close to call if all matches get done I think, but what the hey, let me go out on a limb and predict the Wardogs will survive another tight one by just a couple of points.

On the bottom half we see Mongoose battling Over Served. Also a repeat of round 8, and again 7 of the 11 matches were completed back then. Mongoose ruled that day 12 to 9. I think that trend will continue and I predict another Mongoose victory by a similar margin of 3 – if not 4 – points.

Friday, April 2, 2021

SUCCESS! DOUBLES LEAGUE COMPLETE!

 Doubles League February – March 2021

Can you believe it? We have actually completed a half-season of a squash league. Who would have thunk that not even 4 months ago? We could rant and rave until the cows come home about what consequences the pandemic has had on all our lives, but being able to get back to the DAC and participate in an organized event does bring some level of sanity back into the psyche. And it gives me a chance to dust off the keyboard, fire up the blog, and splatter some words on a page.

Understandably, not everybody was comfortable returning. Because of that, numbers for the doubles league were less than normal but all things considered, I thought the quantity of players was somewhat decent. Hopefully, we will see everyone back on the court at the start of next season in September. As is customary, we dissect a little of the league stats and celebrate our top performers. Keep in mind this was just an 8-week season as opposed to the normal 10…

Monday A league.

  •       15 players signed up. We usually get 24.
  •        From the total of 16 matches, only 6 of them ended up 3-0. 4 of them were 3-2
  •       Only 4 of the matches did not require any subs.
  •       A sub was required 31% of the time. Not too bad really.
  •       Patrick Petz played 9 of the 16 matches. He stepped up to sub 5 times, which is very helpful.
  •       Newcomer to the league Tom Howe ended up with the most points and the best average.

 Tuesday B league.

  •       23 players in this one. We normally get 24, so I was delighted with this!
  •       24 total matches were scheduled. One was not played because we couldn’t secure a sub.
  •       Subs were required 33% of the time.
  •       Only 4 matches did not require any subs.
  •      14 matches ended up 3-0. That’s rather high. Only 3 matches went to 5 games.
  •       Jim Fair ended up with the most points, Tom MacFarlane played the most matches with 9.
  •       Kyle Keppen had the best average. (Minimum 4 matches to qualify)

 Wednesday Open league.

  •        Only 10 players made themselves available. Normal count is between 20-24.
  •        This was the level that the players seemed most eager to sub. The answer to the sub email   would come back to me almost immediately every time.
  •        Only 1 match of the 16 organized matches didn’t require any subs.
  •        33% of the time, a sub was needed. Still not bad.
  •        Robin Basil made a statement by scoring the most points and having the best average. It’s a little easier to score the most points when you play 11 of the 16 matches.
  •        The return of Zac MacVoy shocked everyone. He made a guest appearance for the last match of the season and won 3-2 with Robin as his partner. He’s still hurting.
  •         5 matches ended up 3-2. 7 of them were 3-0.

Thursday C league.

  •                   Only 5 players for this one. Normal is around 12-14.
  •                   8 matches were scheduled (one a week). One wasn’t played because we couldn’t secure the sub. I’m quite happy with that stat- with just 5 players, this was my biggest concern.
  •                   4 of the 8 matches didn’t need any subs.
  •                   In fact, we had only 4 subs all season… remarkable. (Not counting the week we couldn’t get any.)
  •                   3 matches ended up 3-0. 1 went to 5.
  •                  Jim Fair dominated the level winning the most points and having the best average. He played 6 of the 8 matches.

All in all, I was thrilled with the participation of the league. When we started this in February, I think many of us were skeptical at how this was going to turn out. With everything we do, Covid adds that unwanted weight of anxiety but we got through unscathed. The excitement around the club is slowly building again and I really look forward to next season.

Don’t forget: we will be running a summer doubles league starting in May. So make sure you let me know if you wish to keep active and be a part of the action!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

THE BOGAN AND THE BRIT VIDEO PODCAST - 1

 

Happy New Year!

As 2021 creeps forward, we are all delighted to put 2020 in the rear view mirror. Tip-toeing ahead, let’s all be thankful that although we are limited with what we can offer competitively, at least we are open and can play! Box ladders are up and running and leagues are just around the corner, club champs are scheduled for April.

During the lockdown last year, Stu and I produced some audio podcasts calling ourselves “The Bogan and The Brit”. Now, we have gone that extra step into eccentric, and you may just ask “why?”, as we bring you our first video podcast. We hope to produce one of these a month, keeping you up to date with the world of DAC squash in our own unique way.

 



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

MEET A PRO - 7

There aren’t too many bigger names in squash than this one. We are exceedingly privileged to be able to speak to a current legend of the game, with a record that only a select few humans can compare. Joining the world tour as a 15 year old in 2006, he won his first title just a year later, and then went on to win back to back world junior titles in 2008 and 2009. In 2013 he claimed his first World Series event in Qatar, and in 2015 he won the esteemed British Open beating Greg Gaultier in the final. From December 2015 to April 2016 he had a remarkable run of 6 consecutive World Series titles, and in 2017 he won his first World Open title beating Marwan El Shorbagy in the final. He also currently owns 4 British Open titles, 3 Hong Kong Open titles, 3 Tournament of Champions titles, 3 US Open titles, and 2 Windy City Open titles. He has been ranked inside the world’s top ten (unbroken) since December 2010, and inside the top 3 since Aril 2014. One of consistently hardest hitters of the squash ball, nicknamed “The Beast of Alexandria”, and the current world number 1…

 

MEET… MOHAMED EL SHORBAGY


The Squash Joint (TSJ): G’day Mohamed and welcome to The Squash Joint! At only 29 years old, you have already had an extraordinary career winning pretty much every major title there is. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date and are there still some goals that you are still striving to achieve?

MoES: I have to say my greatest achievement is not any match or any title but it is without a doubt how I have always came back to world number 1 every time I had it taken from me. Every time I came back was harder and I had do something very differently, whether moving or hitting and had to change it up a lot both in my style of training, technique and tactics. I am still not done and I know if it will be taken off me again and then I will again have to evolve and try to get it back. Obviously I am getting older and it will become harder and harder and one day I will not be able to reclaim my position at the top of the sport but until then I will keep pushing my limits and trying to do something new in this era of the sport that nobody has done before.

TSJ: That’s really interesting mate; what did you do different this time?

MoES: I had to improve my movement, it was the thing my generation were beating me at because Ali is quick and Gawad moves smoothly. The other times I have lost the world number one was never to my own age group but older generations like Nick, Greg and Ramy. I was by myself for a long time waiting for my generation to catch up and join me at the top of the sport. Gawad and Ali were the only two who I lost to in the season where Ali overtook me as world number one. For sure on his day Gawad is unplayable

but most of the times where he beat me I would have won if I had moved slightly better. I know I will never be able to move as well as them but this was the area they were so much better than me and while they will probably always move far better than I, my focus was to narrow this gap.

TSJ: There are not many players on the tour that you have a losing record against. In fact of the current players, I couldn’t find any! However, the recently retired Ramy Ashour seemed to be a little bit of an Achilles Heel for you. What made him so difficult to play against and do you wish he was still playing?

MoES: The thing is that me and Ramy only played 12 times, it’s not like me and nick who played 27 times and me and Greg played 25, me and Ali already played 25 times and all our meetings were in finals. I actually lost 13 straight matches with Greg before I beat him so to be honest I think I worked out Ramy much quicker. I do feel that with Ramy our matches together brought something special because I was the only one who went after him at his own game and fought fire with fire. All of the other top guys tried to minimize his strengths, tie him up, and slow him down. I had no interest in that and I just said OK, you want to play fast, let’s see how fast you can play when someone does this back to you! As it turned out, Ramy could play pretty darn fast and I feel like doing this raised the level of squash at the top of the sport. I really miss getting to play him, I wish our rivalry had lasted longer - and we had a huge rivalry - but maybe our story had to be this way, cut short by his injuries. Grasshopper Cup was a perfect end to his career against me and beating me in 3 games. He was so technically unique which made him so hard to read and to play but his mental strength was the scariest thing for me. He could be out for 6 months and not play one match and come back even stronger than when he left from that first match. Even if you are 2-0 up and 10-0 up he can still come back and beat you. He was never phased on court, even if in round 1 he is 2-0 down he never cared because he knew if he turned it on he would win emphatically. For me if I am 2-0 down in the first round you can see I get tense and nervous but that is something we never saw from him, he always backed himself to pull the cat out of the bag no matter how far his back is up against the wall and to me that is so special and I have tried to learn this from him.

TSJ: In every sport there is a lot of talk about the greatest player of all time and I know that you don’t like the comparisons across generations who didn’t play each other. Of the generation that proceeded the group you have played against there were three guys who stuck out above the rest; Nicol, Power and Palmer. Since it is a direct comparison I am wondering who you thought was the best of the three and why?

MoES: The three had different achievements. Nicol stayed number one for 58 months, I have been world number one for 48 months and I can tell you this is the hardest thing to do and this is brutal. Obviously Palmer was my coach for a couple of years and he told me Power was extremely hard to play but quite easy to beat and that Peter Nicol was so easy to play but very difficult to beat. Palmer is so hard to look past though because his sheer determination meant that he won two world championships and four British Opens which is more than the other two guys. The thing was Palmer wasn’t as consistent in the smaller events so only spent a relatively short time at world number one, but on the biggest stages, when it came down to the one huge match you always knew that Palmer would show up ready to die on the court, and not only that, if Palmer got the opening he would never miss the big shot to close out a big match.

I tell you what it is though man, for a one off big match if I had to bet everything I owned on one of them to beat the others in a one off big match on a big stage my money would be on Palmer. If I had to put money on one of these guys to be world number one at the end of the year I take Nicol. If all three were to play the best level squash match they ever played at the same time against each other in a round robin event Power would win because on his day he was the one capable of playing the highest level of squash.

TSJ: Let’s lighten the mood for a minute. Tell us your favorite…

  1. Relaxing activity… Going for a coffee
  1. Non-squash sporting hero…Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan
  1. Tournament venue…Cartagena (Colombia)
  1. Unhealthy food…Burger
  1. Movie…Anything with Denzel Washington
  1. Country to visit (except Egypt and England)…Mexico or Colombia

TSJ: Who was your greatest squash idol growing up? Who was your most influential coach?

MoES: Squash idol as a kid was obviously Shabana, he pioneered the game. Most influential coach would be Gamal Awad. He provided me with the foundation and belief that I could be very good. He always believed I would be world number 1 and I proved him right. Jonah Barrington also had a huge impact on my career and taught me so many valuable things when I was still very young. All my coaches were great for different reasons.

TSJ: I just realized I don’t have any idea how you started playing squash?

MoES: My uncle played for fun, I used to be a swimmer and my uncle took me one day to play squash when I was 8 or 9 and I never looked back.  

TSJ: When did you know you wanted to play pro?

MoES: I wanted to be world number one from when I was 11 years old. But really my goal was never to be world number one, my goal was bigger than that. Even aged 11 or 12 my goal was to be number one and stay there for as long as possible, to win as many world championships as possible and to dominate the sport. 

TSJ: For the club player, it’s impossible to fathom the amount of training and fitness required to compete at a world class level year after year. What would a typical Mohamed El Shorbagy day look like when you are in full training mode?

MoES: 6am I wake and have breakfast, then around 730 I go for fitness training. After I do a session with a coach and then at night, I do condition games or match play. Sometimes I mix in some yoga or stretching, and I see the physio 4 times a week which is why I have never been injured because I invest so much in my body.

TSJ: Stu and I have recently been discussing the standard of referring at professional tournaments. Lately, we have been more and more baffled at the decision making. Since you have been in tour for 14 years now, what changes have you seen over this time in regards to the let rule and has it altered the way you approach your matches?

MoES: All the referees are trying to do is make people go and play the ball. It gets confusing sometimes because they try and make people play the ball when they actually can’t. The thing we must remember is they are doing it for the love of the sport. Back when I started the game was a lot more physical with Greg, Nick, Palmer, Darwish, El Hindi, Barker, etc, because we used to block each other a lot more but to the ref it didn’t matter if you played a good shot. Now we must give access to the player or there is a stroke against you. I think it’s a good thing, but it happened in the middle of my career, so it is something I had to adapt and evolve to learn what is now allowed. So long as the referring is consistent, I don’t mind if I agree or disagree with the decision, so long as we know the line the ref is taking in the match because then we know what to do.

TSJ: What areas of your game do you think need improving?

MoES: As I mentioned earlier my movement is the main area for improvement, but I also think that my short game needs improved because most of the other Egyptians are still better at this than me. Just like with my movement I feel that trying to be better than them at this is not achievable anytime soon and so my aim is just trying to narrow that gap as much as possible to allow me to at least compete in this space of the court with them. I think that mine and Ali’s basic game is too good compared to Gawad and Tarek and I think a solid basic game will always beat a good short game over time. They will always be good for a one-off win but having a good short game will not make you consistent enough to be world number one.

TSJ: Let’s think like a coach. Do you recommend players work more on their strengths or weaknesses?

MoES: Both, but I think work more on the weaknesses defiantly but don’t forget about your strength.

TSJ: What should the on-court v off-court training ratio ideally be for aspiring junior players?

MoES: It is important to train the fitness on track and the gym, but it is equally important to play a lot on the court and do a lot of solo. Go for any shots they want and then when they are mature enough you can structure the game but don’t structure a junior game when they are young. This is what makes the Egyptian juniors so good they have no structure until pros - when they need it. It is easier to hit a straight length than a straight drop.

TSJ: What do you think the recommended balance is between taking a lesson and match play with your peers?

MoES: No matches for juniors in the off season at all and then 3 weeks before the season start playing matches. In the off season they should train hard and routines and conditions only.

 

We can’t thank Mohamed enough for his time and candor. It’s not often we get the unique perspective of a current world number 1. The PSA squash tour has just started back up again, albeit with a very limited schedule, and Mohamed won the Manchester Open final on Tuesday this week beating Karim Gawad 3-1 in the final. Clearly the 6 month break hasn’t stopped his domination. This victory has put Mohamed 5th on the all-time PSA tournament win list with 42 titles. He has 7 more winner trophies to raise to catch the current 4th best Peter Nicol, and a staggering 57 titles to match Jahangir Khan’s 99. He is unlikely to reach that milestone, but even if he retired tomorrow, Mohamed El Shorbagy has cemented himself as a true legend of the sport. As mentally exceptional as he is, it will be very interesting to see how long he can hold onto the top spot over the next few years.

 

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