Thursday 20 December 2007

Happy Christmas from squashblog!

Squashblog will return in January.

Look out for postings in the new year as the site moves into its second year of existence.

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Monday 17 December 2007

PSA tour videos take promos to new level

Pro-Active TVI wrote previously about Pro-Active TV's videos for the PSA tour.

There are now more examples now posted on YouTube, with the quality of editing and use of sound demonstrating long-overdue progress in the filming of squash promo material ...

Some of the best can be seen below:

PSA Tour 2007 title sequence - nice use of what sounds like early-90s Italian piano house (anyone know what the music is?)

Palmer and Shabana talk about being double World Champions before during the recent World Open in Bermuda.

Lee Beachill demonstrates the forehand cross-court nick

Linda Davie and Peter Lawrence explain the 3 ref system of officiating at the Canary Wharf Classic.

How about commissioning Pro-Active to produce the next Olympic pitch?

Pro-Active TV

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Friday 14 December 2007

Anthony Ricketts retires

Anthony RickettsThe Australian professional Anthony Ricketts has retired from the PSA tour.

The 29 year-old from Sydney has had a number of injuries in the past few years, and has decided that the damage to his right knee is such that he cannot regain the fitness required to compete at the top level.

I first saw Ricketts in 2004, after a period of injury that had seen him fall down the rankings. I had a typically English response to the brash Aussie's uncompromising behaviour on court ...

That is, I thought he should cut out the posturing and concentrate on the game (naturally, his English opponent was losing at the time :))

After that I was lucky enough to then see Ricketts in more events in Britain, and broadly agree with the sentiments expressed by others in the squash community when summing up his career and qualities as a player: he was a committed professional, a tough competitor who gave his all and was magnanimous in victory and generous in defeat.

However, to the spectator who wasn't used to his demeanour, he could be difficult to read and for this reason I didn't find him particularly endearing the first couple of times I saw him.

I was soon able to appreciate the often incredulous (sometimes hilariously faux histrionic) challenging of the officials for what it was: rather than seeking to rile the officals or gain any kind of unfair advantage over his opponent, Ricketts was obviously a proud, professional sportsman who simply wanted to be treated as such.

"This is a big moment for me, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time"

Ricketts wins the 2005 British OpenWhen an athlete has to retire through injury, they approach a new phase of their life knowing that they will almost never be able to return to professional competition.

Few would have begrudged Ricketts his British Open win in 2005 (pictured) and another major win the same year in the Tournament of Champions in New York - the big titles his talent deserved had come at last.

The Super Series of 2006, when Ricketts played Lee Beachill in the final, made me revisit my ambivalence about the way Ricketts behaved on court, when the Australian asked for the ball to be changed when clearly in trouble against the Englishman.

This upset Beachill, who subsequently lost, and I left fuming that Lee had been robbed by the actions of Ricketts, whom I felt may have acted within the rules of the game, but not necessarily in its spirit.

In hindsight I revised my opinion of that evening, with the officials
ultimately culpable as they didn't appear to have a grasp of the Super Series rules. The right of both players - and the paying spectators - to have a game properly officiated outweighed any individual grievances generated in the heat of the moment, and it showed Ricketts as a passionate advocate of a more professional tour (an opinion also voiced by fellow Australian David Palmer throughout his career).

Whoever was responsible on that particular evening, it wasn't a good advert for squash.

Deserved success

Ricketts probably would have won a lot more singles titles if injury had not plagued his years at the top.

He also had an illustrious doubles career, partnering Stewart Boswell for the most part when representing his country (see the doubles wins below. I also wondered why he never paired up with Palmer ...).

In recent years, I haven't been able to open a squash magazine without seeing Ricketts splashed across the page as the face of his sponsors Wilson, appearing in promotional material for their ranges of rackets. It appears that they had a successful relationship, and comments from Wilson suggest that the relationship may continue.

Australia could have done with Ricketts in the (just ended) World Team Championships. Aussies seem to relish team events and Ricketts must be just the sort of guy you would like to have around a squad.

The phrase "hard but fair" is often misapplied, but Ricketts - who was always first to offer his hand to an opponent, win or lose - seemed like a decent bloke who cared that things should be done properly.

His retirement means that the PSA has lost one of its strongest adverts for the increased professionalism that the sport aspires to.

Australia win the 2003 men's World Team championshipsAnthony Ricketts - career highlights

2000 Australian Open (winner)
2002 Commonwealth Games - silver medal, men's doubles
2003 Australia - World Team Squash Champions
2005 British Open(winner)
2005 Tournament of Champions(winner)
2006 Commonwealth Games - silver medal, men's doubles
2006 Australian Open(winner)
2006 Super Series Finals(winner)
2006 World Doubles(winner)

PSA tour titles - 9
Highest world ranking - 3

More coverage and tributes

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Thursday 13 December 2007

Beeb prescribes squash tonic for stricken football fans

The BBC sport websitePoor old footy fans stuck for something to do next summer have been given a sensible suggestion by Auntie Beeb.

After all home nations were knocked out of Euro 2008, the BBC has sought to lift sports fans' spirits by offering 10 alternative ideas for what to do over the summer.

And coming in at number 7 is (of course!) the men's and women's World Opens, to be held in Manchester in October ...

The full prescription reads:

7. Watch other sports. Who needs Euro 2008 when there's Lewis Hamilton storming through his second Formula One season, a Rugby League World Cup and an England Test series against New Zealand? The Olympics in Beijing will be just round the corner, starting with football on 6 August, and the squash world championships in Manchester in October will showcase top British talent such as Nick Matthew and Tania Bailey.

And plenty more British (and world) talent will be on show besides.

As many of the England football team's players are based in the north-west, what better way to round off a long, boring summer than to get themselves down to Sportcity?

10 things to do during Euro 2008

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Wednesday 12 December 2007

England regain World Team title

The victorious English team - Beachill/Matthew/Willstrop/BarkerEngland today regained the men's World Team title they had won in 2005 with a 2-1 victory over Australia in Chennai.

Nick Matthew lost the opening five-game match against David Palmer 3-2, which was followed by a 3-0 win by James Willstrop over Stewart Boswell.

A tense decider followed as England debutant in the World Teams, Peter Barker, played off against Cameron Pilley in the third rubber ...

Barker was the fourth string in the England camp, but was playing in the final due to Lee Beachill's withdrawal through illness.

In a tournament that had brought a number of upsets, Barker proved true to form and justified his higher world ranking (13) to defeat his Australian opponent (23) in straight games.

The 24 year-old from Essex has stealthily crept up the rankings to earn his inclusion in the England team (probably at the expense of Adrian Grant).

I had been looking forward to Jonathon Power's return to the world stage, but his anticipated appearance against Australia was curtailed due to back pain. Similarly, I was expecting Ramy Ashour to be part of the Egyptian team, but he also clearly had not recovered from his recent injury.

These disappointments don't seem to have dented the success of the tournament, with the progress of the Indian team on home soil and the drama of the final day ensuring that team squash had another positive platform on the world stage.

Right: Peter Barker talks about the greatest moment of his career to date.

Men's World Team Championship 2007

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Friday 7 December 2007

"No one was hurt in the making of this film"

Ouch !Er ... well, I can't be sure for certain.

But as the clip looks like it was taken from the abc channel in the US, it therefore appears to have been broadcast, so it is unlikely to have resulted in injury.

I'm sure it's not as bad as it looks ...

Click either here or on the photo to see the film (opens in new window).

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Thursday 6 December 2007

Power in India for World Teams

Power is back to compete for his countryThe Men's World Team Squash Championships 2007 - currently approaching the knockout stages in Chennai, India - are an incongruous affair for the squash fan.

The strength of competition at the top of the men’s game means that the eventual winners cannot safely be predicted. However, we almost certainly can say which four countries will provide the semi-finalists: England, Egypt, Australia and France.

Certain, that is, unless a member of the Canadian team who - rumour has it - can play a bit, has a say in proceedings ...

I wasn't aware that Jonathan Power was still available to be selected for his country after his retirement - I had read that he had participated in the Canadian Nationals, but thought we had seen the last of him in overseas events.

The dominance of the nations mentioned above means that his form will only really be assessed when he meets a top ten player - probably in the quarter finals.

I last saw Power compete in the Super Series of 2005, where he took Lincou apart 3-0 in one of the most emphatic games of squash I've ever seen. The Frenchman will be glad to see that Power is in the other half of the draw this time.

Whether Power can motivate his team to upset the seedings will depend on him beating (probably) David Palmer in the last eight. The Australian has been in great form, and there will be massive pressure on him to avoid losing to a player who has come out of retirement (even if his opponent is one of the greatest players of all time).

Focussing on an individual in a large team competition appears rather blinkered, but the reality of this event is that it only really gets interesting when the big boys square up from the quarter finals onwards.

That doesn't mean that the early rounds haven't yielded upsets: the Netherlands and India have already progressed further than predicted, with home advantage for the Indians paying off with a fantastic win over Wales.

Given the squash heritage of their neighbours and rivals Pakistan (who themselves are relatively weak compared to previous generations), it would be fantastic for the sport if India could go further and raise the popularity of the sport in the country.

England take the title in 2005Reigning title-holders England cannot call on Peter Nicol any more, and their challenge may depend on the strength of the player called upon to take the third rubber in later rounds.

The Egyptian favourites - in Shabana, Ashour and Darwish - now possess the strength in depth that means whoever they come up against (either Canada or Australia in the last eight) will have a daunting task deciding who plays who.

Hands up who'd refuse a ticket for Ashour v Power?

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Wednesday 5 December 2007

England Squash launch Facebook group

The England Squas group on FacebookEngland Squash's new marketing department have launched a new group for squash players and fans on the social networking website Facebook.

Billed as a "great way for members, clubs, fans, and anyone who is keen to get involved with squash, to communicate directly with England Squash", the group will also feature news from England's top professionals, "including James Willstrop, Nick Matthew, Tania Bailey, and Vicky Botwright".

Members will be able to "discuss the latest news and views through the interactive 'Wall'", as well as keeping in touch with the organisation more effectively.

This is a promising initiative from the new marketing set-up at the organisation, showing evidence of a new strategy that looks to embrace the possibilities that new technology provides.

It is also a great way of targeting younger squash players and fans.

With 215 members at the time of writing, it appears to already be having some success.

Facebook (requires member log-in - then search for England Squash)
England Squash

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Tuesday 4 December 2007

Order now in time for Christmas!

Quick - they might sell out!The ideal stocking filler for the discerning squash player, The 2007-2012 Outlook for Squash Balls in Greater China is available now.

Using econometric models which project fundamental economic dynamics within each region and city of influence, latent demand estimates are created for squash balls ...

The study "covers the latent demand outlook for squash balls across the regions of Greater China, including provinces, autonomous regions (Guangxi, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Xizang - Tibet), municipalities (Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau), and Taiwan".

Don't even think of stepping on court without reading it.

Buy it from Amazon

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Scottish squash to benefit as Glasgow gets nod

Artist's impression of squash at the 2014 Commonwealth GamesThe announcement that Glasgow is to hold the 2014 Commonwealth Games means that Scottish squash should receive a much needed boost.

The existing Scotstoun Stadium and Sports Centre will host the men's and women's squash, with investment ploughed into the venue to ensure it meets an acceptable standard.

The Games website claims that:

"The existing tennis courts will be transformed into the table tennis arena and new squash courts will be built. This venue is already famous for the atmosphere it generates during competitions, with our planned upgrades, this will only get better."

Squash in Scotland has suffered in recent years due to the retirement of players like Martin Heath, Pam Nimmo and Peter Nicol (following his move to England).

Scanning the junior events in the news, it also appears that players are not coming through at the same rate as in previous years at junior level. At the European U19 Championships in May, Scotland did not enter any players in the individual events.

Scottish Squash do however have their own National Junior Excellence Programme. It will be interesting to see if the prospect of playing in their own country in the Commonwealth Games inspires those who receive funding to emulate the successes of the aforementioned pros.

Photo courtesy of Designhive/Glasgow 2014.

2014 Commonwealth Games

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Monday 3 December 2007

Third title for Shabana

Shabana and Gaultier in the World Open final"I don't think I've ever played better".

Amr Shabana has made it three World Open titles in the past five years, beating Frenchman Greg Gaultier in only 42 minutes in the final in Bermuda.

Frustratingly for the loser from Epinal, it was the third time that Gaultier had been on the wrong end of a result from Shabana in major finals this season.

The 28 year-old from Cairo must now surely receive the plaudits that he deserves, joining the élite handful that have won the World title more than once.

Given that the Egyptian plays a dynamic game that makes him a bigger draw for spectators than some other top-ranked players, it is strange that his profile seems - for a triple World champion - relatively low ...

The frenzy surrounding the explosion on to the scene of Ramy Ashour seems to have allowed Shabana to quietly rack up the months as the best player in the world, with his compatriot and the rest of the top ten scrapping it out for the runner-up position in most of the big tournaments.

Shabana secured his third World title with a relatively easy win over the Frenchman, who perhaps succumbed to the frustration he is prone to. The champion was also quick to praise the organisation of the Bermuda event, claiming that it "should be a model of how every squash tournament should be".

I've also watched PSA videos of Shabana talking about the game, it is evident that he is an eloquent guy who has a strong sense of how a professional circuit should be ran.

Amr ShabanaMaybe this is why his profile has bubbled under the radar: the maturity that has led to a greater consistency has meant that a great player has emerged, but this in turn has driven away the more visible (in media terms) but less successful (in squash terms) "personality" that once walked on to court.

It now appears that people were too quick to stereotype him in the earlier part of this career as an undisciplined player who was too inconsistent to reach the very top. Things certainly looked this way when I saw him a lose a few years ago to David Palmer in the British Open in Nottingham.

However, his considered, sensible opinions on the game and his fellow professionals certainly don't reveal any weakness of mind, and three World titles hardly scream inconsistency.

It's just a shame we don't get the chance to see more of him in England.

He's overdue the coverage he deserves.

World Open 2007.

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