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

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