Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WINDSOR REDEMPTION



Cross Border Challenge - Saturday, September 13 @ Windsor

Our winning streak over the Windsor squash club came to a spectacular crashing halt in April when they pulverized us 20 matches to 8 – not to mention that within those 8 victories, 4 of them were on the doubles court! Even our uber-patriotic uniforms could not deter them from walloping us (it probably gave them good reason to laugh, though!). The 28 matches was a record for the Cross Border and although I don’t expect we’ll reach such heights this time around, we should be able represent in solid numbers.

Even though we had great participation, it’s hardly worth calling the Guinness Book of World Records to see how far off we were from the most registrations ever for a single event. There was recently a table- tennis tournament in Tokyo that had 791 players (and an estimated 188 million viewers in China alone… squash could use a number like that!). Sounds like a lot, but the record number for a single table-tennis event stands at 2,038. (Before the event started, there were a lot more, but 288 of them no-showed! I wonder how frustrated the organizers were?) Squash hasn’t quite been able to eclipse that participation level. The best I’ve heard about is still impressive: US Squash Junior Open had over 800 players in 2012. That event attracts players from all over the world.

A fencing tournament in Ohio this year attracted more than 4,300 musketeers… ummm, I mean fencers. That’s one huge sword fight. But all that pales in comparison to a woman’s only bowling event that attracted over 77,700 of them. It took 96 days to complete. Who has three months to play a tournament? I wonder how many courts we’d need to run a draw of that size…? The parking must have been a nightmare. As the line for the loo. (Makes our DAC Classic look puny!)

This will be our 16th meeting over the years with Windsor, and currently they lead the overall head-to-head with 9 victories to our 6. We need to close the gap and we need you to help us. Singles or doubles, step up and represent the good ol’ U. S. of A. and more importantly, the DAC! Patriotism is definite must. I’m sure with help from Sante, we can utterly overdo the red, white and blue, splash it around shamelessly. Clothing, flags, tattoos, badges… whatever screams “America”, display it with pride!

E-mail me if you wish to be a part of our team and join in on all the fun. Matches will be at Windsor, starting around 3pm. A keg will be available for all to enjoy (it will probably be Canadian beer in it, but in this case, we can hardly complain about that!). It doesn’t matter what level of player you are – along with Windsor’s pro – Graeme Williams – we will attempt to find a competitive match you. Registration deadline is Monday, September 8.

Monday, August 25, 2014

REMEMBERING HASHIM



I met Hashim Khan only once. It was during a PSA tournament in Denver back in the 90’s. I had traveled from Europe and it was my first experience being involved in an American professional event at a massive private club - the Denver Athletic Club.

The difference in hospitality between playing a tournament in Europe and playing one in the States was colossal. Red carpet treatment appeared to be the norm. Players were revered by the general membership who were genuinely excited to come out not only to watch you play but spend time with you and show off their club, city, tourist attractions, houses, cars, brothers, sisters... just like a young toddler showing off for their parents for approval. It was awesome.

It was here that I also witnessed hardball doubles for the first time. The Denver Athletic Club was running an amateur event with the pros. Up to that point, hardball doubles was only a folkloric game to me - an American I had met a few years earlier in Australia attempted to explain it. We couldn’t understand why the Americans played a different version of squash. At that time, Mark Talbott was their Jahangir Khan. “Mark who?” we asked.

As I watched my first doubles match, I remember seeing 2 very old guys warming up. Once they were done, a much younger pair took to the court to complete their warm up. Surely the old guys weren’t expected to compete against these two? They didn’t stand a chance. Nonetheless, the 2 old guys walked back on 5 minutes later and the racquet was spun for the first serve. I was about to behold a train wreck.

Not understanding the first thing about the tactics of the game, I couldn’t figure out how the old guys were doing it. One in particular. Every time this one guy would hit it, the rally would either end immediately, or shortly thereafter. And it wasn’t because it was an error. He hardly ran, didn’t hit it very hard, and had a partner who seemed to have enough ability to keep the rally going long enough for the ball to eventually come to him. The size of the court was made to look gargantuan to the younger, flailing opponents as the ball found weird angles and spins I had never thought feasible.

As I was watching, a local member walked up to me and asked if I knew who the old guy was.

“No”, I said.

“That’s Hashim Khan. He’s in his 80’s”.

Holy shit. I was in the presence of squash royalty, watching the legend himself play and kick butt!

After his victory, I was introduced to him briefly, shook his hand. I was simply another squash player bug-eyed to meet him, he was as humble as a 5 foot 4 inch Goliath could be.

Hashim Khan died on Monday, August 19, aged approximately 100. (No one is sure of his exact age, but it estimated between 100 and 104.) He won his first British Open at age 37 (estimated) and went on to win the following 6. He was renowned for his uncanny ball control - something I was fascinated by when I watched him play that doubles match - and for his straight forward, no nonsense, common sense coaching tips. “Keep eye on ball” being his most famous. Other little tidbits of genius include these excerpts from a 1962 Sports Illustrated interview - advice that hold true today:

“When opponent likes fast game, Hashim plays slow; when opponent likes slow, Hashim plays fast. Against big man, Hashim makes him stoop to floor with low shots. Against tennis player used to open court, Hashim hits ball all the time very close to wall.”

“Against player wearing glasses, Hashim gives many high shots, which he has difficulty seeing because of light overhead. When Hashim teaches, he emphasizes thinking.”

The squash world lost a deity. I know that some of you (DAC members) also met Hashim when he used to live and coach in Detroit and certainly would have some stories to tell - as the photo would indicate. Raise a glass to him. Be happy and thankful that we had the chance to cross his path.

N.B. Two years ago I posted some writings from Hashim Khan from some documents he wrote. You can see them here: The Hashim Files
Recognize anyone? From left to right: John Dunwoody, Pete Lyons, Roy Winn, Mr. Holloran, Ted Popowitz. Hashim is standing tall in the front.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TWO OF YOU



Doubles Select Tournament – starts September 2

Ever wondered what it would be like if cloning were possible and you could partner up with yourself on the doubles court? Would you argue with yourself about whether you want to play left or right wall? Would you blame your other self for losses? Would you hate yourself? Hug yourself after a win? Weird. On the other side of that coin, we all have opponents that are… for lack of a nicer word to use, “awkward” to play against. Imagine hopping on court and having to battle against two of them! For scenarios such as this, we can be thankful cloning hasn’t reached the Hollywood sci-fi levels yet.

As Labor Day approaches faster than we all thought possible (I mean, the summer hasn’t even really started yet, has it?), it’s synonymous with getting back on the squash court. And as it has been for many years, the first event we throw at you is a doubles one. Specifically, the Doubles Select. Maybe now you wish you could clone yourself and send your clone to the courts while you continue to enjoy sipping your drink under the warm sun…? Alas, no, I guess you’ll have to force your tanned body to get with the program and whip out your racquet and slip on your shoes… can you still touch your toes?

At least I make this easy for you. Don’t worry about finding a partner – all you need to do is enter. I’ll match you up with someone (not your clone). Every effort will be made to make all the teams as equal as humanly possible. Everyone will be tossed into one big knock-out draw, matches will be best of 5 games, if you win you move on, if you lose you can hit the practice track, and last team standing will receive a nice little prize.

The draw will be released on September 2. I am expecting record entries (like I do every year!) so you will need to be pro active when organizing your match times. DO NOT let the tournament fall behind. Deadlines need to be adhered to or you risk the wrath of default…!! Registration deadline is August 29.

Just a side note here: If you think you aren’t ‘good enough’ to enter this event, you are dead wrong! This is a great way to learn more about playing doubles by getting on court with more experienced players – take advantage! I encourage everyone from beginners to club champions to join in. Also, we have had players from D level to A level win this tournament, so every pairing has a chance!

Monday, August 11, 2014

CLOCK CONQUERORS



For a summer event, I was pleased that we received enough registrations to run the thing at all! Typically – and understandably – we struggle to fill the minimum required quota. But with 17 members on tap (as was the keg!) we were able to have our second ever “Race Against the Clock”.

Depending on what side of the coin you are on, playing for either 4, 5, or 6 minutes can feel like an eye-blink, or an eternity. The handicaps behind this unique format can place a lot of pressure on the chaser – or the stronger player. Tactically, the players should have 2 opposite game plans: The chaser needs to hurry up and score quickly, that is – attack. The chase-ee, however, should be playing defensively and try to keep the ball in play for as long as possible.

The players were split into 3 groups. Even though matches were only a few minutes long, handicapping was not an easy task. I was happy if the score ended up within 3-4 points difference, and ideally, tied. A tie forced a sudden-death rally. They are usually pretty intense.

Al Iafrate, Marc Topacio, Matt DiDio
We’ll start with the C’s. We had 2 sudden-death situations in this group. The first was between Colin Bayer and Marc Topacio. Marc had a 6 point head start in their 5 minute match. Time was called at 15-all. Now, I have to admit, the stronger player does have the advantage in these scenarios. But, pressure and desperation can even the playing field somewhat. Unfortunately for Marc, Colin’s next serve came in a little too hot to handle and the rally was over too quickly. Colin escaped 16-15. Colin’s other win was over Jim Smietana. It wasn’t a sudden-death, but it almost was. After giving up 7 points to start the 6 minute match, Colin scraped in with a 21-19 victory.

Paul Gormley was living on the edge all evening. A one point victory over Marc, was followed up with a 2 point victory over Jim. The difference maker happened to be the match against new member Ian Edwards. Paul started off with 7 points and after the 6 minutes were up, it was dead locked at 19-all. This one sudden-death rally decided the winner of this category – and it was Ian who walked off with the win!

Ian was impressive all event. As a newbie to the squash program, I admittedly overestimated his handicap. After his first two matches, I adjusted that handicap down which did make his following 2 matches a lot closer. Still, he pulled it out when it counts with some notable hustling skills and he improved with every outing. Congrats, Ian!

Cathy Lysack and Bob Rogers
On to the B’s. We also had 2 sudden-death matches here, and a handful of results that were only decided by 1 –3 points. Every player in this group won at least 1 match, and every player had at least one result that went down to the wire. Cathy Lysack and Ted Morris had the first one. In 4 minutes, Ted began the match with 13 and barely managed to hold Cathy off to take it 19-18. As the results came in, the winner of this category would need some luck – anyone was capable of taking it. Bob Rogers beat Bruce Shaw 22-21 in sudden-death. Patrick Petz kept his winning hopes alive with a 16-15 sudden-death win over Paul Dwaihy. Ted beat Bob 17-16. Bob beats Paul 19-18. Paul beats Cathy. Bruce beats Paul. And so the merry-go-round continued all tournament. When the music stopped, the last man standing was Ted Morris. He worked his way through the carnage undefeated for 5 wins. Cathy and Patrick each ended up with 3 wins. Well done to Ted!

The A draw. With only one sudden-death result to speak of, and only one other result with a one point difference, I was surprised at the amount of matches that weren’t all that close. I can excuse one of the participants for his results, because Al-the-best-cure-for-a-pulled-muscle-is-vodka-Iafrate hurt himself in the first match. In true trooper fashion, he forced himself through his remaining matches… hopefully he didn’t make the injury worse in doing so! Still, Al almost pulled out a win against Mike Counsman, but went down 19-18. Speaking of Mike, he sputtered out of the gates as he took a couple of matches to get the motor running. Once humming, he’s a tough force to deal with. This format isn’t kind to ‘slow-starters’ since the match is done before they have even gotten themselves up to speed. His final match was his best effort – we’ll get to that in a minute.

Tom MacEachern had a strong outing. He lost his first match against Matt DiDio 14-10 – it was a 5 minute encounter and both players started at zero. After that, Tom powered through his opponents, the closest result being his 12-8 win over Dane Fossee (no handicap there either). Dane produced the only sudden-death win which was over Josh Slominski. He had to make up a 3 point deficit in the final minute to get there, and when you can do that, impetus is a powerful force. Dane took the deciding rally to win 14-13.

Matt DiDio presented himself to be the man to beat. Solid wins in his first four matches, he had to survive the warmed-up Mike Counsman in his final game. I didn’t make it easy for Mike either, as he had to make up 8 points in 4 minutes. If Mike would manage to win, it would force a 2-minute play-off between Tom and Matt since both of them would end up with 4 wins apiece. However, the clock would prove to be Mike’s enemy. Another minute may have made the difference, as Mike was inching closer and closer. But he fell short 17-14. Matt could now relax!
The three winners! Ted Morris, Matt DiDio, Ian Edwards

It was an entertaining, competitive evening. Thank you to all who participated!


Thursday, August 7, 2014

THE INCREDI-BALLS – TAKE 8



David Palmer – A Growing Legend

Think age is a barrier? Ask Nick Matthew, current world number 2 and gold medal winner at the Commonwealth Games last week. Nick is 34. To hold his current ranking at that age is remarkable considering the deep pool of young players coming up – especially from Egypt. But he is not the oldest player in the top ten. Amr Shabana holds that honor – he’s 35, and is currently ranked 5th. In fact, I was surprised to see that there are only 2 players in the world top ten that are in there 20’s. (World number 3 Mohamed El Shorbagy at 23 years old and world number 4 Ramy Ashour at 26 – both Egyptian.). The average age of the top ten squash player is 30.3 years.

Squash, it appears, is rather unlike tennis. Currently there are only 2 players in the tennis world top ten that are in their 30’s. Federer is 32 and is considered by most to be past his prime. The other is David Ferrer (also 32) from Spain ranked 8. The average age of the top ten tennis player: 27.3 years. I’m not sure why this is the case – why can squash players extend their careers further? It’s not the subject of this article, but certainly something to chew over and debate…?

David Palmer is the subject of this article. He is a very young 38. He retired from the PSA 3 years ago while he was still in the world’s top ten. Three years is long time out of professional squash. That’s not to say that he hung up his racquet, planted himself on the couch and ripped open a bag of crisps and can of coke. Although he doesn’t train and play like he used to when he was on the world tour, he still plays regularly and keeps himself in excellent physical condition. We at the DAC can certainly attest to that since we have witnessed his extraordinary athleticism first hand during the PST events here and exhibitions. Palmer is a true professional and endeared himself to our members with ease.

Even at that age, Palmer was selected to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games in the doubles portion of the squash event. His partner in the men’s doubles was Cameron Pilley (he’s 31 years old and currently Australia’s highest ranked player at 20). He also played in the mixed doubles where he partnered with another veteran player Rachael Grinham. She’s 37 and currently ranked 14 in the world. In 2004-2005, she spent 16 months as world number 1. Yeah – she can hit it.  And, take note, I am talking about the softball version of doubles, not the US hardball version. The court is the same length as a singles court but wider, and the tin is only 13 inches high as opposed to the 19 inches we are accustomed to here. They use the same ball as in singles. Scoring is best of 3 games to 11.

David Palmer and Rachael Grinham
Now, on paper, although strong, the Palmer – Grinham pairing were not favored to win the gold medal. Seeded three, they reached the gold medal match anyway where they were up against the English team of Peter Barker (world number 8, 30 years old) and Alison Waters (world number 6, and also 30 years old). It was the Australians who dominated the first game and took it 11-8, but the English pair who raced off to a healthy second game lead of 6-1. But Palmer is renowned to be a grinder, and Grinham has the experience to back him up. Inching back into the game, they saved 2 game balls before forcing a sudden death rally at 10-all, and a Peter Barker tin rewarded their efforts with a gold medal!

For the men’s final – which followed immediately after the mixed final - Palmer and Pilley reached that stage beating the English pair in the semis of James Willstrop (world number 6, 30 years old) and Daryl Selby (world number 10, 31 years old) easily 11-4, 11-4. It would be a tough final against top seeded Brits of Nick Matthew (who won the gold medal in the singles event) and Adrian Grant (world number 22, 33 years old). Grant is a lefty too. They lost the first game 11-10 in 29 minutes, but battled back strongly to take the second 11-7 to force an all or nothing 3rd and final game. It was a back and forth encounter with England taking the early lead before Australia charged ahead to take a 9-6 advantage and 2 points away from the title. But England scraped back those 3 points to set up a tense last couple of rallies where Pilley – who has been recorded as the hardest hitter of a squash ball in the world – thundered a shot to length just out of reach of their opponents at 10-9 up to secure the win. Match length – 80 minutes,

Cameron Pilley and David Palmer
And with that, David Palmer, at the sweet old age of 38, takes home 2 gold medals. An incredible achievement. He adds to his little baggie of titles which includes 2 World Championships and 4 British Opens.

Just a side note on the doubles itself: Since I couldn’t watch of the matches live here in the US, I only saw a few snippets of highlights on the website. From that it was difficult to get a sense of how attractive the spectacle was. Initial descriptions that I read weren’t overly encouraging, but I think that had a lot to do with the fact that most of the early round matches were rather one-sided. As the tournament progressed to the finals rounds, the reports coming out were mainly positive. Which is a relief – if squash is looking to get into the Olympics, then it needs events like this – in singles and doubles – to be a hit. It appears to have been a big one. You can decide for yourself what to think of it: Squash Doubles .
That being said, I’m not convinced that squash doubles should be played at all. Doubles courts are a rarity anywhere in the world (ever seen one??), and the players that compete aren’t exactly doubles specialists. The only time they play it is during the Games. Seems strange to “invent” a doubles version of the game just to have more medals on offer. Not to take anything away from David Palmer – he still had to complete the world’s best, and he won. He’s still a Legend.

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