So today I want to discuss one of the players from one of the matches I just watched from the Hong Kong Open. I watched Borja Golan of Spain vs. Mohamed Abouelghar of Egypt in a second round matchup. Spoiler alert!!! For those that haven't yet seen it and are planning on watching it, stop reading here and go watch their match and then finish reading this post...none of the games were very tight and Borja won in 5.
I remember seeing Mohamed play about 2 years ago at a tournament in British Columbia and thought he was destined to be a top world class player. Mohamed was such an attacking player. I remember he attacked on a straight drop off of every backhand return of serve. I thought it was so different and he was having success with it because he was so consistent and most players were not use to this pattern of play right from the start of the rallies. I also remember him having a tremendous forehand crosscourt nick drop shot that he disguised so beautifully.
Currently Mohamed is ranked #42 in the world is just 20 years old. He pushed world #7 Borja to a fifth and deciding game. A fifth game which Mohamed gave away to his opponent. You've got to make your higher ranked opponent beat you! But in the fifth game Mohamed started well as he hit an amazing return of serve crosscourt volley nick on the backhand side. This tied the game at 2 before be lost a number of consecutive rallies. He made lots of uncharacteristic unforced errors and gave away a lot of easy points on strokes. Obviously this proves the importance of the mind in squash and also experience. I can't help but think he state thinking about the finish line. This is why there is a term 'he still plays junior squash' line that we've all heard. This means they don't believe they can win and try and do too much or they lose their focus and if you keep it close and stay tough you can eventually run away with a points and then the match. Just keep it close until this happens.
I haven't watched one of Mohamed's matches in a few months and being one of my favourite players I thought I would share my input from this match. I always enjoy analyzing squash games. He's already got 3 listed coaches and I heard he's been working with Shabana. So maybe if it doesn't work out with Shabana he'll be looking elsewhere for some advice;)
Here's my take on the match. The glass court is very bouncy in Hong Kong and I think in some areas of Mohamed's game this was advantageous and in others it hurt him. The way this helped him was that he has a very short backswing and is great to hold and flick the ball all over the place. It also means longer and more physical rallies against an elder opponent. The bouncy court also meant that Borja's deadly boasts would be easier to retrieve, which I think Mohamed got every one back.
Here is where the lively court hurt Mohamed. His attacking shots from the back were often hit too heavy and setting up Borja to go on the attack. I also felt like Mohamed tried to hit his length too hard all the time and often it came up a bit short. Especially in the first game when Mohamed's length landed in the service box, he would often move behind Borja instead of cutting in front of him. I think this showed too much respect for his opponent and for an attacking player this is a passive movement pattern to get into. Mohamed also let Borja return straight back to the T from the front corners. Mohamed is allowed direct access to the ball when Borja counter drops but there were a number of instances where his access was blocked.
To go along with the fast courts, in the 5th game Mohamed tried to hit some shots too fine and made some mistakes. After 1 or 2 easy mistakes it becomes psychological. Would he have done the same on a slightly cooler court? I don't know. I also thought that he tried to hit most of his shots flat or with a slight overspin on his backhand, even when he was under pressure. I prefer opening up the the racquet face and hitting it a bit higher. In my opinion Mohamed tried to play too aggressive off of good length from Borja and popped out a number of loose balls on the backhand side. If he had opened up the racquet face and chipped them down the wall I think he would have been better off. You don't want to be stuck behind Borja as he takes his space and is difficult to get around. Easy to say from the sidelines. It's easy to sit here and play Monday morning quarterback, but he's the one out there doing it and moving his way to the top of the game.
So I know this is a lot of feedback from just one match, but I have a couple of more points. I think that Mohamed having such a short backswing on both sides makes him deceptive from anywhere on the court when he is at the ball with time. But when he does this from the deep on the backhand side he cannot clear as quickly because it's a short and choppy swing as opposed to a full swing and using his follow through to clear to the middle. And in doing so this means he has to get closer to the ball. I thought there wasn't really a flow in his movement from the back backhand corner to the T. Especially on a hot court, you aren't going to win or set up too many short attacking shots from the back corner so I would like to see him concentrate more on hitting his spots on his drives and using his holds and flicks more sparingly in the back of the court.
One of my favourite shots Mohamed can hit is on either side. He does it well a few times in the match. He really shows a straight drop and then at the very last second he instantly flicks his wrist and goes for the crosscourt nick on a drop. I remember this shot from watching him play in Vancouver and I know it's something that can only be used sparingly but it is beautiful to watch.
Ok, very last point I want to mention is that I would do more with my serve if I was Mohamed. Why do they just put the ball in play I'll never know. And often the ball never even hits the side wall. Oh and maybe that wasn't my last point, because I would also like to see Mohamed use a lob more frequently. Of course this is hard to do on a fast court and since he has such a quick wrist he probably feels like can attack from any position. At the pro level the lob may not seem like much but it's become one of Ramy's best shots and it makes it incredibly difficult to win a point against him.
So there it is. He's just 20 and already #42 in the world. He's fun to watch but in my opinion still has a lot of room to improve his game. He's already beaten some top ranked players and pushed a couple of top 10 players to a 5th game. This is what I would talk to him about if I were his coach. It would be interesting to hear what he thought of his match and what he's working on in his game these days. I have a feeling he wouldn't be very happy with how be played against Borja and that he felt he could have and probably should have won. Clearly the more experience he gets on the big stage, on the glass courts against the top players the better he's going to do. Mohamed, if you're reading I know you didn't ask for my feedback, but here it is.
If you've seen the match let me know what you think. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? That's what's so great about squash...there are countless ways to play this game and to do it successfully.