Today I'm going to write another post about the Hong Kong Open. In the women's semi-finals I noticed right away that all 4 women had difficulty adjusting to the new glass court. It's a really cool looking court and I think it's the first court I've ever seen that has 2 door, 1s on each side wall. I have to admit that I enjoyed watching Nicol and Nour walk towards the back wall to leave after a game until they realized there was no door at the back wall. The front wall is clear along the bottom for photographers. The rest of the front wall and the sides are tinted blue as per normal glass courts. To me it appeared as though the court not only looked quite different but played much differently than the court from the earlier rounds.
Even though these top players are accustomed to playing on glass courts they all had trouble finding their length in the first games. I was surprised that even the steady Nicol David was spraying the ball all over the court in the first game. If you're not playing well on a glass court it can be unforgiving. I thought that maybe there were a bit of nerves as she had only played Amanda Sobhy one time prior. And Nicol was coming off of non winning event in Malaysia. So maybe there was a slight crack her in confidence. But after that first game she settled in and Amanda never did. Amanda struggled just returning serve on her backhand side. She gave Nicol a number of free points. Whoever said serves aren't important at the professional level? If you're one that thinks this watch this match and you'll change your opinion. For the record, Nicol's length was much tighter, deeper and wider in the final.
The other women's semi started a little lose as well. It was Nour El Tayeb vs. Laura Massaro. The first game had lots of unforced errors and poor length and then both girls found their lines and angles. I was amazed how many poor 2 wall attacking boasts they both hit though. They were constantly coming off the 3rd wall. It was the first time I've seen Nour play and I was impressed. Nour has a great hold on her forehand boast and I like pretty much everything about her backhand. She got a little lucky in that 4th game as she lost her focus and almost let the game and match slip away. When Laura gave her a lose ball she finished off the rallies beautifully. In the final she gave Nicol a run for her money and demonstrated that she is a force to reckoned with. At just 21 I can picture her winning some big tournaments down the road. I think she just needs to get her forehand length tighter and deeper and gain experience playing the top players on the big stage on the different courts. She's got all the tools though.
In the men's semis they didn't seem to have much difficulty getting adjusted to this court. They were more familiar with their opponents and this probably had something to do with it. Maybe they weren't as comfortable as they would have been on the prior court, but it was hard to tell for me. Regardless, I can only imagine how difficult it is to play a tournament on two very different glass courts. The first one they used up until the semis looked much quicker and the tinting colour was different. I thought changing the court for the semis would have favoured the more experienced players (Laura and Nicol) and in the end it probably did for Nicol, but they both started shaky and I think the court had something to do with it.
Even though it's very rare that any of us will have to play on 2 different glass courts in a single event it can happen and it is can prove to be a challenge. A more likely scenario if playing 1 or 2 matches on a glass court and the rest on standard panel or plaster ones. These are all challenging situations and can neutralize the standards of the players. When playing on a glass court I always focus on getting the ball deep first. The front wall is slower so aiming a bit higher is probably a better idea as opposed to trying to hit the ball harder. Returning serve is also more challenging then normal, so make sure you move up and take the ball on the volley (and if you can before it hits the side wall). As I'm making my adjustment and finding my length I also want to keep a slightly higher T (especially when playing with a lower tin) as the short shots don't bounce as far back as they do on standard courts. This also helps as you don't want to get buried in the back corners as the ball doesn't come out as easily as a traditional court. Even playing on the different surface floors takes a bit to adjust to. The ball bounces up slightly different.
It's a huge advantage the more you play on a glass court. But I'm sure Laura has more experience on a glass court then Nour does. Although I also feel that the glass court favours the attacking player and when Laura's length was off a bit she was teeing t up her opponent. If you watch this match, take a look at her backhand drives. For the most part she hits them quite well, tight and high and deep, but every so often she pulls out of her shot just prior to hitting the ball and it almost always pops out lose. Maybe she was thinking ahead a little bit or maybe this was forced because of how uncomfortable she felt playing Nour.
Okay, quickly here's what I thought of the men's semis. Gualtier vs. Tarek was barely a match. Tarek kept trying to go short and just put himself under too much pressure. Greg's length was so much better that Tarek rarely had an opportunity to attack with Gaultier behind him. I think Tarek wasn't feeling fit and fresh enough to build up the rallies. Greg is so strong and covered the court so well Tarek kept going short and forcing it slightly and played right into Greg's hands.
In the other semi-final Mohamed Elshorbagy breezed through the first 2 games before Borja picked up his game and snuck one. But to me it looked like Borja had to play near perfect squash to win a rally and had to rely on Elshorbagy making unforced errors to have any real chance. Mohamed is just too strong, constantly playing at such a high pace and covers the court maybe the best in the game. Even when you hit a great shot he plays aggressive and can hit the ball so hard that he goes from being under pressure to applying pressure in a single shot.
The men's final could have went either way. Greg had slightly more consistent length and is so strong around the middle of the court. But I also feel that he gets distracted and too involved with the referee. I also think because of Greg's long tough lunges he tends to slow down in the 5th game of extremely physical matches. This doesn't happen often, but against a young super athlete like Elshorbagy it appeared this was the case. It seemed like Mohamed didn't slow down from start to finish. Unless Ramy gets back soon and is healthy I can see Elshorbagy rising to the top of the rankings pretty quickly.
I hope you all enjoyed the tournament and are looking forward to the US Open. What were your favourite matches from the tournament? Have you played on a glass court? Did you enjoy it? Did it suit your game? What did you have trouble with?
I'm hoping Ashour and Shabana will be back for the US Open. If either of them are fit and healthy they both have to be among the favourites. I'll wait to see the draw before making my pick. Hard not to take Nicol, but it's getting tougher for her. I think Nour El Tayeb will get a win against her one of these days. Let me know who your picks are.