How does the author of Serious Squash miss a post on world squash day? Well I spent the day doing a first aid and cpr course! So I didn't even have time to get on a squash court, but I did get to watch the replays of the finals of the US Open when I got home. That also meant I had to avoid all social media sites to avoid finding out what happened. Today I'm going to write about one of the winners of the US Open and the new #1, Mohamed El Shorbagy. and the women's finalist Nour El Sherbini. I should mention that I correctly predicted Shorbagy and David to win the titles. Not that the David pick is surprising. In my opinion Shorbagy only played his best squash against Gaultier, which is when it mattered most. I also think that Shorbagy is far from being at his peak. I'll get into this a little later on.
Before going into the men's final and Shorbagy I want to touch base on the women's event. I should write another entire post on Nicol David, but today is about Nour El Sherbini. Not only does Nour have a great attacking game, but I think she has the best straight hard attacking drives from the back corners on both sides of the court. In particular her forehand straight drive is so accurate for the pace she hits it with. It's only a matter of time before she takes over Nicol's top spot. Nicol won because of a variety of reasons, her experience, her steadiness, her mental strength, and her retrieving. Nour as with many of the Egytpians still make too many errors and force the play and haven't found the right balance of attack and patience. But I think the deception Nour has, her attacking skills, her retrieving, and her amazing straight drives will make her world # 1 someday soon.
I know Raeem El Weleily is also super talented and has this potential and has beaten Nicol a few times. But when I watched them play in the semis I couldn't understand why Raneen went for so many return of serve crosscourt nicks. Nicol has a very good serve and Raneem only hit 1 or 2 out of at least a dozen attempts. Surely she could pick a better time to go for a nick than off of Nicol David's serve. I always tell my athletes that they should only go for this type of shot when they have the momentum and are feeling it. If you're behind, nervous, anxious, lost a number of points in a row this shot rarely seems to work. Raneem proved this point well in this match. I did enjoy the way Raneem changed the pace and used a lob from all over the court. Nicol is a small person and a good lob has as good of chance as any hard struck ball to produce an opening to attack. I also like Raneem's fearless attitude, but I still think she needs to reign it in a bit if she ever wants to dominate the tour.
In the men's semi-final and final it was evident that there was some pressure on the players because the #1 ranking was on the line for November. Because of all of this talk I don't think we got anyones best squash. Shabana played great against Matthew and Shorbagy played great against Gaultier, but unfortunately neither match saw both players playing at their best at the same time. Shorbagy is much younger than all the other semifinalists and proved that this is a major factor. He also wisely played within the rules and asked for a new ball after the 2nd game in both the semifinal and final. When the ball is bouncy there is almost nothing he can't get back. He even chokes up on the racquet and crowds the ball and still he gets everything back. The relentless pace he plays at is also so impressive. All squash players train for a high pace and want to hit it hard, but Shorbagy is in a league of his own. Nobody else is even close. I've seen Ramy play at that pace for a game against Matthew once, but I've never seen anyone maintain that pace for such long durations.
In my opinion there are still a number of areas that Shorbagy can improve. He missed a lot of forehand volley drops in the final because he tries to put so much cut on the ball. In all of his matches besides his semifinal his length was pretty loose. He gets away with it just because of his sheer power and his retrieving ability. Although somehow his length was best when it mattered most against Gaultier. He also played a lot of lobs against Greg. I think he played more lobs in this one match than I've ever seen him play combined. I feel like Shorbagy just outhit Shabana and hit his way out of trouble. This won't always work all of the time though. It may against these older pros, but if they are on their game and they're making Shorbagy do all of the running it won't. I've said before that I really like Shorbagy's forehand deceptive drop and I also enjoy his straight kills on both sides. He's such a presence on the court. You can tell he's been trained by the great Jonah Barrington. It's a combination of the Egyptian attacking squash and power with Jonah's commitment to fitness and conditioning. Shorbagy proves that even on a glass court with a lowered tin a relentless pace, speed, and fitness can overwhelm even the best players in the world. I can't wait to see a healthy Ramy take on Shorbagy. You're not really #1 in the world until you beat Ramy when he's healthy.
Unfortunately the men's semis and finals were both pretty chippy. I think all 4 of the men disrespected the refs and reacted inappropriately after some of the decisions. Even if they completely disagree with a call there is a respectful way to make your point. Simply ask for a review or ask calmly for an explanation. This is something that for the most part is much better on the women's side. I feel like the match between Dessouki and Gawad was a sour spot for the refereeing and the players. There is a lot on the line in these events, but at the end of the day there are rules to follow. It's up to the referee to make sure the players are abiding by these rules. Some of the players are quite large in stature and there is going to be some contact. I'd like to see more no lets and strokes used. More no lets when there is minimal interference and more strokes when someone doesn't give their opponent a direct route to the ball, even if they are standing on the T.
Who else impressed you at the US Open? Adrian Waller had some good wins. Max Lee looks like he's on a collision course for the top 5. Dessouki had some big wins and made it to the quarters. Rosner really pushed Gaultier and should be ranked in the top 10 soon, but how high can he get? Shabana had a great tournament and shows he has a lot more left in the tank. What about on the women's side? Yathreb Adel is only 18 and has a much lower ranking than her skill level. She looks like one to watch for the future along with Sherbini. It looks like the Egyptians are taking over both the PSA & WSA tours. I don't mind, they are awfully exciting to watch.
Love this blog. Keep up the great work!ReplyDelete
I drove down to Philly from NYC for the semifinals and finals; it was the first time I'd seen matches at this level live. I decided to take a sidewall seat instead of back wall or front wall, figuring that I'd always get back wall perspective from SquashTV or my club, and that sidewall would be something different. Sat in the front row at the front right corner - I was almost close enough to touch the glass.ReplyDelete
Such a fantastic angle - you really get a much better perspective on how ridiculously amazing the athletic performance is, compared to the usual back wall TV view. You realize that what looks like a good rally on TV is actually a nearly unbelievable display of human speed and agility - for the first few matches my jaw was slack and I felt like I was watching a Spiderman movie with special effects.
So back to the topic of improving TV coverage: sidewall cameras, more camera angles! Back wall and front wall only just do not do it justice. I was sitting with a lot of experienced folks who were all "(yawn) he seems a bit off tonight..." while I was "dude that was %@#^% INSANE!!" with my eyeballs popping out like a cartoon character. If we want to pull in newer folks to the game, we have to show how incredible it is, and there is more dramatic movement up and down the court than laterally, and sidewall angles capture this.
As a new player I can't really analyze things technically, but it seemed El Shorbagy just physically overwhelmed Gaultier, who looked a bit off his game. Maybe the #1 position at stake threw off his focus. In the final Shabana started strong but just gradually dwindled as the match progressed. Nicol David was so consistent in almost every aspect that the occasional errors by El Sherbini just added up.
Another advantage of sitting towards the front of the court instead of the usual TV angle: you can see the players' eyes and faces, which help tell the story of their emotional state. Lately Gaultier has seemed so in control mentally - total confidence from the General. Against El Shorbagy, Gaultier looked diminished - El Shorbagy looked dominating, relaxed and confident, and ready for the ruthless fun of taking by force the alpha position. He owned the court, and that attitude may have rattled Gaultier and thrown his game off.