Today I'm going to talk about a specific match I just watched on replay from the US Open. I was eager to watch Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad play his younger countryman Fares Dessouki. I saw just the beginning earlier before having to go back to work. They are both attacking players and I expected lots of quick fire rallies and exciting shot making. If you haven't watched this match I recommend it. As you're about to find out, I'm not recommending watching it for the quality of the squash, but for other reasons. There's a lot we can learn from one of the ugliest matches and biggest comebacks I've ever seen.
The first thing I have to mention from the match is to play the match all the way through. Gawad was cruising up 2-0 in games and 10-5 when he started going for some exhibition shots. A few tins and minutes later Dessouki had saved 5 match balls and eventually went on to take the game in extra points. In the 4th game Gawad came out refocused and went up 9-3 and looked to bounce back well. Dessouki did it once again and went on to win the 4th game in extra points once again. Gawad ends up losing 11-9 in the fifth and it has to be one of the toughest loses of his career. Even at this level he lost his focus for just a few points and let a sleeping giant wake up and back into the match. Learn from Gawad's mistake and finish out your match regardless of the score. This of course goes for the person trailing as well. Never give up and keep fighting as you never know what can happen. Maybe you'll pull off the next Dessouki come back!
So the come back was amazing, but it isn't the most important lesson to be learnt from the match. There was a ridiculous amount of let calls. Both players were not clearing their shots and were also guilty of asking for a let with any slight interference. Both players also would look to play their opponent and get cheap lets and strokes instead of playing the ball. It was quite frustrating and took away from what could have been a very exciting and epic match. Instead it will go down in history as an ugly scrappy match. A match like this makes me remember the Pro Squash League let rule where each player gets only 1 let per game (I can't remember, but it's something like this). Originally I read that they were going to use eliminate the 'let' decisions altogether and only use 'no lets' and 'stokes.' It may be hard to imagine how this can work, but from what I've heard it really cleans up the game and makes it free flowing. If someone doesn't clear their shot and give a direct line for their opponent they should be penalized. After watching this match tonight, maybe this is something the PSA should consider.
I think one major error from this match tonight was the referee. The ref awarded too many minimal interference lets early in the match. He should have weeded out the blocking and cheap lets right from the start of the 1st game. He tried to make a stance later in the match, but by then it was too late. You could tell by his voice he was not happy about giving out lets in the 4th and 5th games and actually made some poor calls that were simple lets just because he was trying to make up for his poor decisions early in the match. A referee should be consistent and tonight he was not. I know it would have been tough to call no matter what. Sometimes it's difficult to pick up if a player is intentionally blocking or looking for their opponent instead of the ball, but giving the players the benefit of the doubt can make a mess of a match. It looks bad for squash, the US Open, the PSA and the fans don't get into it.
This is why it is important to now the rules, as a player and how to take control of a match when someone is trying to manipulate the rues. Remember that a player is allowed a direct path to the ball. Just because you are on your way to the T and happened to block their path, it is your opponent who has the right away. Gaultier has been known to take extra space around the middle of the court and I can only imagine how frustrating this would be to play against if you didn't get any help from your ref.
So two important lessons were taught from this ugly comeback. Never give up or ease up no matter the score...and especially in the round of 16 at the US Open! And when refereeing take charge of the match early if someone is taking advantage of the rules. Don't let 1 or either player bully the other around. I've seen many big people move fine around one another. I think some of the congestion between the guys tonight was due to them hanging back far on the T mixed in with a lot of loose balls. As for you playing, take your appropriate space when hitting a ball, but you have to give your opponent access afterwards. I see quite a few of the PSA & WSA players stand on top of their drops from the front of the court and after hitting a straight volley drive or kill move straight back towards the T but also into their opponents line. On the other hand some players also get the slightest contact around the T and stop and ask for a let. If you hit a loose shot, unless your opponent is directly in your line, play through minimal contact and go get the ball.
Keep the game clean, free flowing and enjoyable to watch and play. I don't want to see the rules changed because of matches like tonight, but that may just be where we're heading.