Saturday, November 22, 2014
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
“What, Babe, you don’t seem happy to see me.”
I don’t know, honestly it’s me you’re great and –“
“If there’s nothing going to happen with us I am going to go with Gul, he’s really sweet, I like how he adores me and just appreciates me, but really Richard, I’d die for you if you asked me.”
Friday, March 7, 2014
Squash is so rich in oral history. If you talk to any squash aficionado, they have the best stories to tell. When you have the rare opportunity to talk to someone who is in the inner circles of the upper eschelons of professional squash it makes it monumentally, incredibly interesting.
I recently ran into Dave Pearson form UK head coach and author of a compelling book on squash (watch for the review). He is one of the 3-5 genius's and innovators in this game. He coaches Chris Gordon, Chris Simpson and Nick Matthew. He is the architect of what is becoming one of the great players of this game and when it's all said and done, Nick Matthew, under the tutelage of Dave Pearson probably changed the game in a way that only the Egyptians can't understand.
He is the Yoda of Squash, the Ezra Pound of Squash, he is the Buddha of squash and when you ask him a series of endless questions, hopefully not too annoying, the very humble, unassuming guy -- (what guru isn't) with a wry sense of ironic, spun wisdom over and over. He talked about his own professional career, he did beat Ross Norman, who beat invincible Jahangir Khan when he hadn't lost in 5 years. He played Jahangir, he admitted he could hang with those guys for a while but he just wasn't fit enough. So he played technique, the hands, the preparation the deft touch.
It is important to capture this dialog, to commit it to paper because it will someday be lost. Mr. Pearson had me laughing when he told me about how Simon Parke once kicked a young Peter Nicol off a practice court. As it would have it, years later in a world Open, Nicol faced Simon, and he had vengeance in mind. He ran Simon all over the court extended every rally, according to Pearson, to punish him for that. At the end of the match, Nicol reminded Parke of that incident, but Parke didn't remember it. He did however remember the brutality of that loss.
You name any English player , and we are talking about top 50 players, not just the top 10. His memory is remarkable, he remembers every player and how they play. You know, Mr. Pearson, you remind me of someone, I was just on court with him. My son can tell you the racket Jansher used when he beat Rodney Eyles in the world open, he can tell you how Malcolm Wilstrop years back thought Cameron Pilley was and is of course a brilliant player. He can tell you about the first time he saw Mr Matthew play in the TOC so many years ago and he met him and Beth Rasin asked this boy, my son, "do you think he will be top ten?" My son answered, "yes and then some." I take credit for discovering Matthew in our household, but I have no response to that. He can tell you about players I never remembered or probably knew. Players spanning 30 years (thanks to youube.com).
I then asked Mr. Pearson about how I detected a change in Mr. Matthew's backhand volley. While I always thought Mr. Matthew has arguably one of the best forehand volleys ever, I noticed at this years TOC that his backhand volley has become formidable. "Did you do anything to adjust his backhand, recently." Mr . Pearson eagerly grabbed one of my rackets and showed both me and my son the adjustment he had been working on. It's quite remarkable that Matthew at 30 something would make this kind of adjustment, it was the Pearson technique, Mr. Matthew bought into it to extend the racket out more.
We then turned our conversation to the future crop of English players. His thoughts were that once the Matthews, Wilstrops, Selbys and Barkers go off into squash memory, that there will be quite a dry spell for English squash at the top level. I sat there and realized how fortunate I've been to have spanned two incredible golden ages of squash.
What's remarkable about Mr. Pearson is he is like this commander who fought in both WWI and WWII, can you imagine the delight of a war historian who can talk to someone who was a commander in both wars? The bar at City View wasn't open, so I couldn't buy him a beer or two or three. I sensed I only tapped the surface of this great squash mind.
As someone who coaches and really studies the game, I asked him where he comes up with this technique stuff. He says, he just imitates what the pros do and builds upon that. Perhaps his greatest attribute is his ability to see a player and architect a game best suited to their racket and footwork talent. I asked him how long he's been with Chris Gordon he said since 15. I laughed because I remember a young Chris Gordon of around 11 or 12 with one of the worst backhands. I watched him with Mr. Pearson on Court 3 and the beast of a backhand has been transformed into quite a beautiful one.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Nick Matthew, the number one player in the world would, if you asked him, play a final with one hand tied behind his back, he'd play a tournament in hell, he'd play his best squash with a snow shovel, he would play, because he plays purely for the love of this game. I'm up late after a really long day, the baby is finally asleep, the house is quiet and now, with PSA Live TV on my computer, I must be in some kind of heaven. But if I was there, one of the 35 watching this match, I'd want to take in the moment, this epiphany of sorts, and tell him that what he is doing is beyond what anyone could expect. I want to tell him that what he is doing is creating not only a personal glory for himself, but for this incredible game, squash.
That Nick Matthew might never play for his country in the Olympics or ever get a million dollar endorsement; how he plays and what he exhibits is the true embodiment of the Keatsian pursuit of truth and beauty on this here earth. I know pounds and dollars and euros rule the spectrum of professional sports accolades but step back a bit. Look at the small crowd. What you do and are doing transcends all the marketing, the dollars, the cents, and we admire you for simply doing something for the love of what you do. When most of us labor every day to make a dollar and hope to get recognized by our boss so we might at year's end make a few more dollars, if you were to ask them would they do what they do for free simply because they love what they do, most likely the answer would be an emphatic 'NO'. If you were to tally how many people simply do something for the love of what they do, who do something they love for no rhyme or reason, you would find probably 35 people sitting in the stands admiring something so great and grand. When it is all said and done those 35 people sitting in the stands are the ones who 30 years from now will be talking about how they saw Nick Matthew play Peter Barker on a cold Chicago winter night in 2014 -- and one writer who wanted to use his words to cherish this moment, whether or not anyone should ever read what he wrote. He simply loves to write.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Greg Gaultier has found a fountain of good intentions and it stinks. bring back the old Gaultier, please, the contentious, obnoxious overly aggressive player of the past. The new Gaultier in the last two finals I saw him in was content to give up on the match. He has seemed to settle for getting by. If he only knew that how he plays from here on out will determine his legacy. Right now, he looks like a petulant quitter, in fact we've all been on court with an opponent when loosing just gives up and doesn't even try. If you watch the great ones, they never, ever give up. I'm trying to imagine Palmer giving up even when down 1-8, or Gaultier's opponent tonight, Nick Matthew giving up in a match. No doubt Gaultier is a tremendous talent and I am always rooting for him to win. But when he plays in the finals like he did in the TOC and Case Open, you're left to wonder where is the mental capacity at his level of squash to sustain a world number 1 ranking.
I don't like the Gaultier who is explaining lets and strokes to his opponents or apologizing for a mishap that goes his way. I don't like the new Gaultier who is trying to win sportsman of the year, it's ridiculous, it's as if he's found some sort of religion. You don't need to do any of this and I was embarrassed for you after your semi-final win at the TOC over Shorbagy when you were draped over him hugging him in some appreciative manner, that Shorbagy tried to shake loose made the situation comical.
Forget that religion you seemed to have found, go back to your old manner. I liked it much better. Stop apologizing to your opponents, patting them with your racket on the backside, and draping yourself all over them. Bring back the swagger and the arrogance, it suits you and your brilliant game much better.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Years back I went to work in India and had at the time a torn meniscus and badly strained abductor. I tried playing squash but the pain was just too much and I kept re-injuring the injury. So I had to take off for 3 months. It was the worst time of my life, I am obsessed with this game and, up to that time, had not been off the court for more than a week in 25 years. What I found is like anything else, to a certain degree, you take what you do over and over again for granted. I see a homeless person on the street and feel bad that I'm annoyed that my Coop has become too small; but then I ask myself, what would that Coop mean to someone homeless, what would that place where I live and raise my children mean if I lost it. I know the answer, I would do anything to get it back, to be back where I once was. But back to India and squash. One day I took my racket and a few balls and went to the car ports underneath my high rise apartment building. I looked for an empty port because the ports were like mini-squash courts of concrete walls and floors. I started striking the ball, I couldn't even move to the ball, but I needed to hear the sound of that ball on the wall and off my strings. Luckily I took a handful of them because in the first few minutes I was spraying the ball all over the place and it was annoying to have to chase them down. But then I found my groove and started hitting the ball exactly where I wanted and would go for first 20, then thirty, then 50 shots in a row.
I had an audience. Two barefoot and tattered -clothed children were standing across the driveway, giggling and looking at this ridiculous man hitting a ball and hobbling in the car port. It must have seemed funny to them, it wasn't too funny to me, but these children around the complex came with the domestics and grounds people, so whatever I did was completely foreign to them. Their mother swept the driveway the entire day sweeping the endless dust that settles each day on everything in India. These children were there because they came with their mom to work for her 50 Rupees a day (about $1.25). They didn't go to school and they just played and settled into a routine that would condemn them to someday sweeping the dust from the driveways of some other driveway.
I gave them a couple of the squash balls that I had and they were so grateful, they had no ball to play with, nor toys, nor books to read, so this was very exciting to them. For days afterwards, they would watch me hit, and then run off and play catch with one of the balls I gave them. While I eventually went back to playing at a posh (by Indian standards) squash club and soon after came back to the states, I really regretted that I didn't get them to hold a racket and hit that ball in the car port. I would have liked to have imagined that these two children somehow found a way to a court, but not likely, there was no one there to teach them.
I made a deal from that time that I would get on court and teach anyone and anybody willing to learn what I had learned from playing and studying this game for so many years. Most of all, I wanted to teach anyone who would listen, and not just my son, the valuable lessons squash teaches and just about the beauty of this game. Mostly, as cliched as it is, I learned through squash don't take for granted what you love, by some hook or crook it can be taken away. And if it is ever for some reason taken away because you really love it, you'll find a way to win it back in whatever shape or form.
I have been blessed this last year with a baby girl, she's almost 10 months old now. I came back after playing and watching my son hit a bit, and I handed my racket to my daughter for the first time; I watched her hands as she played with the racket, those beautiful soft hands; like my son at her age, she held the racket as if it were a feather. I myself, am just recovering from a serious shoulder injury, but watching her hold that racket and that gleam in her eyes, I renewed my vows and told my daughter, that as hard as it is to come back and to play this great game, I will play and continue to learn it. I will do it simply because I love this game and what I love I want to share with her -- and others. Even though my back kills me and my shoulder hurts ever time after I play, I will do whatever it takes to have the opportunity to teach her this game her brother and I love so much. I will inspire her simply because she loves to play and has to, no matter what, the way we all have to breathe. One of the happiest days of my life was years back when my son first beat me in a squash match, if I can have that back down the road with my daughter, it will be the next happiest day of my life.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
soon 86th Street.
I probably left out a lot more. But I am posting the link to the official article in the press.
Oh, and lest I forget, a pro squash tournament without one of the Ashour brothers in the draw didn't help relieve my somber mood.