Friday, March 7, 2014
Making the Squash Beast Beautiful - Squash and Dave Pearson
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.