Saturday, September 13, 2014
Years back I found the Egyptian Squash invasion, well an invasion. I didn't like it. It wasn't what I was used to. They were brash, irreverent, and seemed to come at you from every angle on the way creating even angles never before seen. I found them disconcerting they threatened the iconic British and Australian way of life, they seemed to stomp on the Pakistan traditions of the Khans. Who were these squash Huns? Ten years later from the ashes of Barada and not so far removed from Shabana, the phoenix has risen in all its glory really ushering in not only a new age, but ushering in the very survival of squash. As we see the zenith of Australian and British squash (by Dave Pearson's own admission there's no one on the British horizon of squash) the Egyptians are not only the future but they are the future's present. I watched the El Gouna Open tournament this year as closely as I've watched any tournament. I watched this because this was an Egyptian showcase of the best squash talent on the planet. In the end I was treated to an amazing semifinal match between Mohamed ElShorbagy and Greg Gaultier 113 minutes of amazing squash. I watched these two battle it out a few months back in the semis of this year’s tournament of champion, you walked away from that Gaultier victory realizing only a matter of time, the time is now, not as many predicted a year or two years away. I chastised Gaultier in that match for giving too much credit to his defeated foe. But he must have seen something happening that I certainly didn't. But now Mohamed Elshorbagy. The other fellow on the court for the El Gouna final with Ramy Ashour. I watched a few of the Ashour matches and realized (again) this squash player is perhaps the best player in the history of the game. I saw Jahnsher many times, he is undoubtedly the greatest, but what made Jahnsher great, one thing was his attacking the front court. They used to say in the first game he attacked the front giving you the opportunity to return it and then as the match went on he tightened the front court like tightening a screw until he eventually broke the likes of Rodney Martin, Chris Ditmar and his own Jahangir Khan. And now there is Ramy, the "Annihilator" he will annihilate you with his front court game. Watch the Simon Rosner quarter final match at El Gouna, the front court attack is simply devastating, annihilating, ushering a very talented player into a void a nothingness of racket and player unable to cover the ball up front. He makes a potentially top 5 player look like a club player in the front court. And Ashour isn't tightening any screws, he's going for the jugular. I saw him first do this a few months back against one of my favorite players Cameron Pilley. It seemed Ashour attacked more to the front, he broke a very game Pilley early on. Ashour seemed different, he changed, and his game was nothing like I've seen except in Jahnsher. I love British squash, Nick Matthew, James Wilstrop, Peter Barker, and Daryl Selby will be no more in a few years. None will replace these absolute golden boys of squash. I am sad, truly saddened by this until I realize we have something entirely new. We have the Egyptians, Ashour, Shorbagy, Mosaad, Momen and many others coming up in the ranks. They are exciting in a different way. I feel a bit guilty in this because I feel like I'm betraying the ultimate squash in Matthew and Wilstrop. these are my heroes, these are the players who have carried the torch of traditional squash, the torch once held by Nicol, Power, Palmer, Ditmar, Robertson, the Martins, and even further back in Hunt and Barrington -- those players who combined attrition squash with beautiful shot making -- a deadly combination. But someone, anyone had to come out of the Pakistani ashes of squash, come out of that tradition steeped in brilliance, temperament and creativity.
It's been awhile, and I had thought I was done with this stuff. But, I had this dream I was dead on the court. Someone administered CPR it was like I am there, they are there, but I am here. Eventually, the I am here met up with the I am there and i started my squash life again. the dream nearly died, precipitously ever so close to the end. But it's alive again. And every near death experience has a vision, some indication of the past or the future. I am here to share with you what came out fo this near squash death experience. Someone handed me a tablet with 11 commandments. Here goes. First and foremost, in that white light near death I was told to say what i feel and think -- don't mince words. I was told this sport is dying a slow death it's time for depserate measures. I can only hope Alan Thatcher, Barbara Cooper , Hisham Ashour and James Masland not hear the cock crow three times. 1. Squash will help you get into an IVY or top tier school. False, nonsense no basis in reality. If you are academically inclined to the Ivy's squash will not matter and besides what U.S. top under 19 player could even set foot on the court with some of the great overseas players recruited? So if you spend the tens of thousand of dollars most of you will spend it won't matter much unless your child plays squash for the rest of their lives. 2. Hashim Khan was not the greatest. Sorry, as nice as it sounds. If you could teach your brother to win the British Open after 1-2 years of playing squash no doubt the competition is like 3 players total. I would stake my life that no one who has never played squash can win the British Open after two years (barring bribes, injuries to everyone in the main draw, etc). And in their prime Jahangir vs Hashim 11-0,11-0,11-0. That was an era not even comparable to others. Jahangir in his prime versus Nick Mathew, sorry Mr. Mathew maybe a game but not likely. And we didn't even bring into discussion Jansher. 3. Urban Squash, those left behind are still left behind, those ahead always ahead. Not really so funny, but I guess it works it keeps those Ivies probably not really employable elsewhere employed. Don't profit from other's misfortune ( a wise old Turk told me that one). 4. U.S. Squash. Yikes I don't even want to think about this anymore. Let others do the dirty work. 5. Pro Squash tour - after all that was said and done a mere 'tempest in a tea pot.' 6. Coaching - Interesting the top Tennis coaches never really played on the pro tour. They are architects of tennis, they are great students and teachers of tennis. Squash please take heed. The U.S. is overun with carpet-baggers of squash. They are here for the money only and capitalizing on the college squash bubble. Most of them (and unless you are Chris Walker, Rodney Martin, Hisham Ashour) best to check those credentials; but 90% of parents of squashers haven't a clue about who is a good coach or not. If they played the game they would know a lot more. 7. New York squash is dying. Let's face it there are no new courts, courts are closing, the greatest city on the planet has the worst squash. Those that dispute this are basically keeping the lie alive. There are few tournaments, fewer players, and the club models around the City are antiquated models and don't work anymore. There's no consortium out there looking to build a mega facility. Squash is returning to the elitist private clubs. good luck getting into those at 89.00 or 140.00 a month (and they do require sponsorship). 8. Squash and the Olympics. This will only benefit the top players. They're professional, whether on Mt. Olympus or in the Bayou they will be pure gold. Who cares, no one except those who will profit from it. 9. Grand Central -- viewing the squash. I've been there watching; the most, 50 people without tickets most of whom, names withheld, are too cheap to buy tickets so they watch for free. It does NOT bring new players to the game. 10. Finally, if you find any of this offensive, sorry, I love this game and in the end couldn't care less about hurting anyone's feelings. This game is still the greatest game on the planet, the difference is I say make it accessible to anyone and everyone; others would like to keep it restricted. I remember a while back talking to some players who switched clubs. They didn't like my club because the courts were always booked. They went to another club and were ecstatic that they could get courts whenever they wanted. "No one else plays." Phew, that is brain dead squash -- talk about dumb. 11. I am throwing this in there. Be a visionary, think outside the box, don't follow any leaders and as Dylan says 'watch your parking meters."