Monday, August 9, 2010

Arti Locker and Eric Ma RIP August 2009

It's hard to believe it's a year since Arti and Eric past away. I hope they found peace and a bit of squash in their latest travels.

When The D's Play like B's

It sometimes happens when two intermediate players get on court and play the match of their lives and the squash looks like advanced squash. Matt Levine (my student) and Russ Feinberg (my son's student) play each other so much in the early a.m. at our LA Fitness Club in Lake Success that it's routine chaos or helter skelter squash. To be expected since both players are extremely competitve and play to win. Matt has been working with me for nearly a year and has suffered through back problems and the frustrations of trying to transfer his often stellar drilling in practice to real match play. Russ, is often an enigma, an accomplished ballroom dancer he moves on the court so well, the key word being 'move'. He often however comes on court and looks like and moves like he's on the tail end of one of those 72 hour dance marathons. He'll show up for the early morning lessons and matches running on a few hours of sleep.
Both players approach the game in a similar manner. They analyze the game, they want to understand it and they are very keen on technique and the right way to play. They are a coaches best type of student.
Last week I observed Matt and Russ play what was an ugly match, that helter skelter type of squash, anyone's guess where the ball was going. Matt wasn't watching the ball very well and was under lots of pressure from Russ' typical front court reverses and trickle boasts. My son and I could only watch the match for a few obligatory minutes. We argued who was bringing who's game down.
I'm not quite sure what happened but both players had lessons with me and my son on the same day and time. My son must have said or done something because I observed Russ in practice take the game up a level and was hitting well. I thought to myself there's no way he's that much better at hitting the ball than Matt. Matt was also watching Russ hit with my son. When I asked Matt to get on court and start I talked to him more like an older brother and less like a coach. I wanted both to encourage him and castigate him for his poor play the previous week. I told him he was awful, he can play better and then just said something as simple as he doesn't grasp the concept of the court 'T'. I explained to him it is the eye of the hurricane, it is the center of the squash universe, it is one of the few places on earth where it is center, where you can reach anything from. I also explained that if he doesn't really watch and see the ball he is at a huge disadvantage and will feel so rushed in trying to cover the court because in fact he's looking for the ball before it bounces twice rather than taking time to prepare a timely shot.
Something might have clicked, because we drilled and I noticed that he was moving better , was staying away from the ball and as the drill progressed he was hitting nice tight shots for good length. We made some further adjustments in his footwork and he was starting to hit the cross court out of the front with much more balanced. Was this the same guy who a week earlier looked so bad?
I looked outside the glass backed court and there was Russ watching Matt. He saw how well Matt was striking the ball. I noticed too that while Matt often has this friendly demeanor, his demeanor on court was fierce. He didn't smile, he was all squash business. I knew I had reached him he was practicing better and looked like a squash player.
When Matt and Russ met up for their usual match (my son was in the city playing an early match) and I had my most favorite student Haadi on court while Matt and Russ were warming up on the other court. Haadi and I were drilling and Haadi himself was striking the ball well and moving about the court during the drills. We took a break and I went over to watch the Matt and Russ. Both looked like they were in a match and when Russ served I was immediately struck by how structured their point was. 5-7 backhand rails then a cross court and then a few forehand rails. Matt was moving around the court and not rushing around. Russ was trying to control the 'T' with shots that were deep and tight. He was controlling the 'T' ever so slightly, but Matt was stepping in and cutting the ball off. I noticed Matt's racquet no longer dangled usellessly at his side, but was lifted and ready to strike the ball. His eyes were on the ball, he actually turned his head fully to see the shots being hit from the back corners. He moved purposefully and there was even some elusive squash agility in his movement.
Russ was playing very well, and his backhand, was really good, better than Matt's -- I could see my son's influence on his backhand, perfect preparation, quick feet and slow racquet. One thing I'm sure my son was on Russ about was that his non-racquet hand is held to his heart, a bit awkward, and not too good for balance when setting up to strike the ball or moving to cut the ball of behind the service box.I kept coming back to watch their match.
When they came off the court I told them how great their squash was, I was so impressed with their play and told Matt he should be proud of how he played. There wasn't the usual court chaos, the points were structured and the play at a much higher level.
Matt was so happy with his play, I could tell. It is the best time for a coach to see his student recognize an accomplishment for which that student has worked so hard. I didn't even gloat a bit that my student beat my son's student, certain games and matches sometimes transcend the outcome. They both played, sort of like each other, I was reminded of years ago when I played at Park Place Squash and had a rivalry with Jay Munsie, intense rivalry, who always seemed to bring out the best in my play and I his. We battled like Matt and Russ and played at a level that was well above our skill level, we just brought out the best. Hopefully, Matt and Russ will push themselves to solid B and eventually even A level play...I know my son would appreciate having a hand in that as I would too.