Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NY Grand Open Squash Tournament 2011 -- LA Fitness Squash Shines

I was watching a lot of the professional men's squash matches at grand Central while a group of 7 from LA Fitness Squash in Lake Success, NY were competing at the amateur Grand Open and junior TOC. Some great success for these valiant students who braved some really cold temperatures to give it their all.

Congratulations to Paul Zummo, our own Tasmanian Devil, who swept through the 3.0's to capture that title. He had to face his nemisis in the semi-finals, our own John Gross, who was speechless, literally with laryngitis, after loosing. But no better person to loose to than a friendly adversary. John had already beaten another fellow LA fitness Squasher, Ali Mirza in the opening round. Incidentally Ali Mirza, made it to the finals of the consolation where he met up with Marc Schecter, another of our own. Ali had played his heart out all weekend like the warrior he is and came up short. Marc looked overmatched in his opening main draw loss to whom many believe at the club, especial my son and I, a national champion -- 15 year old Haadi Ahmad also from LA Fitness. Once Haadi learns how to play in tournaments, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Although he lost in the next round, he kept his composure and seemed happy with how he played.

In the junior TOC tournament at Streetsquash, Nicole Freedman played in her first tournament ever. She has trouble with the faster court -- courts at LA Fitness, floors are like molten lead, the ball just doesn't bounce! Against the number 1 see she went down 0-3 but her scores were respectable. Watch for this little juggernaut in torunaments to come. She is a fierce competitor and has only been playing 6 months....we predict another national champion with this one as well-- but she has to work and train harder and improve. Hopefully, she's not discouraged and encouraged to start training and improving. Veedant Kukhardia in the boy's under 15 lost...this might be a blessing in disguise. This young man has so much talent but has to decide whether or not he wants to do, and have the time, to do what it takes to win. He's another one to watch, if he takes it seriously and works really hard he will become a champion. Hopefully, he's had his taste of loosing and wants to win and do what it takes to win at this game.

opefulwe'll put even more LA Fitness squashers in the Hyder Cup or the junior and adult skill level nationals in the coming months. We have some solid players at the club, a number of which will move up in skill level over the next year or so.

With that said, my son played a great match in the quarters of the 5.5 men's division. He faced the number 1 seed and what a war. Great match to watch, he came up just a little short in the fifth game, no doubt, a match he should have won. I've posted this match video on this blog : http//www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZlU60J5gVo
Comments are welcomed. I've analyzed it and have my own opinion on what my son needs to improve. Your comments always welcomed and a free lesson who picks out the one major thing I think needs improvement. My son already knows what that is so he is judge of the comments.

Again, congratulations to all- -- fantastic work and let's hit the courts soon to start preparing for the upcoming events.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Page 6 Tournament of Champions 2011 Squash!

This is truly the best week of the year! Once again, will be wandering about the tournament of the champions squash tournament, observing, talking, asking questions, sharing the bits and peices of information I gather. Hope you enjoy, oh and by the way, just happen to work my day job right in grand central so I'm taking frequent bathroom and coffee breaks to take in as much squash as I can.

Went over to the Princeton Club last night to see the Latourneau and Hisham Ashour qualifying match. On the elevator ride down looked across and noticed whom I thought was Hisham. I exchanged greetings and commented on his recent play and how fit he looked and asked him about his match. He stated he wasn't playing, he's been injured, surely a disconnect in the conversation. Strange, I thought, then it dawned on me, it was Ramy. Stupid me, I apologized for mixing the two of them up. Anyways, he's a lot fitter than Hisham. I texted my fiance and son to tell them just rode the elevator with god, but mixed him up with someone else.

Hisham looked really sharp and pretty fit. When will this guy -- so incredibly talented and really brilliant -- buckle down, train, and break the top 10. Latourneau was no match and it was quite evident mid-way through the second game when he was visibly tired and tinning. He even hit one shot with his racket low and I thought, wow, he does that too! But Hisham put relentless pressure on the game Canadian, taking the ball early, cutting off Latourneau's bullets. It was quick work for Hisham.

Bradley Ball and Nicholas Mueller, that was the match! By the way, what's up with the Princeton Club charging 40.00 to come to the qualifiers? Did any other club charge that? All of 10 people showed up for what turned out to be an incredible match. Nicholas Mueller I still maintain in the next 5 years will be a top ten ranked player. His footwork is already there, his pace not quite at that top ten level, but he beat an incredible player, albeit somewhat past his prime. But Ball was once ranked 15th. Mueller is currently ranked 39th on the PSA. I saw him beat Illingsworth, the top US player in the main draw last year. He is better, some mental errors, but he was tough in what was a physical and pressure filled match. But Ball is something. I saw him on the PST in November at Sports Club/LA against Tierry Linceau. He didn't look very good, slow and tired easily. But this time out, granted he wasn't playing the likes, yet, of Linceau, he was fitter and his front court game was really good and pressured Mueller. Fitness seemed at times a bit of an issue but he recoeved enough to come back brilliantly from 2 match balls to take the fourth game. He just crushes the ball but when he goes to the front he is so deft at the drop, especially on the back hand side. Too many tins otherwise we would have seen an even tighter match. He's clever and wily too first trying to distract Mueller with friendly banter, tirades over the referee calls, and general disruption, but to Mueller's credit, he recovered from the fourth game disappointment and really took it to Ball in the fifth game. Mueller is tough, a bit edgy, and outplayed a much more experienced opponent.

Can't say enough about Ball...every up and coming professional squash player or advanced junior player should watch this players tenacity, confidence and drive. And his drop shot, while still off timing wise, is just a beautiful shot. I can't wait to get back to the courts to try his technique.

Allister Walker watched the Hisham match but then disappeared. He seems much bigger on Squash Live TV.

Never saw this before but a fan agreed with the referee over a hotly contested call, Ball turned to the fan and asked him what did he know, nothing, just what Ball thought.. .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Has Bill Veeck Taken Over As PST Commissioner?

Recent announcements coming from the PST's commissioner, Joe McManus, have this fan a bit perplexed. A woman on the men's tour, 100k USD to a PSA top 10 player to sign with the PST, a 14 year old junior and now an elite PST draw? I'm waiting for McManus to provide haircuts between games as well as bring an incarnation of Eddie Gaedel to the courts (the only midget to bat in the big leagues). Can you imagine Venus Williams in the men's tennis draw? I thought the PST would provide aspiring professional or former college great squash players a place to play at a higher level and bring higher level squash to the paltry professional American squash scene. Someone forwarded a letter from McManus to supporters that clubs can now option for the "elite" draw as part of the PST tour. Does this mean we can see the same players whom we've always seen: Palmer, Hindi, Ball, White? What about exposure for all those aspiring professionals? We won't see them on the elite tour.
And the addition of women or a 14 year old junior American player. This is the kind of stuff that makes us a bit laughable. I guess if you're going to put a woman in the men's draw, I'd prefer Vicky Botwright, but she retired; she looked great on court and she'd certainly fill more seats wearing a thong. Natalie Grainger playing on the men's (sorry he/she or she/he) PST tour? What is that going to accomplish, men and woman aren't equal in the sports arena, there's no value judgement there, they are different -- only in this country do we strive for equality across the sexes. I for one am glad women are constructed with hips preventing them from playing the front court like a man. I've always complained when woman are allowed to play in the amateur men's draw, sorry, I don't like to play someone young enough to be my daughter or someone I pardon myself everytime I bump into her...but that's a different argument. Is David Palmer really going to play Natalie Grainger as physical as he plays Shahir Razik? Doubt it...or what about a 14 year old junior? I'm all for making exhibition matches but did Heather McKay ever play on the pro men's tour? She was the greatest woman squash player ever and one of the greatest female athletes, but she did play exhibition matches and that Frank Satterthwaite match in NY years back as documented in his book Three Wall Nicks and Other Angles...was interesting reading. I'm hoping the PST is having a bit of an identity crisis and will get back on track, I've been to only one of their events and just loved it. It was squash at its best and purest, great players playing on courts where the game was made to be played. And please don't add Jahangir Khan or Hashim Khan to the PST .
As for an elite tour. Forget elite squash, it goes against everything American. This is an American tour, showcase players that will help aspiring American professional or encourage great amateurs to pursue this game at a professional level. Okay, I'm off to the TOC qualifiers, to see some top 100 players battle it out to qualify for the main draw. Two of the three US players gone in the opening round qualifiers, the third is the top US player with an automatic place in the main draw. I'm just thinking, 5 years from now would love to see 10 US players working their way to a bid in the main draw, one or two getting to the qualifier final...where did they get their start? They played on the PST for a while it was tough competition on that tour, it took them to a different level.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Great Squash Has No Winners or Losers

If there is a Heaven above, chances are those in Heaven are there because of the quality and integrity of the lives they've lead. But, since no one has ever really reported back from heaven, it's just speculation -- but thousands of years of religion and philosphy seem to say that the good go to heaven and the bad to Hell. It's pretty cut and dry, you are either good or you are bad. You can be really good or sort of good, but in Heaven, continuing the speculation, Heaven is Heaven , you've arrived, you've lived your life in a way that allowed you to reach Heaven.

In the squash sphere, it's not much different. There's good squash, great squash, bad squash and abyssmal squash. Good squash, great squash releagtes its players to "heaven", bad squash its players to hell. Often at the club I coach at, LA Fitness in Lake Success, New York, I'll ask my students who are playing in a match, "how did the match go?" Invariably their answers surrounds winning and losing, one player in particular boasts, "I won so many games, I have been winning all the games this week!" I always respond with "great, but was the squash good?" This question is followed by a lengthy silence as the player tries to remember the squash he played, "not really." he says, "there weren't many good rallies and lots of tins."
Does scoring or winning really matter all that much when you aren't trying to win for food money or your family's survival. I don't think so. But good squash is worth its weight in gold or any other precious commodity and great squash is worth a place in heaven. Those who say "winning isn't everything..." might have been thinking of a great squash game.

I play so many games and players in the course of a week coaching, I don't even score the games, I don't want to score them, I want to play each point as an exercise in good squash and occassionally great squash. Of course it's all relative. Good squash to world ranked players is winning a hard fought 80 minute match in the Saudi final. Bad squash might be the same good squash of the winning player, but being on the loosing end of that 80 minute match. But to those not quite the high priests of squash, good squash is much simpler when you take out the money and ranking equation.

Good squash is playing up to your potential, playing the game in its simplest form, hitting the ball straight and tight moving your opponent, always moving your opponent and taking that coveted position on the "T". Do you reall need to keep score when playing good squash? And what about great squash? What exactly is great squash? At any level you ask a player did you play some great squash, watch them light up like a lamp, they'll describe a match where they played so beyond themselves, they pushed themselves to their outer limits skillwise or fitness wise, they might have finally lived up to their squash potential. Hardly does the outcome include who won and what the score was.

I've been beset with injury after injury lately, annoying injuries that always come after I start playing really well. I pray to the squash gods and swear I'll stretch more and focus on good squash rather than winning or loosing. The last time I played well was against my son. We played an amazing match, something seemed to click, I was moving effortlessly, balanced, with a great eye for the ball. It seemed there wasn't anything he could do that would trick me or fake me out. I was hitting the ball straight was actually moving him, forcing him to retrieve, which is huge for me because he usually just runs me all over the court while completely controlling the "T", sort of like just target practicing.

I played my heart out and knew I was playing at a different level. I remarked at one point after a long rally which he won, that this was the best squash we've played (going back to when he was 4 years old), for me at least, it might have been the best point ever. I had the opportunity to set up and volley drop his forehand cross court but was a tad late with my feet and tinned it. Great squash point over. I was exhilerated by the point and while the match never lived up to that one point, it was my own version great squash. When we completed the best match we've played together, I realized that I was thanking him for a well played match which I just lost 11-1, 11-0, 11-1. To which my son, in his inimitable way, responded, "yeah, it was ok..."

It's been over a month since that match, what I miss most is that squash feeling when you just play squash win or lose and play great squash and never look back. In heaven, I'm sure there's no scoring, no rating, and no winners or loosers. Being in heaven itself makes you a winner as it is and playing great squash is the winningest squash of all.