Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Greatest Professional Squash Match-ups, Real and Imagined

We’ve done the all-time greatest squash players list (which reminds me may need to update). But here goes – keep in mind these are matchups I’ve seen. Purely subjective, not based on any statistics or results. 1. Jansher Khan vs. Chris Ditmar 2. Jonathan Power vs. Peter Nicol 3. Ramy Ashour vs. Nick Matthew 4. Jahangir Khan vs. Jansher Khan 5. Jahangir Khan vs. Geoff Hunt 6. Mohamed ElShorbagy vs. Gregory Gaultier 7. John White vs. anyone he ever played 8. Rodney Martin vs. Jansher Khan 9. Jonathan Power vs David Palmer 10. Nick Matthew vs. James Willstrop Matchups that could have been great but never happened. Just imagine. All players at their prime. Par 11 scoring. 1. Jansher Khan vs. Ramy Ashour; This is one for the ages…This is Ali/Frazier I; Boston Celtics/LA Lakers; 1968 Green Bay/Dallas Superbowl; Fisher/Spassky. Jansher never ever faced the likes of the Egyptian. A grueling, tactical, masterful match. One for the Ages. Ramy 3-2 (last 3 games tie breakers; Ramy comes back from being down 0-2). Jansher seems stunned. His entourage closes in on him and hurries him out. It will be three months before he resurfaces. 2. Nick Matthew vs Jahangir Khan (Wolf vs Bull); This is a slugfest and a match of attrition at the highest level. While I love Matthew and his relentless play, I give the nod to Jahangir 3-1. Critical points in the 4th could have sent this to a deciding 5th, but as tough mentally as the Wolf is, the Bull – well he is the Bull and tough too. The Bull is just too much in the end for the Wolf. Matthew acknowledges afterwards it was the toughest match of his career. 3. Palmer vs. Chris Ditmar; This is a bare-knuckle fight to the end. Palmer and Ditmar relentless in their attack. Very physical match which comes down to who wants it more. Both mentally tough, both Australian, playing for heaps of pride and bragging rights; at the end, these two great warriors hang on as Palmer tins his patented forehand kill. Ditmar 3-2. 4. Tristan Nancarrow vs Hisham Ashour; If there were ever two players who exhibited pure artistry on court these two are the ones. Almost mirror images of each other’s shot making and creativity. No long rallies here, just breath-taking nicks off either side of the volley. Each player trying to match the other players shots. Hisham knew ahead of this match it could be his legacy, the greatest match of his career. Down 1-2 and 0-5 in the fourth, he brilliantly changes tactics and starts extending the rallies by not giving Nancarrow the angles to cut the ball off. Nancarrow, wasn’t prepared for this and begins to tire and shoot. Hisham comes back to even it 2-2. The fifth game is all Hisham’s, Nancarrow is ranting and raving and trying to disrupt Hisham’s rhythm, but the Wizard will have none of it and finishes Nancarrow off in the 5th easily. 5. Olli Tuomen vs Anders Wahlstadt; Two of the fittest pros in their time on the tour. For those of us who appreciate attrition squash, this is a match that goes over two hours. The crowd marvels at the long rallies, the 20-30 shot rallies as both players display magnificent court coverage. Each game a tie breaker and each game lasting 30 minutes. The fifth game shows the tenacity of each player as the fifth games tie breaker ends 20-18: Wahlstadt. Both must be helped off the court. They ran a full marathon; no one left the match people lingering about as if there’ll be a sixth game. Squash from the Hunt and Barrington era. Jonah is in the booth with Joey Barrington. Jonah has a big smile. 6. Peter Nicol vs Mohamed ElShorbagy – The puncher vs the counter puncher. ElShorbagy in the match of his life; Power vs Finesse. Nicol weathers the onslaught and begins to wear ElShorbagy down. Nicol doesn’t back down, but counters with a pace that outdoes ElShorbagy. Nicol, the master of setting and dictating pace, attacks to the front court in the later part of the match and when ElShorbagy attacks the front, Nicol counters with his patented offensive lob. Nicol easily in 4. 7. Peter Nicol vs Nick Matthew; Matthew the huge underdog and Nicol maybe a bit too over confident. Nicol realizes by his demeanor that Matthew is supremely fit and can play Nicol’s style. The match is sea saw back and forth. Down 1-2 and 0-7 in the fourth, Matthew digs deep just when you thought the match was over; it’s like he has had a second wind. The rallies are punishing, and Nicol looks weary -- uncharacteristically tinning a couple of balls. At 7-7 there’s a controversial call, Matthew awarded a stroke, Nicol seems broken, but then at 8-10 ties it up and Matthew goes back up with game ball. Matthew hits a patented forehand volley drop Nicol throws up a lob, Matthew attacks and hits an overhead volley nick. The fifth game is much the same and Nicol this time shows no let up and the match goes to 10-10 before a couple of uncharacteristic errors by Matthew gives Nicol the match. Matthew immediately looks forward to a rematch, he’s told that he’ll have to wait for the Canary Wharf next month. Matthew seems disappointed and Nicol seems relieved. 8. Mohammed ElShorbagy vs Chris Ditmar; ElShorbagy considered the more talented player of the two, by whom, not quite sure. The experts under estimate Ditmars talent and style of play. Ditmar isn’t playing Jansher here, nor is he under that large and looming shadow. Ditmar shows an edgy but cool grace as he weathers the ElShorbagy power and surprisingly punishes ElShorbagy in the front court. Tactically, ElShorbagy made some mistakes but regroups down -1-2 and ties it at 2-2. Ditmar is the fitter player and it goes down to the wire, Ditmar in 5. Ditmar wasn’t happy with his performance felt he was sluggish and a bit off, he makes no mention of ElShorbagy and the quality of his play. 9. Tristan Nancarrow vs Jonathan Power; Tristan comes in ready and Power goes up against the master. There’s some great shot making and Power’s deception troublesome for Nancarrow. But Nancarrow can play some head games and Power is susceptible to such head games. On numerous occasions Power fishes for strokes, but the refs are calling a tight match. In a contentious 4th came, Power loses his cool, Nancarrow has beaten him mentally. The rest is easy, Nancarrow in 4. 10. Amr Shabana vs Jansher Khan. This is an intriguing matchup. Shabana plays flawless squash but so too does Jansher, game 1 to Jansher. In the second game Shabana ups the pace and is moving Jansher around. Jansher counters by attacking the front; in vintage Jansher fashion, he isn’t killing the drop but putting enough pressure to control the game. The “Maestro” is performing a symphony of sorts, meaning the full array of his skills is on display. Ultimately, Jansher in 4, but we walk away from this match with a sense that Shabana played brilliantly, it’s just that he played someone who is the greatest player of all time and except for Ramy, he’s beaten the best of any generation. Side Note: In the rematch between Ramy and Jansher later at the British Open, they go head to head again. You decide the outcome. A second look at Ramy and you can see Jansher is homed in on this one with great anticipation. Ramy’s deception and redirection of his shots has little or no impact on Jansher. He’s controlling the center and dictating the pace. Ramy, the great champion he is, realizes the adjustment and makes his own…you decide, I can’t.

1 comment:

Squashracquets said...

Very, very cool, Delphi. I'm from your squash era and witnessed some of the real matches you mention. Also Paige vs. Jahangir at some Manhattan theater; Hunt vs. Sharif and Sharif vs. Paige at the North American Open; Talbot vs. Zaff in Greenwich: and many, many others. God bless.

--Paul