The life of a professional squash player by Mark Fuller
Below are all the entries in my blog, I hope you enjoy the read!
Below is the graph for my current PSA world ranking. I will keep it up to date so that you can see how I am progressing.
In today’s world, the top sportsmen and women receive a great deal of press coverage and we all get an insight into their lives as they travel the world in search of gold and glory. The desperation to know as much about celebrities as possible has reached such a level that in Wimbledon week, we didn’t just know what Andy Murray’s training regime was like but, also, what he liked for breakfast and what he was planning to watch on TV that night.
The first thing that I think I should clear up is that I am a professional squash player. By this, I mean that the income that I live on comes from and is as a direct result of my squash. In the lower end of the sport this income doesn’t come from England Squash funding, sponsorship or big tournament victories, it comes from leagues. To give you a quick over view of my week from Monday to Thursday, I train once in the morning, usually for about 1 ½ hours and then play a league match in the evening. On Monday its Warwickshire league, Tuesday Northwest, Wednesday Yorkshire and Thursday its Midlands league (see UK-Racketball in action, sponsored teams). On a Friday and Saturday I try to fit in three sessions with one on each day being an off court session. On Sunday I rest, well at least from squash! It may sound like quite a hectic week but I am lucky that I do love my league squash and this is mainly due to the fact that I get on really well with the guys who are in my teams and many have become good friends.
With this blog, I will try to give an accurate account of my life in terms of both my squash and what we are trying to do with UK-Racketball, without giving away to many of my secrets (I will need them if I’m still to achieve my dream). When asked how good you think you will get, I think the answer should always be realistic and therefore achievable; otherwise your life will always be a disappointment. When I’m asked, the answer is always the same... world no.1... It’s not me to settle for less.
Last season I only played two foreign league matches, one for Bremen in German League and one for Vienna in Austrian League. This season I have moved to play for Mainz in the German Regionaliga (as I was guaranteed to play more matches than in Bremen) and I’m still playing for Vienna in the Austrian Bundesliga. Playing for a foreign league usually takes up an entire weekend you usually spend a couple of days playing and a couple of days travelling. For me playing foreign leagues is one of the best parts of playing full time squash, you get to see another country, you are well paid (relatively), you are usually really well looked after, the guys that I stay with are fantastic and unlike a PSA it’s quite relaxed (you still get paid if your crap).
First day, Thursday 5th November
After a late night from Yorkshire League (when I beat Dave Barnett 3-0, had to get that in somewhere) and a couple of hours spent working on UK-Racketball to 3:00 in the morning, it was a hard start to the day at 9:00, which left me only 30 minutes to get out of the house, if I wanted to make my train to get to Gatwick Airport.
I spend a lot of time travelling and usually take at least 2 books with me wherever I go. This might sound strange but I’m never sure what mood I will be in when I get the chance to read, if I’m tired or frustrated having a non-fiction with you can be a real time killer but they can get a bit annoying after a while so it’s good to have a heaver book waiting in the wings. At the moment I’m reading a historical fiction by Simon Scarrow on the Roman invasion of Brittan, which is basically a chick lit for guys (lots of fighting, sex and no long words!) and my second book is Theo Paphitis’ Biography. I figure I need all the help and inspiration I can get if I want to get UK-Racketball of the ground.
It took me about 4 ½ hours to get from my door to Gatwick airport, another 1 ½ hours hanging around the airport and the flight lasted just under 2 ½ hours. By the time I reached Erwin’s house in Vienna I had been travelling for just under 10 hours and as I was already tired, it was not the most fun you can have in a day. Erwin is the guy who runs the Vienna Bundesliga team and I stay at his house whenever I play Austrian League. I was first introduced to Erwin by Birgit Coufal, his daughter who I used to live with in Nottingham, she is currently Austrian no.1 and playing the world circuit. I think her currant world ranking is around 65. We still keep in touch even though she moved back to Vienna over a year ago and it’s always a bonus to see her when I play for Vienna. By the time I reached their house it quite late and after cooking a quick meal Erwin went to bed, I stayed up for a bit, managed to write my introduction to this blog (took about an hour) and watch an episode of heroes before heading to bed.
I played this particular Austrian League fixture last year and so was ready for the travelling and knew it was not going to end when I got to Vienna. Our first game was in Innstrook the other side of the country and a good 500km from Vienna! Birgit’s brother who was playing at number 3 for the team arrived at the flat about 10:30 (I was half way through another heroes episode) and we began the long drive. As far as 500km drives go it was one of the more interesting, we travelled through a lot of mountains, got stopped by German police (who thought we might be smugglers) and had an unbelievable bradwurst by a lake!
We made it to Innsbrook with a couple of hours to spare before our games. Time to head down to the club for a quick hit and then back to the hotel for a cheeky episode of heroes!
My match itself was quite straight forward, although the Vienna team got off to a terrible start. Our no 4 (there are only 4 in a team) lost 3-0 so the rest of us had to win to avoid a draw. Fortunately the rest of the team are quite strong, we have Steve Coppinger at 1 who is quality (we have only played once which was 2 years ago and he took me apart completely) then I’m at 2 and Christian 3. We ended up winning the match 3-1 and the same as last year headed to Harrleys a classic rock bar to celebrate (not usually my scene but it always turns out to be a great night). Just had a few beers and one jagermeister (horrible stuff), it’s a regular thing with foreign team squash that you have at least a few beers afterwards, it makes the leagues always feel a lot more relaxed than in England and is really good fun. For me if you drink alcohol at the right time and not too much then I think it has little effect on you (especially in the long run) some players disagree and never drink, whereas others seem to manage to go out “big time” and are still quality the next day. I probably go out drinking about once a month which I don’t think is a big deal at all. I think you enjoy the nights a lot more then as well, it’s the same as with anything, if you do one thing too much it becomes very dull, but when it’s something you enjoy and only do occasionally, it will usually be great fun.
Day 2 Saltzburg
Both me and Coppinger were both up for breakfast, more than can be said for the rest of the team and thankfully I didn’t feel too bad at all in the morning, which was good after all that travelling, little sleep and a cheeky few beers.
Had a great breakfast with Dave Heath (ex Scottish international and now the head coach in Slovakia) and Coppinger although our attempting to answer a philosophical problem that David Heath brought up over whether animals have memory ended without conclusion but managed to keep us entertained while we ate.
At around 11:00 Christian knocked on our door to see if we were up and wanted to go and see if we could get breakfast somewhere, having already eaten we threw his plans out a bit and had to leave the hotel while I was midway through another episode of heroes to begin the long drive through the mountains to Salzburg.
I have played in Saltzburg twice before and so knew what to expect when we arrived at the club. I was due to play a Pakistani who was an ex professional but I was told I should win. The team match started the same way as the previous day with us going down 1-0 before Coppinger comfortably beat Aqeel Rehman and levelling the match.
My match was less straight forward that the game the day before, after taking the 1st comfortably 11/8, he took an early lead in the second game and then an 8/10 lead, after saving 2 game balls I finally managed to take the game 12/10. The 3rd went the same way and by this point I was feeling progressively more tired (just from the late nights, alcohol and amount of travelling) and this time I was even closer to losing the game going down 7/10 and having to save 5 game balls before finally winning 14/12. Last on, Christan finally managed to finish of his opponent 3-1 and clinch are second victory of the weekend, with 2 wins out of 2 the league table would be looking much healthier.
After our meal out we then headed back to Vienna and after we arrived back at Erwin’s about 10:00 with Birgit already there and very up for a night out. This was my first night out in Vienna and it turned out to be a long one, we began the night in a cool little arty bar, there was a big screen which was showing an old black and white film and the place was full of strange arty people, I didn’t exactly fit right in wearing my stripy jumper and brown shoes. After that we went to various bars including one on a boat before finishing the night in a club. Just to make the night’s impact on my squash even better I managed to eat an exceptionally large sausage on the way back to the flat. We made it home around 5 in the morning, great night.
Day 3 home
I don’t see the point to updating this blog every 2 seconds, when I read a blog written by a runner or arctic explorer I don’t really want to read about them doing the ordinary things, so activities like I cook, wash up, go to the shops or clean my teeth will not be mentioned in this blog, as there is little point. However, I thought it might be an idea to include a couple more ordinary weeks, just to give an idea of how a week would go when I don’t play a tournament or travel very far. This week has been quite an ordinary week for me, the highlights are bellow.
Massive run in the morning (or at least it felt massive) not sure exactly how far it was but I was only out for about an hour and although at times I was going quickly there were times when I definitely wasn’t, still really feeling the Vienna night out.
Spent the afternoon working on UK-Racketball and then went to the Park (squash club) to do an hour’s school coaching and work in the shop stringing rackets. At the moment these little odd jobs are getting quite annoying, it’s not that I don’t enjoy them it’s just I really need to spend longer on both UK-Racketball and my squash and it feels like they are getting in the way. That night I didn’t leave the squash club till after midnight. Although I did manage some squash completing a cheeky solo and a quick couple of friendly games as well as work so that made me feel better.
It takes me about 3 hours to get to a normal northwest match and tonight was no exception. Tonight we (Bowdon) were playing away at Grove Park, the side where we all but claimed the title last year and I had the same opponent as on that occasion Morgan Hibberd. Although I hadn’t had the best preparation with a hard couple of drinking sessions a mammoth run and very little time on court, I still felt I could win but it did not happen. He chased everything down, defended really well and it felt that I was the one who was taking all the risks. It was exactly how I didn’t want the game to go and I ended up losing the match 3-1 to the delight of the Grove supporters.
Whenever a player looses there are always excuses but the fact is that if you step on the court you are there to try and win and if you lose, you have been beaten. On the night Morgan played better than me and despite winning the match on a back wall nick, he deserved the win.
No Yorkshire league tonight so went straight back to Nottingham, headed to the club to sort out PSA had got into a tournament in Tenerife but decided not to go, would have been great fun but I had already got 2 tournaments lined up for December and felt a 3rd might just be too much, both for my body and bank account!
At 4:00 I went on to do an hours training with Declan James. We just did some basic drop drive and length drills before finishing with short verses long (best squash training game ever see our coaching section!).
Today basically went the same as Tuesday, although I had planned to train in the morning this was quickly shelved to make way for more work, both sorting out Midlands League (had a nightmare this week, think only fellow team captains out there will know my pain, see today’s report in UK-Racketball in action, we got beat quite badly) and of course some Uk-Racketball work as well.
I played Jon Underhill in Derby league, it’s always a tough game against him and this was no exception. I was feeling pretty terrible after the last few days training and my legs were definitely not moving as well as they could have done. He is quick, never gives up and plays at a fast pace. I always think of his game as quite easy to play but very differ cult to beat. I felt that I controlled large amounts of the game but as always with Jon he kept plugging away and after over an hour and a quarter we were just beginning the 5th game. The 5th was a great game, I still felt quite strong (fitness training must be paying off) and shot off to a 7-2 lead only to see Jon claw his way back bit by bit until we were level at 7-7, he never does know when to give up. I have never lost to Jon and was determined this was not going to be the first, I stepped it up again and finally managed to take my chances and the match 9-7. Not the best squash performance but a real fight. The best feeling you can get from the squash is when you win a battle!
Another morning was devoted to uk-racketball over squash. I am hoping that I will soon see the end of the tunnel and that after I have set uk-racketball up, squash can once again become the main focus, but at the moment I feel there is little choice but to let it suck up even more time.
My German league matches are usually very straight forward as I’m playing in the German 3rd division but the guys out there are really quality. I am properly looked after in Mainz, they even buy my beer (although I was very strong and stayed well clear this time, shows just how desperate I am to get fit again!) I will save a proper German league report for my next trip. I want to do it justice away from my standard weekly report.
My plans for next week are to finally get on top of uk-racketball and get back to full training on the squash court. This really needs to happen as i’m running out of time to get ready for Athens!
My flights were booked for the day before the first round and then to come back on the night of the final, normally I wouldn’t plan to arrive two days before being scheduled to play and fly back so late but there were three main reasons for this. The first was that it was my brother’s first PSA tournament and I wanted to watch him in qualifying. I’m also very interested in history, making sightseeing a major draw of the tournament and lastly this was my first tournament for a while and I thought going out a day early would help me settle and I might do better.
On the Monday both my roommates had qualifying matches and I saw it as a day of settling in, keeping sharp, getting used to the courts and planning what I was going to see for the rest of the week.
The tournament matches were played in the evening and Mike (Daddy) Harris was up first, beating his opponent convincingly. I had lined up a practice match against Issa Kamarra to help me get a real feel for the court, I won the first game 11-0 (not a bad start to a tournament) before finishing the match off 3-0 quite convincingly, so far so good.
My brother’s match was the last game on that evening and started off well enough with him taking the first two games, but gradually his opponent dug in and after losing the third on tie break the momentum shifted and he failed to regain control eventually losing the match 3-2. It’s always hard to watch him play and especially hard to watch him play badly. He puts a tremendous amount of effort into his squash and was obviously very disappointed. I tried to do the big brother thing and help him get over it, but don’t think I did this particularly well, the ice was finally broken by Zaif (who had just qualified for the girls tournament), who strolled into our room, asked my bro how he did and after replying that he lost 3-2, responded with “Really!? But you were winning so easy”. Daddy and me burst out laughing and it even Chris managed a half smile.
Tuesday 1st December
That evening I was definitely a bit apprehensive going into my match, matches with my brother are always tough and anyone who can beat him was bound to not be easy. The match however was a bit of a letdown, I came through and won 3-0 (the main thing) but didn’t play particularly well and despite being in the lead for most of the match failed to really play well which resulted in quite a dull match. I wasn’t to bothered though, it’s always hard to play well against people you’re expected to beat in the early rounds of a tournament and especially when there like Alexandre, fit and quick.
Wednesday 2nd December
After the hit we managed a quick 15 min looking round the temple of Zeus (which up close is incredibly impressive) before heading to our usual Italian, after a good feed we went back to the hotel room and even managed a quick cheeky sleep before the evening session.
The match against McDougal was great fun and at times I played some of my best squash. Despite an early lead I lost the first 8-11 but except for a few bad points at the end had played well. The next 2 games I played really well (for me at least), I was hitting a good length, moving up to the volley and dictating the play. It also looked like he was tiring and the more he tired the quicker I felt I became, I was even hitting progressively more short balls and he was having to do a lot of work. Right at the end of the 3rd (I think I was 9-5 up) I went over on my ankle, I first hurt my right ankle a few weeks ago in a Yorkshire league match and it has never fully healed and it hurt like hell. I managed to close out the game 11-6 and was hoping that with a support it would be ok for the rest of the match.
I got off to a really bad start at the beginning of the 4th, I wasn’t moving great and he began to go for me more and more, there were a few boasts I didn’t get any ware near. I ended up losing the game 11-5 but my ankle was feeling better and it was all down to the 5th to decide the match.
Unlike the 4th in the 5th I got off to a great start, there were a few brutal rallies to begin with but I was feeling strong, volleying well and raced to a 9-3 lead. It was then that my lack of recent good results took its toll, I had suddenly forgotten how to play well and was losing points quickly, after a few crosscourt nick attempts, which went horribly wrong, the score was 9-9 I had lost 6 points in only a couple of minutes and was looking at a possible disaster. The plan I came up with was to hit deep. I forgot about playing well and decided to run. It worked, I got a stroke to get match ball and he hit a drive out on the backhand, I had won 11-9 in the 5th, it couldn’t have been closer. To win a match that has been so close is a massive thrill, I was ecstatic I had made my second PSA semi final and had won the match that before I left everyone was telling me was going to be the tough one.
Unfortunately, Daddy had lost to the number one seed in one of the other quarters so I was the last of my roommates left in but to stick with tradition we all went to the same Italian and finished the day with an early night.
Thursday 3rd December
In the semi I was playing the 8th seed Pete Martin from the Czech Republic I had watched his semi final and knew that he was fit and very quick (always annoying). However he had also had a really tough quarter final and I was hoping that he would be feeling it more than me.
The match started off as I expected with the first game being really close with me fortunately closing it out 11-8. It was hard work as he got a lot of balls back and despite feeling good earlier that morning, as the game drew on, I was beginning to feel the effects of yesterdays marathon Mcdougll match. The only real difference between us was that he was making more mistakes and I was feeling quiet fortunate to be leading.
At the start of the 2nd his tactics had changed and he was no longer taking any chances, the rallies began to become very long and drawn out and as he was so quick I began to wonder how I was ever going to win a point. I was doing more with the ball but he was retrieving well and after about 10 minutes the score was 1-3 to him, it had taken me 10 minutes to win a single point. Fortunately the running began to take its toll and from 1-3 down his pace dropped considerably and I managed to close the game out 11-4. The 3rd game was very similar but the resistance at the start lasted even less time and I ended up taking the game 11-4 and the match 3-0. I had made my first PSA tour final. This match felt especially special as I felt I had played well for almost all of it, a very excited Nicolette Fernandez (who had just made the girls final) exact words were “that was fucking brilliant”, I was a very happy boy.
Friday 4th December
The evening started well, Nicolette claimed her first tour title beating Egypt’s Farah Abdel Meguid 3-1, a large part of her victory down to my coaching, obviously. Next came an exhibition doubles match and then I was on. I was playing the number 1 seed Karim Absel Gawad from Egypt ranked 91 in the world and before the week began everyone’s hot favourite for the title. Having watched his previous rounds I had worked out he was quick and very skilful, great!
I started the match quite conservatively and quickly went down 6-1. The rallies were quite long but I was doing all the running. If I kept playing the same way I realised I was definitely going to lose. I began to up the pace, hitting the ball harder and getting on the volley. The game became much more even with me going down 11/9. The second game went almost exactly the same way, with me loosing it 11/8 this time. I was 2-0 down and it was time to get the uk-racketball midlands league t-shirt out in case the presentation was just round the corner.
I knew though that I still had a chance to get something from the match. The first two games had been close and I could see that he was starting to tire. If I could keep the pace up I still had a chance. The start of the 3rd was the best squash that I had played all tournament. I was up the court taking the ball in short and beginning to anticipate his shots well. I ended up taking the game 11/3, it was game on.
After the 3rd, the 4th game was a massive anti-climax. Until 4-4 I still had a really good chance and could feel the momentum was all with me but unfortunately this did not last long enough and from nowhere he managed to pull off some great winners and break my rhythm. I ended up losing the game 11/6 and with it the match 3-1. Despite having such a good tournament I was very disappointed, I felt I could have done better. From not really thinking I was going to win I suddenly saw just how close I had come.
That night Nicolette and I headed to our usual Italian and despite my defeat it was a really good evening. We had both started the tournament as low seeds, but I had made my first tour final and she had claimed her first tour title. Not a bad week’s work!
Saturday 5th December
For this blog entry I have decided to begin where I finished my last entry getting, back from Athens, as that was quite an interesting week and then go through what training I did over the Christmas period to try and keep up my good form ahead of leagues resuming on 4th December.
I arrived back from Athens just after midnight on Sunday 6th December. I was pretty tired as it had been a tough day, an early morning and then a full day sightseeing before heading back to the airport and home. I knew though that I had done well and was keen to get on and consolidate my squash as quickly as possible.
Monday 7th December
This meant that, despite arriving back at 1 in the morning, by 8:45 I was up and heading to squad. Had a distinctly average hit with the boys and then headed home to top up the sleep before work. I think I had become used to the afternoon naps in Athens (not much uk-racketball work is getting done at the moment). That evening I was back stringing rackets for the pro shop (back to earth after my tournament by the temple of Zeus) and then headed off to play Notts league. I played well that evening though and managed a comfortable 3-0 win, I definitely didn’t want to give up my Athens form without a fight.
Tuesday 8th December
Wednesday 9th December
That evening it was back to Yorkshire League and a trip to Pontefrat to try and keep Hallamshire’s title hopes alive. Before the match, Pontefrat were 6 points clear at the top of the table and they were fielding a strong side and we were without our captain and talisman Alex Cutts. This was going to be tough. The team got off to a bad start with our 3, 4 and 5 all losing 3-0, the overall team score was 14-0. We were now a full 20 (an individual matches maximum points) off the top of the table. Fortunately the Fuller brothers salvaged some pride for the team (although not many points). I managed another victory over Andrew McDougall (11/9 in the 5th again, that’s got to hurt!) and my bro pulled off a great 11/9 in the 5th victory over Harrinda Singhsbg. So a good end to not a great night. Although I had won, however, I was exhausted. The match wasn’t great, there was very little imagination or speed (at least none from me) and I think I had just gone back into training and matches too soon after Athens. I needed a break. The next morning’s Gordon session quickly got the chop.
Thursday 10th December
Friday 11th- Sunday 13th December
Monday 14th December
In Warwickshire League I was due to play James Bowden in what is always a very competitive match. Our record stood at 2-2 and I knew this was going to be brutal. Although I still hadn’t lost since Greece and despite being tired from German league, I thought I would just have enough to close out the win. As it happened this was pretty accurate, I managed to just hang on to the first game winning 11/9 with a forehand volley drop winner that I’m still not quite sure how I did, before going down 2-1 in games, fighting back and finally winning 11/7 in the 5th.
Wednesday 16th to Thursday 24th
Wednesday: Nottingham Squad, Gordon Session, Weights.
My training then seemed to end over Christmas, I was hoping to get some good hits in with my brother, but he had managed to get himself ill (heating up some prawns) and it was too icy to even go for some runs (the backup plan). So other than a hit with my Dad and some court sprints, training was almost none existent over the Christmas period.
I wasn’t too disappointed; I still managed a few weight sessions and had a good break from squash. Hopefully I would still be feeling my post Athens confidence in the New Year.
After a good but tough week on Thursday I was heading off to Amsterdam. During the week I had played 3 really competitive league matches and so was feeling fit, although a bit tired. In Notts League on Monday I had been stuffed by Eddie Charlton, Tuesday I had just clung on and beat Anthony Graham 11/8 in the 5th and Wednesday I managed to scrape through 3/1 against Chris Trusswell. Although the results looked good (well except Eddie anyway), I was well aware that in terms of my squash it had not been the best. I was feeling a bit like my schedule was too crowded to get in any real training. I knew I was fit but felt I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I could or want to.
With my flight being from Luton, the trip down was unusually easy and I arrived at Schipoll airport in the early afternoon, met my Scottish roommate (Jamie Mccooly) and headed off to the hotel. Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk to the club (always a positive in a county as expensive as Holland) and so we headed down straight away to get a look at the set up and a hit on the courts. Meersquash is a fantastic club, 10 glass back courts that all face towards the bar, that night the club was really busy, with every court and every table being occupied.
As I was top 4 in qualifying I got a bye through the first round (if my Greek points had come on before the tournament closed, I might have made main draw) with my opponent being a local ... The match itself was tough, he was also quite a big guy (I’m big for a squash player) and there were plenty of lets before I eventually finished the job 11/.. in the 4th.
The next day I was drawn to play Adam Fuller. We were both students in Sheffield together (but at different universities) meaning we knew each other’s games. He is very quick and has really good racket skills. Everyone at the tournament had predicted before it started, that this was going to be a close match. The first two games followed similar patterns; I managed to take early leads, only for him to come back. The first I took 13/11, the second I lost 13/11. It was game on. The third was a great game and up until 6-6 the match, it looked like it was anyone’s. Fortunately for me, Adam made a couple of unforced errors and I closed it out 11/6. The 4th was one sided. I could smell victory.
The quarter final was the first match all week that I felt I played really well. My opponent Bart ... was ... places above me in the rankings and was the local favourite, playing in front of one of the biggest crowds I have seen at a PSA satellite. My squash was good throughout and I ended up finishing with a comfortable ... ... ... 3-0 win. I had made my 3rd semi final. After a good feed and interesting conversation with Rafel Kandraa and Alex Ingham, it was time to get some sleep ahead of tomorrow.
I think the semi final was one of the closest and most exciting matches that I have ever played. Although this was Rob Downers first PSA tournament he had not yet dropped a game, beating ... Phil Nightingale and ... 3-0, so it was never going to be easy. In the first he shot to a 6/2 lead (I was very stiff and sore from the previous day) before I clawed my way back, finally clinching the game 13/11. The second followed the same pattern but his lead was even bigger 5/0. Again I managed to come back and could see that he was finally beginning to tire, but, after both having and saving a game ball, I ended up going down by the same score 13/11.
The third I finally managed to avoid giving away early cheep points and after a few long rallies I began to pull away. He was now looking very tired and began to make the mistakes I was hoping for. I finished the game 11/3 and was in the driving seat. The 4th was tight all the way through and with no more games to lose, Robbert was giving nothing away. I had to fight for every point. He led 4-2 then I came back to 6-4 up then 6-6, 8-8 before he “slotted” (as he described it) a couple, taking the game 11/9 and levelling the match 2 games all.
The 5th was really tense, neither of us ever had a lead of more than a few points and it was always going to go right down to the wire. I managed a 8-6 lead only to see Downer get back to 8-8 to serve out (am 95% sure, it was very close) probably the only thing he gave me all game. 2 points later I had my first match ball 10-9. It was a great rally. Neither of us were giving in and by the end I was just trying to make sure I hit the front wall. After a good minute (it really was that long) of tense squash, I found myself on the volley and sent Downer the wrong way with a backhand cross court flick. He didn’t read it and it could have been marathon over. The only problem was that the shot was so terrible that he still could have reached it easily. Let ball. My second match ball was even more fiercely competed. The rally lasted a good few minutes (according to the ref after) but after being sent to all 4 corners numerous times, I finally had an opening for a cutaway. It was a good one but not as good as what came back. Downer at full stretch managed a perfect forehand drop to level the score at 10-10. The 3rd tie break of the match was also the shortest. I had nothing left and despite making him still work for those last 2 precious points, the momentum was all with him. The final match score was ........ I would not be reaching my second PSA tour final today.
Squashsite covered this event, so I have also included the squash site write up and draw.
Downer downs Fuller to make
The Q-Sourcing Squash Trophy tournament didn’t come at the best of times as my attention has been focused away from the court for the last little while. It has been a tough few weeks for UK-Racketball we have not only been working on improving the website and getting the UK-Racketball series off the ground but we have also completely restructured the project bringing a new member into the team.
The UK-Racketball series is the next step for the UK-RB project, the plan is to run 5 tournaments across the country to both spread the sport to the places where it is yet to flourish and to give the best players in the country a chance to compete against each other with a structured ranking list. Over the last few weeks we have decided on the format of these events, England Squash and Racketball have sanctioned them and we already have 4 of our 5 target clubs pledging their support as hosts for the events. See UK-Racketball series on the site for more information.
On Friday I headed to Rotterdam for my next PSA satellite, leading up to the event it had been a tough week of league defeats to Dave Barnett in Northwest and James Write in Midlands league (think he managed 5 pints after the match) meant I was not exactly hitting the best form of my life. So with my head filled with racketball and defeats I headed to Holland for my first PSA tournament in 2 months.
My first opponent was Alexandre Benassi from Belgium. I had beaten him first round in Greece 3-0 so was hoping the match would be a repeat of our first encounter. Unfortunately in Greece he had beaten my little brother the day before in a really tough 3-2 and I think he was still tired when he went on with me, also as I had given my bro quite a bit off stick over the defeat the pressure was on. I started badly and didn’t really settle throughout the first game eventually taking it 11-8. After the break though I began to feel better, I was hitting a better length and getting used to the courts and after a few hard rallies I could see that he was beginning to hurt and give me cheaper and cheaper points, in the end I finished the match off comfortably 11-8, 11-4, 11-3.
This was going to be tough, my opponent was Ido Avron from Israel who had beaten my room mate Ben Colman 3-2 the previous day. He has been climbing the PSA ranking quickly and had recently beaten my Nottingham training partner Lewis Walters in a PSA in America. I had to hope that his 3-2 earlier had taken out more than my 3-0 and that he would tire first.
The match started badly, he was onto everything quickly and hit several winners that I didn’t get anywhere near. Although I knew he was going to attack at every opportunity I wasn’t aware of quite how good he was going to hit a ball and from almost any position on the court. I gradually began to become more aware off this, stopped sending the ball in quite so early, making sure that I had a good opportunity and trying to stay up the court to stop the flow of winners. It gradually began to work but too late for the first game, I eventually went down 11-7.
The second started better although I still didn’t feel completely settled with the score line remaining tight right through to the middle of the game. It was then that I got some luck which can so often change the balance of a match. Probably the flukiest shot in the game a back wall nick that completely rolled. The next rally I just got to a great forehand drop and managed to return it within a millimetre of the tin and tight to the side wall, neither were what I was aiming for, but I will take it. I was then only a couple of points from taking the game and being right back in the match, I was charging everything down with renewed energy eventually took the game 11-8.
Although the match was levelled at 1-1 the game had changed. I had victory within my sights and he was looking increasingly tired. I decided to keep things simple, I would keep the pace up and get everything back, it worked and he started to struggle more and more. I eventually clinched the last 2 games 11-4, 11-3. I was through to the semi.
After a good nights sleep and 2 good wins the day before I was feeling ready. It was always going to be tough though, I was playing Piedro Schweertman the no.1 seed and the winner of the last PSA that I played in Almere. He is big, strong and fit. I was hoping that I could match him in these areas and beat him on speed, I planned to play at a fast pace which is how I like to play when I’m feeling good and hopefully this would just be too quick.
The match however did not go to plan, we both tried to play at a fast pace but right from the beginning this seemed to suit him more than me. I could live at the pace but I was the one hitting the loose ball first and gradually he got further and further ahead. I ended up loosing the first game 11-6. The rest of the match didn’t go much better, Schweertman barely hit a tin and kept up with his powerful volleying, he was on the T and I was doing all the work (never good). In the third I decided to really go for some shots, my last role of the dice but this didn’t go well either, I ended up losing the match 3-0 with little real resistance.
Looking back the tournament wasn’t a big disappointment, I managed to get further than my seeding, further than I thought and came away with 22 precious PSA points. It was clear though that to go up the next level towards the top 100, I was going to have to get a lot better.
When I woke up Tuesday morning I thought it was just going to be a normal day. Had a session lined up with Emma Beddoes and Eddie Charlton so after a quick breakfast began my daily 20 minute walk to Nottingham Squash Club. It was right at the end of the session (which hadn’t contained the greatest squash on my part) that Nottingham’s PSL and club manager Dave Coghlan (Coggers) came round to see if I was up for PSL that night! To be honest he initially asked Ed, but he was ill so I was next in line, brilliant!
I finished off the session with new enthusiasm and headed to the changing room buzzing about what would be one of the biggest matches of my life. Unfortunately just as I was getting dressed Dave came in, he had just checked the rules and you needed to have played 2 matches in the season in order to qualify for the playoffs, not good! It was obvious that that rule was only ever invented to stop clubs bringing in ringers for the semis, I pointed out to Coggers that I was definitely not good enough to be a ringer and that there was no way Surry were going to complain about my name being on the team sheet. Fortunately Chris Nutly at England Squash agreed, I was bad enough to qualify to play the PSL semi, get in!
I had a meeting with Matt about the new template for UK-Racketball at 12 and needed to talk some stuff through and do work on the shop, unfortunately this kept me busy right up till it was time to leave. So not the best preparation before playing Alan Clyne, a poor hit, a meeting and a 4 hour mini bus drive, still I had nothing to lose and after a doggy sleep on the bus down (there was 12 other guys all getting pissed) when I entered Esporta it was bussing!
On paper the semi was always going to be close, squash site had predicted Nottingham going down 4-1 and we were definitely the underdogs but over the years playing team squash I knew anything could happen. The Nottingham line up was Laurens Jan Anjerma, Ong Beng Hee, Simon Parke, Myself and Sarah Kippax. Esporta had turned out Peter Barker, David Bianchetti, Peter Nicol, Alan Clyne and Camille Serme it was going to be a great match.
The first match on the show court were the girls, Sarah Kippax (Nottingham) vs Camille Serme, I was only half watching the girls (because of what was going on, on court 2) but Kippax got off to a great start taking the first game 11-2, before narrowly losing the next 3, 8-11, 10-12, 7-11.
The match taking place on court 2 was a cracker. Peter Nicol verses Simon Park, I would have paid my match fee to watch this, couldn’t quite believe that this was part of a game I was playing in. The match started at a frantic pace with both of them playing incredibly high level squash with Nicol taking the first 11/8 before Parke fought back taking the last 3 games 11/8, 11/7 and 14/12. Nicol had 4 game balls in the 4th but Parke just hung on to keep the Nottingham hopes alive. Anyone who complains that there just getting to old for this game needed to watch it. Your not to old, 35 year olds can still be absolutely brilliant (I don’t use that word very often).
After Peter Nicol and Simon Park it was me against Alan Clyne, going to be a small drop in standard. The match started alright it took about 5 minutes for Clyney to be 4-0 up and me to be propped up on the back wall exhausted. The Nottingham boys told me later they were worried I was going to get completely annihilated (one even said 33-0), to be honest so was I and it showed this with a very relieved fist pump for my first point to get the score back to 1-4. From there the pace of the game dropped which was a big relief and I managed to get into the match, the first was close all the way and I was leading at times but I eventually went down 11-9, had my chances.
The second and third were similar to the first I managed to get a lead but then couldn’t quite stay with him when he upped the pace at the end of the games. Think I was leading 9-7 in the first, 7-4 in the second and 8-6 in the third but failed to finish any of the games. 3-0 Alan Clyne who is ranked about 70 in the world so I have had worse days, the only real worry was that I hadn’t managed to come away with any points for the team and we were now 2-1 down.
By the time I got off court Ong Beng Hee next door was already making inroads into Biankette and was leading 2-1 having taken the 3rd 11-4 and looking on course for the win which he eventually did. I managed to watch only the last few points but Beng Hee had set the match up, it was 2-2 and set to be a great finish with World number 8 Pete Barker facing off against world number 11 Laurens Jan Anjema for a place in the PSL final. This was going to be good!
At the Park we have been without Premier League success for almost a decade and this was the season (100th year) that as a club we had decided to try and take the title. Every home game had been packed and a full bus had headed down to Croydon for the semi, the whole season was coming down to 1 match and on paper it was going to be close.
Despite a shaky start LJ fought back strong and levelled the game at 1-1 taking the 2nd 11/7. The 3rd and 4th were brutal games with fantastic squash from both players and the match looked set to come right down to the wire. At 9-9 in the 4th though the marker made, what we in the Nottingham corner especially thought was a howler. LJ had failed to completely clear a ball in the front and Baker was awarded a stroke for what looked like a standard let. To LJ’s credit he didn’t even really argue but went for the next point like there was no tomorrow, it wasn’t enough and the final score line was Surrey 3 Nottingham 2. Massive anti climax to a brilliant evening.
My Dad always told me that a marker never changed the outcome of a match that there were 33 points to be won and that if the marker cost you 1 or even 2 you still lost the other 31! It didn’t feel like that now it felt like a market had ruined what was turning into a great exhibition for squash. The bus journey back really did last forever, the PSL dream was over.
It has felt like a long summer for my squash at times, but also ironically finished about a month to short. I finished last season with my best run of form since turning full time beating Ben Coleman, Phil Nightingale, Olly Pett and Neil Cordell and then almost taking the scalps of Jonny Harford and Tom Pashley. So was feeling confident going into the summer.
Plan for the summer
Over the season because I play so many matches it’s really difficult to do many weight sessions, they always leave me drained and hurting the next day, which is not what you want ahead of matches against professional players (especially when those players are better than you!). My plan is always to do weights if I have no games for a few days and to try and maintain my upper body with press-ups and my lower body with lunges and jumps. However despite this my weight usually drops steadily over the season and so does my strength. This summer I had set just about my most ambitious strength targets yet.
A normal week
It was a tough summer and by the end I was definitely looking forward to being back to leagues and tournaments and out of the gym, was great fun for the first couple of weeks (eating loads and getting stronger) but after a couple months it became quite dull. Give me a competitive game of squash or racketball any day, I have no idea why people prefer the gym.
What’s coming up.
I headed to Dublin for my first PSA (professional squash association tournament) of the season, the Leinster Open Super Satellite. In January I have the PSA points from the Greek open disappearing from my account so needed a good run in Ireland to help maintain my top 200 ranking.
The tournament was played at Fitzwilliam club right in the heart of one of the most exclusive areas in Dublin and the club did not disappoint, heated towels, no mobile phones and a lounge which looked like something out of a film about the British Empire (old men reading broadsheets in suits and silence). There was also a fantastic squash tradition with trophies dating back trough squashes glory days and photos of players like Geoff Hunt and Gawain Briers taking their Irish Open Titles.
In the first round of qualifying I was drawn to play Kevin Moran. Didn’t know much about him except that he was a promising junior and a product of the Scottish squash program which probably meant he was going to be fit. I took the match 3-0 but that was a flattering score line and was happy to be off, the courts were hot and the ball was flying making it hard to impose a game, the match turned into a grind but after sneaking the first 12/10 I was always in command and managed to finish the next two off convincingly 11/6, 11/3.
One more match to qualify but it was against Lucas Serme which was never going to be easy. Had a good hit in the morning and was feeling more used to the courts, but from what I had heard about Lucas, quick fit and talented I knew I would have to play well to get through this one.
The match started off ok but soon I was under the cosh. He was taking balls early and moving me into the front and the pace was probably higher than both of us were really happy to play at. The first 2 games were long but I never looked like I would win either.
The plan at the start of the 3rd was to not make a mistake whereas Lucas looked to be trying to finish me off as quickly as possible, he started making mistakes and I began to build a lead. The change that came from taking the lead was extraordinary, Lucas began to look tired and I was like a dog after a bone. Pouncing on everything, running every rally down and not giving an inch. From sneaking a lead the momentum of the whole match changed and despite the match taking another 45 minutes I don’t think I was ever behind again with me winning the last 3 games 11/6, 11/3, 11/8.
Despite losing the first, I think it played a big part in the win, although it hurt me it also took out a lot from him allowing me to get him tired. It was a tough match but I had qualified for a supersat anything from here was a bonus.
Was drawn to play the Spanish 4th seed Leandro Romiglio in the next round, he was ranked almost 80 places higher than me in the world I knew this would be another tough one.
Jethro had told me he hadn’t been playing much squash recently but after watching his first round match against Ido Avron I knew I would have to play some of my best squash to stay in the tournament. I had played Ido myself about 6 months ago in Amsterdam and had only just ground him off 3-1, watching Jethro destroy him in 20 minutes did not bode well. Still I was looking forward to the match, once I have got further than I thought in a draw I find I relax more as there is nothing to lose and I play better. I knew if I played my best squash I could win, I would just have to do what I had done the previous two days and run him off.
The match started off well, I was hitting tight down the backhand and bringing him into some long rallies which was the plan. I ended up losing the first 11/8 but knew I had taken something out of him and it was game on. The second started the same way as the first, up and down the backhand wall but fortunately Jethro was looking progressively more tired and losing patience with the length of the rallies and beginning to make more mistakes. Once I was on top the game went similar to the previous two matches and with the gain in confidence I soon found I had the second game 11/7 and was 10/4 up in the 3rd. It was here though that looking back I lost the match.
To get to 10/4 I had played really controlled squash for half the game and then hit some shots when he was tired. It worked as the momentum was with me and he was struggling, at 10/4 though just when the game looked to be won I managed to rattle the tin twice quickly, giving him two points back, at 6/10 the game suddenly looked quite even and when he won a brutal rally to get back to 7 I was beginning to panic, fortunately a great/ lucky backhand drop finished him off but the difference between hammering him 11/4 and scraping through 11/7, psychologically was huge.
The match went from me feeling like I could win every point, to struggling to see how I could get even one more to finish of the game and for Jethro, he had just one 4 points in a row and knew he could take the match. The 4th game was a slog to 4/4 with both of us trading shots and tins but after that I barely won another point. The momentum was all with Jethro and my legs were beginning to feel heavy, I was getting onto the ball late and going short far too early. He took the game 11/4 and the 5th 11/4.
Think part of the reason for the loss has to be that I was getting tired but looking back it was the subconscious tactical change that really cost me, “when you’re winning, never change what you’re doing” was what Mark Hornby always told me, can’t remember how many matches I have lost because I haven’t stuck with it. If I had played well for probably another 5 minutes the match would have been won. I was gutted but still it wasn’t a bad event and 25 PSA points should see me to my highest ranking yet, hopefully.