Friday, March 30, 2012

My U of A squash tourney

It really is funny how some days you feel like you can do anything and other days you feel completely dejected, and still there are other days where you can go from high to low in an instant.
At the beginning of the month Ian, Paul and I headed up to the UofA to play a tournament. I hadn't played in a Squash Alberta sanctioned tourney in a couple months and I have been losing all my interclub matches this year as I have been spending most of time working. I wasn't expecting much so I signed up for the A division, thinking that the Open draw, although players I would normally play in a tourney was just too much to handle at this point. I was seeded 1 with my ranking of 80 something, with only one other player ranked in top 100. The draw looked relatively easy, although I had lost to 3 of my 7 competitors in the past 5 years.
My first match was against Steph's little bro, Jackson. Jackson is a solid B level player, we had never played before, except doubles with Steph and their mom. Jackson is tall and lanky and uses his reach well to make incredible gets and poke back at the ball. It was a simple game plan, to hit hard and keep the pace up to tire him out and force lots of mistakes. Game 1 went according to plan, but game 2, Jackson made less mistakes, continually forcing me to hit another ball and I became impatient going short way to early and hitting way too hard giving up really loose balls and putting myself out of position. The second game was close, but I had given up a huge lead and Jackson carried the momentum into the third. My frustration continued and I remember questioning my technique and my strategy to the point where I didn't care where I hit the ball I just wanted to hit it. Coming off the third down 2-1, Ian and Paul said that this was probly the worst squash they have seen. They suggested that I just focus on hitting dying length, and everything else would take care of itself. I was so tired even though I hadn't run that much, but realized it was the frustration in my head that was causing the poor play and the fatigue. Game 4 was all length, sure the rallies were long, but I wasn't tired anymore, and I was actually in a rhythm, so was Jackson, but the point is I had regained my confidence to swing at the ball and to step up and start volleying short. Game 4 was the longest game of the match with both of us playing much better squash but I managed to win it with a very simple gameplan. I could see in the 5th Jackson was exhausted, so without deviating too much from playing a basic length game, I tried to get on the ball fast and take the ball a bit earlier. This strategy paid off instantly as Jackson just couldn't keep up, the first point was probly the longest of the match, but every point after that got shorter and shorter as Jackson had emptied the tank. Final score was 11-3, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 11-1. Onto the semifinal.

I only had 4 hrs rest between matches and I had to play Gerard, someone I had a poor opinion of since losing to him in this tourney 2 or 3 years ago. But I am a much better now than I was the last time we played so I had a lot of confidence going in. I knew Gerard's backhand was going to give me a lot of free points if I could get the ball behind him, and I know he plays a physical, bump and pushoff me type game that I wanted to avoid. So the gameplan was to lull him, get him comfortable moving to same corner at a slow pace so that he forgets he has to get back to the T and then wait for a shot I could volley then follow it to the back and take an easy stroke. Normally this strategy wouldn't work against an A player, but Gerard struggles hitting consistent hard and tight on the backhand and he struggles getting outta the way. That makes for great stroke opportunities or really easy boasts to the opposite side of the court, and with the slow pace, Gerard can't build the momentum to generate physical contact with me. Gerard was caught off guard in the first, but he caught on quick in the 2nd looking to push the pace and me. He started going short early and attempting to take big swinging volleys, I believe he knocked me down twice in that game, apologizing both times, as though it was not on purpose. I started to give up a lot of ground on the T, to avoid being mowed down and to Gerards credit, he imposed his game on me. Coming off the second, I felt a little beat up, Ian and Paul reminded me that, if I took the ball earlier, and buried him in the back that he would eventually hit loose and when he did I had to be really patient, take my space and hit an easy shot to where he wasn't. Getting back on court in the third, it took a while to get it going as Gerard was swinging freely at the ball. Keep it slow and tight to the wall and get on the ball early, that's what I kept reminding myself. Gerard found himself popping up loose shots and getting stuck behind me again, this time I started imposing my pace on the ball something Gerard has a lot of trouble with because his technique is flawed. I didn't execute great, but it was enough to hold Gerard back. Paul indicated to me that, I had to toughen up a bit and play faster. It seems that if he was gonna run the diagonal, I should let him and get way outta the way, the only difference I needed was to make him sprint to the next ball. In game 4, the tactics had changed, I was now looking to play a physical game, something I initially didn't want to do. I'm comfortable playing fast as long as I am dictating play. There were a handful of collisions instigated by me going short, then volleying his hard cross courts from the front and sending the ball as well as Gerard into the back corners. He got to a few of them and replied with defensive boasts, but I kept him moving on the diagonal the entire rest of the match until he slowed down enough that I could just stand on the T and hit easy straight drop volleys. Final score was 11-6, 10-12, 11-7, 11-3.
Sunday Finals! Saturday night was a gong show, thank god I didn't play til almost 2pm. Simon had battled his way into the final, having two very tough matches on saturday. I watched his match with Jon and from what I had seen I thought he was going to play a very up tempo game. He was volleying all of Jons balls, taking the ball early in the front court and snapping hard shots in every direction. The last time Simon and I played, I believe he won, but that was 5 years ago in a C or D level tournament. My game plan was to play fast and hit early to keep him off the T and if he did volley short to get in and redrop. Well game 1 was quick, I was striking the ball as well as I ever have. Simon, was not volleying but the ball was barely making contact with his racket, he made 6 mistakes in the first 6 points and I got to 9 before he was able to win a rally, but that was the only one he won that game. Game 2 was more of the same, Simons nerves had him playing incredibly badly. In the second he took some time after he tripped and pushed me down as he tried to double back after i sent him in the wrong direction. Simon was ale to pull it together for a little while and play great squash. Unfortunately, he had invited his friends and family to watch and he knew he was playing poorly and I was playing really well. There was pressure on Simon and he made a huge push outta the gates into the 3rd and he made some very high risk (more lucky than good) shots to gain some momentum? Simon led 8-3 and that's when I stepped it up. There is magic in hitting the ball tight and to good length. The match was barely 20 minutes when Simon bumped me in third after tying the score at 8. While making my big comeback, Simon looked at me and said "dude, your not even sweating" At end I felt great, I was moving fast, hitting hard and I knew what to do. I won my 1st A tourney of 2012 and my 2nd of the season defeating Simon, 11-1,11-3,11-8.
Stringing together three wins in a row is a very nice feeling, doesn't happen too often so I'm hoping for more success in the future.

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