Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out Out Vile Jelly!

Not all that long ago I rearranged my good friend Ted Clarke's face. 

Ted is a solid A- player, straight A on a good day. I can't remember who was beating who during this match, but Ted beats me more than I beat him, and I believe in this particular match I was ahead and so trying desperately to seal the deal when disaster struck. Under some duress, Ted hit a shot that ended up in the front right quadrant, but it wasn't a well-struck shot, it was too far out in the middle of the court, and I was right on it with time to spare. I decided I'd do a little razzmatazz on Teddy and faked a drop to the right front corner, but at the last microsecond I took a vicious swat at the ball with the intention of hitting it hard to the back left corner.

Only problem was that Ted, hovering close to me, had bought my deception and was heading in to cover the nonexistent drop to the right corner. Two things make Ted a great player: his close coverage, wherein he is fearlessly close to his opponent while watching his every muscular twitch, and his great footwork, where it seems he has an extra second or two to answer the challenge presented by his opponents.

But in this case he got caught by my deception. As he was running in to intercept my fake drop shot he instead intercepted a very hard-struck racket which landed right in his face. Right in fact into the eye, if it weren't for the fact that Ted had impact-resistant goggles on. Ted went immediately down and immediately there was blood on the court. The picture is a lousy one -- sorry Ted, you are a handsome man, bub, but my cheap phone camera makes you look a little too scary -- but look carefully and you can see both a bruised eye and the tape around which he would receive stitches by a plastic surgeon. All that damage occurred even with safety glasses on; imagine the carnage that would have happened if he were not wearing glasses.

The surgeon was a good one, and he has no obvious scars. Needless to say, I felt terrible. An observer of the game -- luckily a doctor! and more about him later -- was watching closely and reported that it wasn't my fault, thank the heavens. I haven't hit anyone with a racket in probably 20 years and rarely hit anyone with a ball. Not a nice feeling!

The point of the story is this: Even among good players, stuff happens, and you can never be sure your sight is safeguarded unless you wear goggles. That the PSA hasn't mandated eye protection for pros is a shameful thing; one day we will read of some horrible accident in which some top pro is permanently disfigured or blinded by a mishap on the court. The PSA should get off their butts and make this happen, or grandfather it in and decree that any pro currently playing can do as he or she wishes but future pros must comply with goggle rules. Think hockey: they did this successfully and no one thinks twice about it now.

The excellent Will Carlin, a top US player who nearly lost his sight under similar circumstances, has written about this in several effective articles. Take a look at this one, from Squash Magazine:

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