My arch-enemy Schumacher and I went to see the Tournament of Champions last night, paying good money to get seats midway down the left wall. It took a while to get used to the crazy angle, but once we did we were treated to some close-up views of the pros and their shotmaking.
We saw four matches. The first was Olivia Blatchford, one of two players from the US, playing Dipika Pallikal, the 7th-seeded Indian. It was really no contest, as Blatchford appeared by turns nervous and agitated over her play. She lost in straight games. Here's the last point, as recorded on my lousy cellphone:
We also saw Australia's Donna Urquhart, who is without doubt one of the sexiest woman in squash, play Pakistani sensation Maria Toor Pakay. Pakay has come under the wing of Jonathan Power, who is helping to guide her as she negotiates her way from the ultra-conservative tribal areas of her country, where a woman is not supposed to be involved in sport whatsoever, to playing squash at the highest level in venues around the world. A big step, and judging by her play last night, she's not there yet. She appeared to be nervous and relatively uninterested in doing anything other than smacking the ball hard to the back corners. Urquhart, on the other hand, remained unfazed and looked perfectly delightful in a wonderful peach-colored dress. I am here to report that there were murmurs of appreciation from the crowd, and they weren't talking about her squash game....
We also saw two good matches on the men's side. First up were Englishmen James Willstrop, looking very sharp, and Peter Barker. Barker looks to be in great form, so it is a little amazing that he hasn't had more success against Willstrop, but the latter seems continually to have the edge up, and so it was last night, with Barker being shown the door in under 40 minutes. We also got to take a look at Egyptian teenage sensation Marwan El Shorbagy, who seems to float effortlessly about the court, and a very impressive Daryl Selby, Englishman, who I think played a magnificent match. Selby can be quite deceptive, employing a full bag of head fakes and last-second wrist breaks. The effect of all this was to keep Marwan running, and that he did. They had several very long rallies, after which Selby seemed to take one long breath and then was quickly back ready to play, whereas I saw Marwan doubled over a few times trying to catch his breath. I think Selby, who won in 3, has a shot to reach the finals this year, he is playing that well. I also think that Marwan will be the #1 player within 7 years: he moves better than any other player I have ever seen.
There is something empowering about seeing a lot of high-level pro players going about their business. Schumacher and I agreed to play this morning, and I, feeling jazzed by my observations last night, foiled my arch-enemy's plans for total domination and offered up a soul-crushing win in 5. The squashist wins! The squashist wins!