Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Winning the Knock-Up

Over the years I have had a boatload of interesting squash matches, but looking back I've also had my fair share of interesting knock-ups. You know, the warm-up period when you hit back and forth, hard and soft, to and fro, forehand and backhand, to get you and your opponent ready for the main event.

There is definitely a psychology to the knock-up. I remember playing in an A level tournament about a decade ago. I got on the court early because I had heard that my opponent had "terrific hands" and since I knew I was going to have to do a lot of running I wanted to get thoroughly warmed up. I was doing court sprints when, turning around, I saw my opponent, in street clothes, just staring at my through the glass wall. I gave a little wave and tried to look deadly serious as I went back to my workout. The opponent, smiling, walked off to get changed. A bit later I stopped the running and started to hit, very very hard, working my arm and shoulder to get as much power as possible ready so that my "guns" could rifle a shot away from Mr. Super-Hands. While doing this I did some over-hitting, letting the ball purposely bounce off the back wall so I could blast it back to the front wall. Lo and behold while doing this I looked around and saw him again, staring at me, while engaged in a pleasant conversation with a friend.

What the hell is this guy doing, I asked myself, panicking..... He should be warming up! Doesn't he care? What am I dealing with here?!

Finally, he got on the court. Very politely introduced himself, hit about 3 shots from the forehand and then 3 from the backhand, and declared himself ready.


Mr. Super-Hands had won the knock-up by a knockout. He also won the match 3-0. I'm here to report he did indeed have great hands.

I've also played my fair share of opponents who go about the serious business of the knock-up in odd ways. I've played plenty of people who use the time to hit blisteringly hard shots, but absolutely no front-wall drops. Then, when they play, it's drop drop drop like a Chinese water torture.

One guy mostly just practiced serves. I couldn't figure that out. Several people have hit the ball back to themselves, once, twice, thrice, up to 6 or 7 times, thereby violating an unwritten rule of squash sportsmanship. A hit or two, maybe three, but then hit it back to your opponent. But by hitting more than that, they instantly put an edge on the upcoming match. It's like they're saying, "Hey, I like things my way, and you are in my way, so get outta my way, OK?!" 

Other times the knock-up is used to display supreme confidence, as was done with Mr. Super-Hands. One memorable knock-up occurred in another A tournament. I had somehow passed the first round and then found myself up against the best player around bar none. My goal wasn't to beat him, that was not possible, but i wanted to at least get a respectable amount of points from the man. I didn't want to go home triply bagled, awash in shame. So I got out there as soon as possible, hitting on the court and trying to warm up, hitting indeed past the start time while I waited for my opponent, when he finally arrived. He apologized and said he only had about a half hour so he would skip the knock-up and just go straight to the match.

That of course sent the gray matter between my ears into a neurologic spasm..... The guy had won the knock-up by not having a knock-up....

We started to play the match although this great player seemed strangely disengaged, but happily so. We traded points a few times, until we got to about 6-all. At that point he quite clearly looked down at his watch, obviously realized he better get going to finish things off within the allotted half hour, and then opened up a blistering attack with the hardest struck squash balls I have ever been witness to in my life.

I didn't win a point after that, losing the remaining games 11-0. But to this day I still tell people I took 6 points off Kenton Jernigan. Hah!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cad Alert!

At this year's Tournament of Champions in New York I was walking over to the bar when there before me was a fellow with books to sell. It turns out this was Aubrey Waddy, author of Sex and Drugs and Squash'n'Roll, who had set up a little table and was hawking his book. Mr. Waddy and I exchanged quick howdy-dos and sure enough I bought his book. However, after long custom, I put the book at the bottom of my book pile, where it would have to wait until I had finished reading the 6 books above it. Those books tended towards Scandinavian murder mysteries, and included Karin Alvtegen's "Betrayal," Anders Roslund's "Box 21," Yrsa Sigurdardottir's "The Day is Dark," Lars Kepler's "The Hypnotist," and, in a stretch, a book of poetry, in Swedish, by Tomas Transtromer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year. 

So I had a lot to get through before the squash novel. But when I finally cracked the book, with its goofy cover art and its problematic typography, I have to confess I was a little dubious. It just didn't look like I was cracking open a first-rate yarn.

But I'm ready to admit I can be wrong, and boy was I wrong about this. Sex and Drugs and Squash'n'Roll lives up to its billing, providing plenty of lusty sex from the very first page, drug use by some of the protagonists that gets our squash hero into trouble, musical interludes from the squash player's avocation of mixing tapes, and, of course, a ton of squash. The author knows what he is writing about... Well, the squash, at any rate; about the sex and drugs and rock'n'roll you will have to ask him. Though I have my suspicions... 

Sometimes flat-out funny, the story includes the spicy bits but also interesting detail about how to make it on the pro circuit. Plus, the novel features one of the worst mothers in recent literature, and a very deranged father -- though of another player. Plus there is attempted murder....

You can get the book cheaply via Kindle or throw caution to the wind and buy the print version (here).

Mr. Waddy, you cad you, you've written a great book.