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Black Ball Open Full Recap {Match Report}

Updated: May 5

Hello from Connecticut!


(Image courtesy of Nathan Clarke, PSA photographer).


I'll spare you the boring details and headache, but I ended up getting on an earlier flight back to the states than I'd originally planned. To re-enter the US, you have to have a negative Covid result within 3 days of departure, and my certificate would have missed that window by nearly 1 day. Instead of chancing it, I took matters into my own hands, and managed to rearrange my travel...no more than 9 hours before departure! (Oh, the life of a squash player...).



As I write this, I'm actually watching Zeina vs Hollie live on SquashTV. It's certainly a bit depressing to be home before your opponent plays their next match, but all you can do is use that as motivation for the next event...whenever that may be!


Lead Up to the Match

I lost my first round match against Zeina Mickawy 3-0. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to break this down, so it could be a bit of a rant. (You can find the Squash Site report here).


(Image courtesy of Nathan Clarke).


Going into the match, I felt pretty good, despite my training not quite having been as solid as I would have liked. After a month off court in Canada in January, I took a couple weeks once I was back in the US to get back into it, and had trouble feeling comfortable and confident on court. When the Black Ball tournament closed, and my entry was confirmed, I knew I had to amp up my focus in training for the 3 weeks leading up to the event.


This training period was frustrating. I wanted to train to become match sharp, but the reality was that my movement and basics weren’t up to speed. I was trying to get my technique, timing, and footwork back, but also preparing for a tournament at the same time. Mentally, I felt all over the place, since in my experience I’ve found it very difficult to work on both technique and tactics (match play) at the same time.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling great heading to Egypt. I felt flat, from having ramped up my volume and intensity so quickly, but also rusty at the same time. Not a very good combo.


The blessing (and curse) about pro squash is that it is single knockout. As soon as you lose, you’re out. This can be perceived as a negative, because it can put a lot of pressure on your match, especially if you’ve flown a long way and invested time and money. The blessing in disguise, is that it forces you to think only one match at a time. I knew that if I had a bit of a rest (1-2 days) before my match, I could produce the intensity and focus needed for my match.

I realized that most of my poor performance leading up to the tournament was because I was feeling mentally flat. The reality is that physically I had put lots of work in, but when it came to practices matches, I was indecisive and uninspired.


During my training in Cairo prior to the tournament, I did my best not to overthink my practices, and tried to find small wins within each session, rather than focusing on the “outcome” and rating the session as good or bad. As my support team kept telling me, it doesn’t matter how you “feel” on court, as long as you do the right thing and play the right way, so don’t put too much faith into how “comfortable” you feel. That’s not something you can rely on, nor is it something which even guarantees that you’ll win. I’ve certainly played matches where I was surprised at how well I was hitting the ball, and proceeded to lose in 3. Feeling “good” can help, but doesn’t always translate to success. Also- how often do you feel your best in training or matches? If you’ve ever listened to interviews of the top pros in any sport, they will reveal that they are rarely at 100%.


Anyway, back to the match prep!


The days of training leading up to Black Ball were jam packed, so my day of isolation in my hotel room awaiting the Covid test result was welcomed. Last time when I was in the tournament bubble, I did some FaceTime workouts with Danielle. This time, I simply did some mobility. I also worked a bit on programming for clients and wrote a blog. I mainly tried to take my mind off of squash for the day, until my practice hit with Zeina later that evening.


Practice Hits

The time in isolation proved useful, as I felt sprightly for my practice hits! Because of the Covid rules, you have to share your practice time with your opponent, which, until now would always be avoided at all costs. I tried to use my 2 practice hits with Zeina to get used to her game and style of hitting, which I actually much preferred to soloing. After a couple days in isolation, it was nice to get a sweat and be able to move around on court!


Overall I felt pretty good in practice. We only had 30 minutes, so we had to make the most of our time on court. Nothing like some isolation to make you appreciate a hit!


Match vs Zeina

After a couple of decent hits, I felt much more positive going into my match with Zeina. I wrote down a basic game plan in my notebook to reference (can't check your phone at all), and for once, I actually stuck to it.


The first game was close until about 7-7 I think, and then Zeina produced some confident winners to take the game 11-7. Even though I lost, we had some very long rallies, so I felt I was generally doing the right thing as she seemed to be feeling it physically after a tough 10 minute game.


The second game was really where I needed to turn things around, and I nearly did as I was up 9-7. Credit to Zeina, she was the more aggressive and positive player in the back end, and hit a couple of outright winners to finish off the game. I didn't really do a lot wrong here, but she stepped up and really went for her shots.


Throughout the match, I felt that I could have executed better from the middle and front of the court, especially when I created opportunities to create more pressure. As I reflect upon the match, I have to attribute that lack of composure to nerves of competition. I was often tense on the T, which stiffened up my movement and also my racquet. Whenever I got a bit of an opportunity or some time, I hesitated, and somehow ended up losing the advantage.


On the positive side, my length was generally good, which was my main worry going in. I've played so many matches where I've lost in a pathetic 3-gamer because of basics, and was determined NOT to let that happen. I obviously went in wanting/playing to win, but at the very least I was going to make myself very hard to beat. I do think I did a good job of this, but I really needed to capitalize on the opportunities I produced. Zeina did this much better (her attacking game is her strength), which is no doubt what made the difference in the later stages of the first and second game.


By the third game, Zeina was very confident, and settled into her game. I had difficulty raising and adapting my game to compete with her as she raised her level. The third game was not nearly as competitive as the first two, and I lost 11-6.


Takeaways


Pros:

I had a game plan, and I stuck to it. I did my best not to overcomplicate, and tried to make the rallies and games hard to break her down physically. I did this well, but needed to snag the second game to have a chance of staying with Zeina.


Cons:

Too tense, which crippled my movement/power/efficiency and assertiveness around the middle. This is most definitely something I am going to work on over the next couple months, and I think it is equally tied to mindset as it is to technique/skill.


Thank You's

It was such a pleasure to be part of such a well run event, especially during Covid times. The tournament organizers did a fantastic job of running the testing/shuttles/courts smoothly, and the Westin hotel was definitely one of the nicest tournament hotels I've stayed at. Thank you to the PSA staff, refs, physios, CIB, and Black Ball for putting on this great event!


What Next?

The huge benefit of playing a tournament again is testing yourself, your level, and figuring out what you need to work on. I find it's also the best thing to spark some motivation. Like I mentioned earlier, coming into the tournament I was feeling flat and rusty, and now I feel that I have a clearer direction for my training.


The tournament schedule for me is up in the air. If I get into British Open in June (it's a gamble), that will likely be my next event. If not, who knows.


In the meantime, I'm going to push on with training, and also keep working Squashletic (my online training business for Squash), which, I'm happy to report, is picking up! In addition to continuing with customized clients, I'm going to launch another training & nutrition program (10 weeks this time) in the near future.


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