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CIB Egyptian Open 2020 + Playing Against Egyptians

I may be writing this post at 6 am because of jet lag, but I'm happy to say that I'm back safe and sound from Cairo! I was a little worried about returning to the US given the travel restrictions, but fortunately everything went off without a hitch.

Last Minute Entry!

Early last Monday, I received an email from PSA that a spot had opened up in the CIB Egyptian Open. Since I was reserve #3, my hopes of getting into this tournament last minute were low, so the email from PSA came as quite a (nice) surprise!

Within a few hours of confirming my spot, I scheduled my Covid-19 test, bought travel medical insurance, and booked my flight to Cairo for Wednesday evening. I thought I had everything sorted, until I received a frantic text message on Tuesday evening from my former Princeton teammate and fellow PSA player, Olivia Fiechter. She told me that she was unable to board her flight because her Covid-19 test was the wrong type. Apparently, Egypt is strict about requiring a PCR test- not an Antigen test, which is what both Olivia and I had.

After a lot of back and forth and researching, Olivia and I hustled to the emergency room on Wednesday morning to get a rapid PCR Covid test, and then managed to both get on the same flight to Cairo. Although it was a stressful 24 hours for Olivia, I was pretty happy she rebooked on my flight as I was happy to have a travel partner!

In the Tournament "Bubble"

Once I arrived to the hotel on Thursday, I had to isolate in my room until my PCR test later that evening, and also until I received the results the next day. I kept myself busy by doing some in-room Facetime workouts with Danielle, and catching up on some Netflix. Originally, I was hoping to get some voice-overs and video uploading done for Daily Squash Athlete, but the conditions in Cairo (internet quality and traffic noises) made that difficult.

We were meant to receive our test results around 11 am on Friday morning, but didn't hear word until 4:30 pm that we were negative and good to go. Because of the strict Covid-19 tournament regulations, re-scheduling a hit was not as easy as hopping in an Uber down to the club and hoping for a court to open up. In fact, the only person you were allowed on court with was your match partner- something which in the past would be considered unideal, but in the current climate, we understood was necessary for the safety of the players.

Thanks to Tim's organizing, we were able to get a re-scheduled hit for 7 pm at the club, which I know Olivia and I both really appreciated! I found the court extremely slippery and felt like I was as slow as molasses. At first I was a bit worried, because my stability and timing felt so off, but I had to reassure myself that it would be better the next day. Something I've learned from traveling to tournaments in different time zones is not to judge myself too much in the first practice hit. Playing in a new time zone with little sleep and a 12 hour plane ride isn't exactly a recipe for success! If I had had the chance, I would have liked to have gone to Egypt a few days early to train and acclimatize, but because of the late notice it wasn't possible.

Match vs Mariam Metwally (World Rank #31)

My match is the first one, starting at 0:00.

If there's one positive outcome of the Covid-19 tournament regulations, it's that I was excited and itching to get on court for my match!

In normal circumstances, I would have likely had 3-4 hits on the court before my match (Thursday afternoon, 1-2 hits on Friday, and a practice the morning of my match). However, in order to limit the number of athletes at the courts, we weren't able to practice the day of our match, so I only had 1 practice total beforehand. Danielle and I did do a morning Facetime workout together (mobility, squash "movement"/lunges, core, racquet swings), which was really good to wake up and warm up our bodies, but it would have been nice to get a bit of extra court time- especially considering my sub-par hit on Friday!

Fortunately, the my court was free before my match, so I jumped on for a quick 10-minute solo to get some extra practice in. It doesn't sound like much, but that 10-minute hit was crucial to give me a little bit of confidence and to get used to the court. Fortunately, the court floor had been wiped so it wasn't slippery like the previous day, which helped my footwork and therefore my timing.

I started out the match against Mariam pretty well, hitting good length, getting in front of her, and staying focused. I won the first 11-7, and while I felt pretty good about it, I knew that she would certainly be capable of raising her game.

The 2nd and 3rd games were close up until roughly 6-6 or the "business" end of the games. Mariam pushed ahead a bit by being more clinical, and I didn't respond as well as I could have. I felt a bit edgy in those 2 games, and the tension of a competitive tournament match got the better of my tactics and mind towards the end of the games. In my mind, because I felt edgy, I didn't think I executing the basics well enough, and it also seemed like I was hitting more mistakes than usual. This played with my confidence, since the rallies and scores were close, but I didn't feel like I could really "turn the screw" when I needed to.

The 4th game was largely good. I was leading for most of the game, and was ahead 9-8, narrowly losing 11-9. Watching it back, I can see how I made some basic errors (ie. poor serve which gave her the upper hand too many times, wrong shot choice at 9-8) which cost me the game, and probably the match. She also had a couple breaks go her way (back court nick at 9-9!), which was frustrating.

All in all, I am pleased (but not satisfied!) with my first tournament match back after lockdown. My fitness and level of squash has improved, and I felt I coped with the pressure of the match as well as I could have on the day. Perhaps if I had been a bit more relaxed (ie. something you get used to by playing more competitions!), I might have executed my shots better and potentially won the 4th game or the match.

Going Forward + Playing/Training Against Egyptians

After the tournament, I stayed in Egypt for a couple days and trained in Cairo with Karim Aly Fathi (Danielle's coach) and a couple of other girls. It was really good to step out of my comfort zone a little and experience how the Egyptians train. Also, on Tuesday night we went to watch Danielle play against Nour El Sherbini on the glass court in front of the pyramids!

The Egyptian style is very attacking, but the foundation of the game is still based upon extremely good length. I'd say the difference is that they aren't afraid to put pressure on and attack when given an opportunity. A lot of the women hit their length hard and with purpose, hit attacking kills to make you hit up on the ball and get you off the T, and follow up on the next shot with intent. They also don't hold back with their movement, often "screeching" into the front corners. (It can be intimidating playing someone who does the splits on court to retrieve your best shot and then somehow stays in the rally!).

At first, I think I was too passive when responding and playing against this style in my practices matches. Unless your defence is excellent and can reverse the pressure, Egyptians will keep attacking you and putting you under pressure- time and time again. They see the opportunity to "turn the screw" and don't hesitate.

By implementing a couple of things that Karim showed me (movement on/off the ball), I found I was able to get in better positions and understand how to inflict this kind of pressure without opening up the court and exposing my movement. I hit better kills and boasts (which usually I'd never hit, or hit passively), which either turned out to be winners or very attacking shots that I could use to get my opponent off the T.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to working on a couple things and improving for my next tournament... whenever that may be! I'm currently self-isolating until I receive the results back from my Covid test. (It's either that, or quarantine for 14 days). Although I'm itching to get back on court, this forced time off court gives me a few days to fully recover from the travel, mentally process the tournament, and become clear on my focus for the next phase of training.

That's all from me! Time to go do some voice-overs and programming for Daily Squash Athlete :). Thank you to CIB for sponsoring the tournament, all of the sponsors, and the PSA for doing a seamless job of organizing the event.

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