This is Joe McManus from the Pro Squash Tour. (listen instead)
You’re about to watch the final rally of the 2012 Albany Open Championship match, which ended in some controversy. First, this was a brilliant match, played by two of our toughest competitors, John White and Bradley Ball. I am speaking today to address how this match ended so that fans can hear my thoughts as well as see the rally for themselves.
I’d like to thank Floris Jansen for providing the video, who recorded it as a fan sitting in the front row.
Here we see the end of John White’s serve. At the 16 second mark, John stretches from center court to retrieve a ball that is tight to the wall. He then does the exact same thing on his backhand at the 26 second mark.
At 37 seconds, he moves to play the ball but his opponent is now directly in his path. This shot, as evidenced from the prior two, is a ball that John can play.
According to PST’s Rules of Play, if the incoming striker’s opponent prevents his shot to the front wall or movement to a playable ball, the referee should award the point to the incoming striker.
This rally highlights one difference between the old style of play and Pro Squash Tour’s modern rules. Bradley is a top touring pro and is capable of hitting shots with great pace and precision. In this example, Bradley had time to play the ball and the entire court to play his shot.
The shot he chose to hit is the only one that places his body in line with John’s path to the ball. Bradley played his shot from the mid-court and the ball bounced a second time in the middle of the service box. John’s only path to the ball was through Bradley.
This is a very common shot on other pro tours because it places the incoming striker under pressure to reach the ball while simultaneously having to contend with an opponent who is blocking his path.
Under the old rules of play, this would almost certainly be called a let. In fact, increasingly a large number of lets at the pro level are being called under similar circumstances.
In PST tournaments, the referee should, as he did here, award the point to White.
But Bradley chose to challenge the call, which is entirely his right to do so. Had John been awarded the point, he would have won the fourth game 14-12 and the match would have proceeded to a deciding fifth game.
Bradley took an extended period of time to voice his challenge. Because squash’s rules require continuous play, players will typically challenge a call quickly because of the time constraints of an impending serve.
As this was the last point of the game, there was no such time constraint specified in our rules. It is also fair to assume that by the time the challenge was made, the challenge officials did not have a clear recollection of the rally. This may have contributed to their incorrect decision to overturn the call.
Like many sports, there is a human element involved with officiating a squash match. In many ways, this enhances the fan experience. But on occasion, it results in an incorrect call being made. My role is to acknowledge these moments, so that players and fans have a clear understanding of the circumstances, and to create a system which makes these moments rare. I issued a statement earlier this week acknowledging the issue and will be sending a memo to our referees and players to close this loophole.
Thank you for your interest in squash and the Pro Squash Tour. And thank you to our fans in Albany for hosting such a magnificent tournament.