Stick With What Got You There

Two of the greatest-ever squash matches have been played over the past couple of months in Egypt. The first was the final of the Women’s World Championship on December 20, 2014 in Cairo, and the second was the other day, April 10, 2015, at the El Gouna Open in the beautiful Red Sea resort town of El Gouna.

The matches featured 4 of the game’s all-time greats – Nicol David, Raneem El Welily, Ramy Ashour and Mohamed Elshorbagy.

Both matches showcased the highest level of skill, athleticism and tactics perhaps ever displayed on a squash court, and both matches were tremendously exciting – 5-game matches with the winner in each case coming back from multiple championship points down to take the title.

In both contests one player held match point up 10-6. But both times those very players who held the match points made an error that may have cost them the title.

Raneem was up 2-1 in games and was at 10-8, match point.  She had just played a tough point that Nicol won with a stunning forehand cross-court nick and Raneem responded by going for a quick winner off the serve. It went into the tin.

Mohamed was at match ball, 10-7 in the 5th, and had also had just played a tough point that ended with a no-let due to a perfect Ramy forehand drive, and his response was also a quick return of serve into the tin.

Both Raneem and Mohamed had 4 match points and lost the first of them in tough points, then went for a quick winner off the serve which ended up in the tin. Immediately the momentum of the match switched over to their opponent, despite the fact that they still held two match points.  Why?

The desire to go for a quick match-ending shot can be irresistible – even more so when you have multiple match points to work with. The idea that you can “waste” a point on a risky winning attempt seems so reasonable – if you make it you win, and if you lose it you still have match point.

The problem is that by going for that shot, not only is it very unlikely that you will make it due to the pressure of the situation, but that by going for it you break from the approach that you have taken that got you to this point.  And once you break from that approach it is very hard to regain it.  Mohamed did not win another point after that tin. Raneem lost 14 of the next, and final, 19 points.

The lesson from these matches is that when you get to match point, stick with the approach that got you there. Don’t break your strategic discipline. Don’t send the signal to your opponent that you are panicking and are trying to end things quickly. Instead, send the message that you will pressure and pressure them the way you have all match and that your focus cannot and will not be diverted.

If you have not seen these two matches, watch them. Incredible, exciting squash. But learn from Raneem and Mohamed. Stay focused. Be relentless. Keep your focus right until the end.

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