At Mumbai’s CCI courts last year, India international Saurav Ghosal came across squash’s current maverick, Mazen Hesham. Wristwork is almost bread and butter in squash – every player has his stock trick shots, but the 22-year-old Egyptian ranked No. 20 currently, is a thrill to watch – both when his deceptive game explodes like a meteor as well as when it implodes into an erratic puddle. Ghosal deconstructs the phenomenon and what it takes to beat such players:
Hesham’s gotten to as high as No.13 in the world. Almost everyone in squash has deception, but this one is tricky especially on the forehand because his game has no structure, and it’s very random. With most players you know their deception will be a certain way after a while, but Hesham plays outrageous shots even when he’s completely out of position. So there’s days when he’ll be hitting tins and crumbling, and then there’s days when there’s nothing an opponent can do.
He’s unbelievably talented and at times he doesn’t know himself what he’s going to do. James Willstrop is the most deceptive on the circuit, but even his game has structure. Hesham’s unbelievably talented and you just need to be as sharp as you can be and give him as little space as possible. It can take a toll on your legs and the mind – just responding to him.
First thing you look to do is cut off his angles, and keep the ball as close to the wall as possible. Try the lobs, because it’s difficult to be deceptive from higher up. You try to prolong a match, because even a purple patch lasts only 20 minutes or half an hour. If you try keeping ball in play over and over again, and believe that you are doing it right, the tide begins to turn. If you can get in even 5 of the 10 shots in Hesham’s purple patch, you know you’ll get better as the match progresses.
All shotmakers hit these ridiculously brilliant strokes and want them to be winners at all times. But if you deny them those dazzling winners, they get frustrated and then the magic looks forced, that’s when they crumble. It’s important to stretch the match, these shotmakers even if they play 5 sets, they want the 5 sets to be over in 1 hour, not go to 1 and half hour. So, you work on that impatience.”
As told to Shivani Naik
It’s a start to stop serve with no hitches or pauses. The one-motion serve ends up giving him quick first and second serves that can surprise opponents. It’s the relatively low toss and his ability to strike the ball at the very last moment which reduces the time at the receiver’s disposal to read where the serve is headed. His forehand too is laced with a leaping topspin that can force his opponents to sprint wide off the court — and back.
The charming penholder’s grip of the Chinese multiple Olympic medallist was just the start of his wowing skills. It was the wide variety of his often unplayable serves that earned him the ‘ghost serve’ reputation. These are unfathomable serves generated with a lot of backspin with very little forward momentum, where the ball is snappily brushed at the base and a serve that bounces backward after it lands on the other side.
The man he seemed to get inside the head of was the late Martin Crowe. The Kiwi great struggled a bit to pick the bowler falling to him 6 times in Tests. It was his delayed action that created the problem. As a batsman who needed to watch the ball as it came from the back of the bowler’s hand, that split second of withholding bothered Crowe.
There’s that beaut of a lovely off-load after a side-step and committing three of his opponents, in the Ireland centre’s play. His twinkle toes were legendary as were the through-the-leg passes to teammates, but the biggest trick he pulled was the pass to himself. Picking the ball from the scrum, he would charge ahead and look to be passing to a teammate, instead — he’d lob the ball over the head of the teammmate into his own hands. The golden generation might never have won the World Cup, but Brian O’ Driscoll continued to mesmerise the rugby world with his tricks right till his retirement game.