Saturday, 16 June 2012

Observation and Analysis: Nick Matthew in the Mid and Fore Court

The video that I've linked to, is the semi-final of the US Open in 2009. It is a match that Nick won over Gregory Gaultier, and was at a time that Nick was starting to climb the rankings, after a long injury layoff, towards his achieving the #1 position during 2010.

Prior to this match, Gregory had a winning record against Nick winning 7 of 10 previous matches on the PSA tour. Including this match, Nick has won 5 of the 7 head to head matches since then. And of course since then, Nick's tournament titles include the 2010 and 2011 World Opens.

In the previous article of June 11, 2012, we looked at Nick's game in the rear court. Now with this next video, we want to observe Nick's tactics in the mid court and fore court.

This particular video is more than 1.5 hours long. And the match itself is about 83 minutes long, the first game taking 36 minutes. So you may want to watch this match in segments :-)

For the first game observe, and look to answer the following question:

1. In the mid court, and fore court, when Nick is forced into a long stretch to hit the ball (usually a fairly long lunge step), what is his most common tactic to stay out or get out of trouble?

When it is time to watch the second game of the match, observe so as to find the answer to these questions:

2. What does Nick typically hit when he has a volley that is low?

3. What does he hit when the volley is between waist high and shoulder height?

4. What is the common shot when the volley is above the shoulder?

As you go into watching the third and fourth games, look for answers to the following:

5. When both players are in the mid court area, and Nick is about to hit the ball from a position that is nearly on the center line, what does Nick generally hit?

6. Alternatively, when both players are in the mid court area, but Matthew is more to one side, with Gregory in the center, what is Nick's tactical choice?

7. When Nick is in the fore court, balanced with time to choose his shot, what is his usual tactic, when Gregory is also in or near the fore court area?

8. What is different in Nick's tactics when he's on balance, in the fore court, but Greg is more to the mid court or even coming out of the rear court?

----------- The link to the video:

If the link above does not appear in your browser, then please copy and paste the link as follows, and this should take you directly to the video:

Now, assuming that you've watched the complete match, or some portion of it, and you feel that you've got a good sense of Nick's tactics in the mid and fore court areas, here are a couple more questions to ponder for analysis.

9. In this match, where would you place Nick on the continuum of playing styles (full on attack on one end, and completely defensive on the other end)? How was Nick applying pressure on Gregory?

10. What do you think was the main factor in the winning and losing of this match? And how was this precipitated?

One thing that everyone should have noticed as they observed this match, and looked to analyze what's happening, is that answering these questions, is not as straight forward as when we looked at Matthew's rear court tactics.

Why is this so? Because when a player is in the rear court the opponent is typically somewhere in the T area. So it's relatively easy to see what a player is likely to do, the habits or tendencies are more obvious, because most of the time, the opponent is around that T area.

But when the player is about to hit the ball, in either the mid court or fore court areas, the position of the opponent is not always the same. So the variability of a good player's shot selection increases, as we see an increase in the different positions that an opponent might be in at the moment the player hits the ball. As well, we have to factor in whether the player is hitting the ball on the volley, half volley, or after a full bounce.

In watching this video, with the intent to answer these questions, there has been a purpose to it all. After watching the two videos, and contemplating all the questions, the observing, analyzing student of the game should now be able to start getting a sense of what I call 'positional play', meaning that a player chooses his shots based on the position of the ball, AND the opponent.

It is important to understand, that positional play, is not the same for any two players, as when analyzing any player, we have to take into account all of the attributes of their game: technique, speed, fitness, general tendencies (attacking vs. defensive).

The reason for initially choosing Nick Matthew, is that his game is well honed, consistent, simple, and very successful. A good place to start for squash students who are beginning to observe to learn.

Next we'll be summing up the analysis of Nick's tactics.

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