Richmond was the backdrop for the North American Open which concluded on Saturday evening; Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew produced a high octane finale replete with subtlety and variation of pace and shot. Ashour, world number one and world champion, took the spoils 3-1 but Matthew enjoyed several strong phases in the match. The crowds, steadily increasing every year there, were treated to a world class display of dynamism and skill.
It struck me more than ever that the game at a professional level is played in a way that is almost unrecognisable to what it used to be. I re-watched some classic squash matches from the late eighties recently, when the custom was to build winning opportunities through long, gruelling rallies, with hefty phases of play from and to the back half of the court.
In general the rallies (and matches) in Richmond were shorter than they were back then, played at greater speed, and the players made much more use of the frontal areas to make attacks.
A lot of this comes from external factors. The biggest rule change that may have affected this is the lowering of the tin, which came in in the mid nineties. Factors like type of court (full glass or traditional) and temperature in the venue are key contributors to the outcome of a match. Undoubtedly the trend is that professional squash has naturally become faster and more attacking, but these other factors have contributed.
The North American Open was played within the confines of a less than warm sports hall and on the glass court, encouraging an even faster front court game than at other venues, with an emphasis on explosive movements. In such conditions, players seek the opportunity to attack more often because the ball doesn't bounce as much. It is tempting to play short because it is more likely to stay short to win the rally. In view of all this players have had to improve their speed of movement.
Tennis is similar in that the conditions play a considerable part in the outcome of matches, and i'm sure that, as in squash, no two courts the world over are the same. There are also similar additional factors which have helped to make tennis evolve significantly over time too.
The good thing is that the changes in neither sport have been detrimental. If anything they have made them more attractive visually, and let's hope it stays that way.
James Willstrop's book, 'Shot and a Ghost' is available to buy at Willstrop.co.uk or on kindle