Karim Gawad – World Champion!
Watching the World Championships last week, and especially the Semi-Final and Final, I’m sure everybody would agree we have a totally deserved new World Champion.
The level of squash Gawad was playing against ElShorbagy and Ramy was of the highest quality. This is not a one off – it’s been on the cards for a while now, and certainly the last few months we’ve been able to see it coming. And to top it off; he’s calm, impeccably behaved and very likable. The complete player?
You cannot say someone is a complete squash player, just like Usain Bolt cannot be the perfect 100m runner, there’s always room for improvement, that’s the nature of sport. Also, you cannot get too carried away after an amazing few months – which Gawad has undoubtedly had. In his last 5 events – he’s had 2 semi-finals, two finals and 2 wins. Pretty impressive. It’s only after years of these achievement can you be considered a great. Obviously he’s not there yet but let’s have a look at why he could go on to achieve great things. What makes him so good:
Everyone can see his touch is superb. He can hit lovely drop shot winners and power to ball in to the cross-court nick, but what has made his quality so high of late is the quality of his drives, backhand in particular, and his tactical awareness.
His drives rarely hit the side wall. This is a subtle difference between him and most other players out there. It’s very difficult to do. When he hits the ball straight to the back, the ball runs parallel to the side wall, without actually making contact with the wall. This way the ball travels all the way into the back corner. Most people will at least clip the side wall with their drive, and from the moment the ball touches the side wall it will obviously move away from the side wall, and therefore away from the extreme back corner.
Not only can Gawad hit these parallel drives, but he can do it at pace – This is the key to great success. He hits the ball pretty hard on most of his drives. This means the ball is travelling away from his opponent very quickly into the back corner. Hitting the ball hard, not only means his opponent has less time to retrieve the shot, but means he can hit lower on the front wall and it will still reach the back corner. Hitting lower means it is harder for his opponents to volley, because the ball is almost always below hip height. Ramy and ElShorbagy also do this extremely well.
Now, because of his excellent low drives that go all the way into the back corner, his opponent often has to hit up to defend these quality drives. Hitting the ball up gives Gawad the chance to volley, and this is where he takes in his straight backhand volley drop, and he can do it with such great touch which enable him to take pace off the ball, causing it to stay quite close to the front wall.
With the simplest tactic of straight drives and straight volley drops, Gawad can make his opponent do so much work, constantly having to recover the ball from the extremes of the court.
Another attribute is he reads the game very well. In the final it was obviously Ramy was nervous to hit the ball to the front of the court because Gawad was anticipating these shots and counter attacking. Again, because of the quality of Gawad’s shots, he limits his opponents’ options, enabling him to read their next shot and constantly control the rallies.
I would relate Gawad style of play to Shabana or even James Willstrop, in terms of accuracy on his drives and drops, but unlike James he plays faster and lower. I genuinely think he can go on and win many more titles – but it is not guaranteed. ElShorbagy is so powerful and so good, I’m sure he will go away and adapt to this loss and come back stronger. I actually think ElShorbagy is a much better player than people give him credit for. Ramy has all the wonderful attributes of Gawad (excellent straight drives followed by sublime touch), his battle is remaining injury-free, but if he can he’s proven himself to be the best. It will be interesting to see how Ali Farag and Marwan progress this season. Ali reads the game incredibly well and moves so smoothly, and Marwan is dominant in the middle of the court and street-wise for such a young man.
It’s very exciting times in the World Of Squash!