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The Canary Wharf Classic glass court on show at London's East Wintergarden

Best of Three Debate - Stars of the PSA Offer Their Thoughts After Canary Wharf Classic

The debate as to whether the Professional Squash Association should use a best-of-three games scoring format for more of their tournaments has made headlines once again in the squash world after the 15th edition of the Canary Wharf Classic became the first ranking PSA World Tour event to be played using a best-of-three games scoring format earlier this month.

Ever since last June’s PSA Dubai World Series Finals – which was played using the best of three format in the group stages and semi-finals – the debate has raged on in the squash community, with calls both for and against the wider inclusion of a best-of-three games format on the PSA World Tour.

In Canary Wharf, the best-of-three format was used in the qualifying rounds, first round and quarter-finals, while the semi-finals and final reverted to the traditional best-of-five scoring that is used at all other ranking tournaments on the PSA World Tour.

The best-of-three format in Canary Wharf was trialled with the intention of increasing the intensity of the match, delivering a more intense viewing experience for spectators and to allow players greater recovery time between matches.

This year’s Canary Wharf Classic, which was won by World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy, featured a five-game final for the first time since 2008, while both of the semi-finals went to five games for the first time in nine years.

In addition, 42% of main draw matches went to a deciding game, compared to 16% over the last three years when best-of-five scoring was used all the way through the tournament. However, the average match time in 2018 did drop from 63 minutes to 47 minutes when compared to 2017.

People throughout the world of squash have had their say on the debate – and we’ve included some of the responses below.

PSA Chief Operating Officer Lee Beachill

“I thought overall it was very good [in Canary Wharf]. The obvious massive positive was the fact that we were able to start the session a little bit later.

“In previous years we’d started at 17:00, which was a little bit early. We found that generally people were struggling to get there from work, so we’d have people arriving when the first match was in progress.

“The fact that we managed to have a full stand for the last match of the evening is something that we haven’t really experienced in Canary Wharf before, particularly given the fact that the matches are generally so competitive there.

“It put together a really good session of entertainment. I think we finished around 22:00 most nights which then allows people to get a reasonable train home and we’ve got to be conscious that people have got to be up for work and they’ve got to get there from work. I think for an event like Canary Wharf it worked really well.

“It’s a format that I’ve been quite a big advocate of for quite some time. Canary Wharf was a trial, there aren’t any set plans for future events at the moment, but we’re compiling all of the different stats and opinions.

“We’ve got a board meeting in May where I’ll be presenting a lot of this feedback and also presenting the fact that we would like to take this a little bit further at any other events that this format would particularly suit.

“[The feedback] has been pretty positive. Making a change like this and the other changes we’ve made over the years, going from nine points to 15, then from 15 to 11, and lowering the tin from 19 inches to 17 inches, everyone has an opinion on that and everyone is quite entitled to their opinion.

“The players that are at the top of the game now, the majority of them would not remember playing to nine or 15 scoring and they wouldn’t remember playing on a 19 inch tin. The game moves on and I think as an association we’ve got to continue moving on as well.

“Do I think the best of three will one day completely take over and be the format across the whole tour? No, probably not. I think that best of five will always have a place but I do think best of three has some sort of a role to play in professional squash.

“We’ve got to have very important dialogue with promoters because they’re the ones that go out, raise the money and put professional squash tournaments on. We’ve got to be very conscious of the fact that ultimately we’re in the sports entertainment industry

“We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball and make sure that we’re competing for people’s time who buy tickets and come along and watch professional squash.”

Canary Wharf Classic Tournament Promoter Tim Garner

“We had capacity crowds for the first and last matches on the first three days, when in the past few years lots of people struggle to make the 17:00 start time and even more leave before the last match to get last trains or because they have to be up early to work the next day.

“I have had lots of people say how great it was to be able to watch all four matches in an evening and it enabled us to build in to better breaks for people to get drinks, chat or browse the exhibitions instead of having to crowbar in breaks or just throw the next match on ASAP to get through the schedule.

“We also ended up with three quality five-game matches at the end of the week, which may well have been down to the players reaching the semis in slightly better shape than normal.

“The tour needs best-of-three games or some shorter version that can work for scenarios such as Canary Wharf, where it is only possible to play in a limited time frame, such as an evening after dark. It will also help to attract new fans of the sport, who in reality are not going to sit and watch six hours of squash with no breaks.

“I think that promoters should be able to apply for it and put forward their case, but that the tour should maintain control of which events can utilise it. It’s about giving the consumer a better package and protecting our athletes.

“As a sport, we need to adapt or die and have to accept that a shorter version is required. Video Reviews have really added to the enjoyment of squash, but equally they probably add 15-25 minutes to the length of a five-game match, which causes scheduling issues.”

World No.4 Marwan ElShorbagy

“I don’t think it was a success [in Canary Wharf], I think this tournament proved that the idea of best of three works better in the World Series Finals only with the top eight [in the world].

“I feel the crowd has enjoyed the semis and the finals more than the previous rounds. The semis and finals were more entertaining, both matches had everything from physical and mental point of view.

“Matches are too short in best of three. When I played my match with Miguel [Angel Rodriguez] I felt somehow the match was unfinished, I thought we both could have given more to the crowd

“I would prefer that the sport sticks with the best of five, but I prefer the World Series Finals being best of three.

“The intensity could be higher in best of three than best of five, but tactics wise I feel it’s the same, you just can’t lose your concentration, in best of three you can’t afford to do that.”

World No.18 Amanda Sobhy

“Personally, I thought best of three was a lot more exciting in the World Series Finals than in Canary Wharf.

“At Canary Wharf, I just felt like something was missing in the earlier rounds, like an extra game perhaps, or more of that physicality aspect that spectators and players appreciate so much.

“It was like a little tease since some of the matches were more one-sided and shorter and I was looking forward to watching another game or two. While a couple of matches were close and entertaining, I think the majority were on the short side whereas in the World Series Finals, the level of squash is a lot higher so it’s really close & edgy when playing best of three.

“I definitely do believe that there is a place for best of three on the tour somewhere in the future. After reading a lot of player’s opinions, I have to agree with Declan’s [James] opinion the most.

“As a sport, we are always looking to change and adapt to new things to see what’s going to generate more viewing, prize money, sponsorships, and excitement from spectators. We want this sport to grow as much as possible, so sometimes that means that we have to change things and try new formats.

“Maybe for smaller tournaments, the best of three format could be used, but I think for World Series events and World Champs, the scoring should stay best of five. We need to think from a spectator’s and promoter’s standpoint as well instead of only from a player’s viewpoint.

“I must say, and this goes slightly against my style of play, but I do enjoy the physicality aspect of squash. There’s something about watching or playing a gruelling five-gamer that can be really appreciated since you know just how tough it is physically and mentally.

“I just don’t think you get that from the best of three. You can get speed and intensity, but the mental toughness aspect in squash is crucial and it’s just mesmerising to see from players.

“From a spectator and promoter standpoint, best of three can be great for keeping matches on time and not ending extremely late at night. I like to think that’s my job on the PSA tour with how short my matches are!

“Also, you would be able to get more matches on the glass court starting from the earlier rounds, which I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate.

“For best of three scoring, you will have to become more of an attacking player and try to win rallies instead of relying on the physical aspect of outlasting your opponent. Tactics definitely become more of importance with the shorter matches since it can be over relatively quickly, or at least in my matches it will be!

World No.3 Ali Farag

“It’s too early to tell but I think that there is definitely a place for best of three in our sport. Maybe not for all tournaments but it adds a bit of something I’m sure.

“It is a human instinct to resist change. We all tend to unknowingly fall into the trap of feeling too comfortable with the present, and go with the phrase: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“But the truth is, if you stop changing, you stop growing. And in this constantly changing world at lightning speed, if you stop growing, you die. In other words, you either grow or you die.

“This concept applies to businesses as well. And only the best of businesses realise this before it’s too late and always find a way to innovate. If we really want to keep improving our beautiful sport of squash, we must treat it as a business.

“I feel most people are opposing the best of three idea purely because of a fear of change. I am not saying the best of three is necessarily a better idea. I personally haven’t fully made up my mind yet. But what I’m trying to say is, let’s try not to be emotional while thinking about it, and just try to stick to facts and numbers to have a more constructive discussion.

“Needless to say that we all want to keep our sport as great as it is, but it’s always a balance between innovation and tradition. We need to continue finding ways to make it more friendly to the viewers, but of course without losing the identity of our sport.”

World No.20 Cameron Pilley

“I think there were certain levels of success [in Canary Wharf] but the opinions of the spectators would be interesting to hear as they are the ones that were watching live at the venue and getting a feel for the atmosphere over the course of a night.

“Watching some of the matches myself, I thought it gave a different type of pressure to perform. It felt like there was a sense of 'could this be an upset?' in every match because of the shorter format.

“I think the quality of squash was very high, especially the semis and final, which produced the highest quality. It looked as though the players were fresher in the latter stages of the event which set the stage for some great squash.

“I would like to see it trialled at more events of the same, or similar, size. It's tough to make a call on it after just one event. If it was never tested in the first place then we would be left wondering what could have been.

“I definitely believe there is a place for it on tour. It is a different format of the sport and we need to keep testing and trialling these types of events to make sure the sport keeps progressing forward.

“The sport has progressed and changed so much over the years and this is due to keeping up with the times, moving forward and making the necessary adaptations. I would like to see World Series events kept at best of five because, like the majors in Tennis, they are our pinnacle events and I think we need to keep it that way.

“At the end of the day, the better squash player will win the match, whether it is best of three or best of five. With so much talk around Canary Wharf about it being so open because of the format, the top eight seeds still made the quarters and the top four seeds still made the semis. You just need to be ready to play at 100% from the first point.”

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