Analysis – The Numbers Game

Squash Player analyses THE 2023 British Open finals using data provided by Crosscourt Analytics

Ali Farag seemed to have the ball on a string for much of the time in the British Open final. He was up the court reading his opponent, waiting to pounce on the ball and moving it all over the court. Diego Elias set up a strong striking position, imposed himself and struck cleanly. This is a match worth re-watching on SquashTV

Our sport has shots to different places, of differing angles, speeds, short and long, soft and hard, dying and rebounding, loose and tight, perhaps clinging or nicking, all in kaleidoscope rallies.

It is not always easy to see the recurring patterns or the key events like winners and errors and where they occur, where an opponent hits shots from and to, and which part of the court an opponent has strengths and weaknesses.

Analytics – counting up the events; the data, the facts – are indispensable to understanding what goes on and in developing a player’s profile that allows for improvement in a focused way. It can also help in preparing game plans to counter an opponent’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

One impression from the British Open final is of Farag’s mid-court jinking around and volleying. Let’s look at the data. Farag volleyed 27% of his shots. This is remarkable. When you know this, you can look out for it. If you are an opponent, it can help you develop a game plan.

Crosscourt Analytics produce a very full data report on matches on the PSA World Tour. How to select from this is the key but not necessarily easy. We have selected from the data (see below), but many other selections are possible. Additionally, we provide a second selection in the men’s appendix which has wider implications and may be of interest to the reader and coach.

THE MATCH
BRITISH OPEN 2023 MEN’S FINAL:
Ali Farag bt Diego Elias 13-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9

THE POINTS
All games were very close in this match except the second, where Elias stepped up the court (a move reflected in the heat maps) and Farag over-reached with his volleying and boasting. Overall, Farag won 40 points and Elias 39.
Points are marked on a player’s winners, an opponent’s errors (both forced and unforced) and those awarded by the referee.

WINNERS AND ERRORS
Outright Forced Total Unforced winners errors (OW & FE) errors:
Farag 17 6 (24) 10
Elias 20 7 (26) 11

SHOT SELECTION
Remarkably, over a quarter of Farag’s shots were volleys (27%) whereas Elias’s percentage was 16%. In the rallies he won, Farag dominated on the volley (31% of shots were volleys) and 50% of his shots were hit from the midcourt, demonstrating that he dominated the T and on the volley.

In the rallies Elias won, he forced Farag to play from deeper in the court (47% of his opponent’s shots were from the back in these rallies, as opposed to just 40% in the rallies Farag won). Elias also managed to reduce Farag’s volleying dominance down to 23% (from 31%), so here Elias managed to get the ball past his opponent.

Winners were played by both players largely from the mid-court. For Farag there was a similar number left side (33%) and right (29%), but he also hit winners from back left (21%). Elias’s winners, however, were largely from the right mid-court (38%). Crosscourts (hit hard and lifted) were the predominant shot from the front corners.

However, at the front left corner Farag countered short with 27% of his returns compared to Elias’s 18%. From the back both players predominantly
hit straight (two thirds of the time) to the back corners and mid-court.

For all his dominance on the volley and ability to move and pressurise his opponent, Farag played fewer winners.

SIDE TO SIDE
Interestingly, in the winners and forced errors category, similar points were won on each side (L: 25 points; R: 25 points).

Farag scored better on his backhand (15 to his opponent’s 10), the straight volley drop and crosscourt length being the top scoring shots. Elias, by contrast, scored on the right (16 winners to nine for his opponent) with his straight forehand drop and straight volley drop accounting for seven of his 16 winners. Throughout, while Farag played more volleys, Elias played more lifted shots.

LIFTED
In the second game, Elias played 20% of his shots as lifted shots, while Farag was at 4.5% – a striking difference. Farag hit twice as many boasts in the second game as in the others, letting his opponent into the front.

The Peruvian responded with an increase in lifted shots and straight drop winners. In a close match with Farag amazingly dominant on the volley and Elias cleverly varying the pace and straighter on the forehand, errors were an important factor in the outcome. Elias’s four forced errors in the third and five unforced in the fourth were crucial – as was his handling of difficult refereeing decisions.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Farag and Elias had very similar
winning shot totals: Farag 17; Elias 20

There were 1,318 shots in the match

Farag volleyed 27% of his shots

In the rallies he won, Elias forced Farag
deeper and allowed him to volley less

Winners were mainly hit from the
mid-court

Farag’s winners were to the front left,
Elias’s to the front right

Crosscourts were the main shot from
the front

From the back, the players hit straight
two-thirds of the time

Farag countered short front left,
Elias front right

The average rally length was 16 shots.

Elias lobbed or lifted the ball 12% of
the time.

The time between shots was 1.4 seconds.