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The Virtue of the Slow-Tongued Referee

Plus Saturday’s previews and predictions.

Any casual observer of squash knows that players obstructing each other’s access to the ball is the game’s Achilles’ heel. Let? No let? Stroke? Referees’ decisions come down from above like the judgments of capricious gods, and despite well-intentioned efforts at reform, the situation doesn’t seem to be improving. Yesterday I watched as Karim Abdel Gawad had a couple of crucial, to my eyes clearly misguided, decisions go against him at the end of the first and fourth games, sealing his fate in an otherwise entertaining, hard-fought match against Cameron Pilley.

There’s one change, though, that may be having an unintended upside. This year for the first time the side referees are reporting their decisions to the central ref via electronic devices. The system, at least in its first day, took a couple of seconds to work, resulting in a pause before the decision was announced.

That may not sound like a good thing, but it had a similar effect to the pauses that occur while waiting for video reviews: it subdued the players. Even after decisions that were highly debatable, players generally refrained from arguing and went on about there business. Something about those few seconds of quiet quelled tempers.

Maybe that won’t be the case tomorrow, but I appreciated it today. If there’s one thing that rivals obstruction as a shortcoming of the pro game, it’s player dissent. And while obstruction is an intractable problem, dissent isn’t. The slow-tongued referee may not be the solution, but a solution is out there.

 DAY 2’S PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

Noon: Omar Mosaad (Egypt, age 26, rank 9) vs. Mohamed Abouelghar (Egypt, age 21, rank 35). Mosaad uses pure power more effectively than anyone else on the tour, and it’s unlikely the quick, daring, but inconsistent Abouelghar will be able to withstand the Hammer of Thor. Prediction: Mosaad, 3-0.

12:45: Nick Matthew (England, age 34, rank 4) vs. Daryl Selby (England, age 32, rank 14).It’s bad luck for three-time world champion Matthew to get an opening-round draw against his methodical countryman Selby. It’s even worse luck for Selby, who made it to last year’s quarterfinals.Prediction: Matthew, 3-1.

1:30: Alister Walker (Botswana, age 32, rank 21) vs. Tom Richards (England, age 28, rank 40). Both of these players have been ranked as high as 12th in the world before injury setbacks. Expect Walker to push the pace and Richards to slow things down. Prediction: Walker, 3-2.

3:00: Simon Rosner (Germany, age 27, rank 10) vs. Stephen Coppinger (South Africa, age 30, rank 18). Rosner is a big guy whose skillful racquet work has him on the verge of joining the game’s upper echelon. Coppinger isn’t flashy, but he’s technically sound and mentally tough. He’ll give Rosner a fight. Prediction: Rosner, 3-1.

3:45: Mathieu Castagnet (France, age 28, rank 13) vs. Diego Elias (Peru, age 18, rank 48).Elias, the reigning world junior champion, is on course to be one of the stars of the game, but today he’ll be the underdog against Castagnet, a cool customer who in December notched a win over world #1 Mohamed Elshorbagy. Prediction: Castagnet, 3-0.

6:00: Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Colombia, age 29, rank 8) vs. Joe Lee (England, age 25, rank 37). Speedy Rodriguez is an acrobat on the court whose strong play in 2014 elevated him into the world’s top 10. Lee can show flashes of brilliance but has yet to put together the kind of consistent game needed to challenge the top guys. Prediction: Rodriguez, 3-0.

6:45: Gregory Gaultier (France, age 31, rank 2) vs. Max Lee (Hong Kong, age 27, rank 16).Masterful, mercurial Gaultier can struggle in first-round matches but always manages to come out on top. Lee, currently at his career-best ranking, will push the Frenchman with his steady play. Prediction:Gaultier, 3-0.

7:30: Peter Barker (England, age 31, rank 6) vs. Gregoire Marche (France, age 24, rank 38).Marche is hungry to improve, while Barker may be the fiercest competitor on the tour. Expect them to make the referees’ lives difficult. Prediction: Barker, 3-2.

– Matt Lombardi