David Palmer: Competing With the Inevitable
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
For every player, no matter how great, there comes a point when the performance curve begins to bend. It's not an abrupt change, or one that's even noticeable at first. But it shows in the performance stats, in mornings after tough matches, and in shots that are no longer so easy to reach. Gradually, that finely honed edge begins to dull. If you are that player, how do you tell, what do you watch for, and most important, how do you compensate to delay the inevitable for as long as possible?
Certainly, few players have ever played as consistently well as David Palmer. After turning pro in 1995, the Australian squash legend—who is now based in Orlando, FL - first topped the world rankings in September 2001, and has since compiled an enviable record including more than ten full years in the top ten. In September 2008, he reached his 50th PSA World Tour final at the Merritt Properties Open in Baltimore, USA, and went on to claim his 26th Tour title at the Colombian Open in August 2009 in his 53rd final.
But even David Palmer is not immortal. While still competing hard, his rankings have begun to slip, and he knows that the inevitable is there, drawing closer all the time. How does he deal with that?
"In terms of fitness, I'm still pretty good," he said in a recent interview, "and I'm still fairly competitive. I'm really only losing to the top four or five guys in the world. And even then I'm only losing really close matches, so it's not too bad. But I am 35 now, so it's not as easy to keep up with the young guys."
To compensate, he has changed his approach to the game. "I'm not playing as many tournaments now. I'm living in Florida with my family, and I'm not quite getting the match practice I used to get. I'm also not working as much with my coach, but I am working with a trainer and have changed my training somewhat. But I still feel like I can be competitive. Otherwise I wouldn't be playing."
One thing he focuses on now is working on speed and dynamic strength off the court. "The game is getting so fast now with all the top Egyptian players and the other young guys, so it's more about trying to stay fast and keep that movement around the court. The days when I can move really well are the days I play really well, and the days when I'm a little bit slow and off the pace, that's when it's really hard work. So it's a different type of training from what I used to do but it's fun to do something different. I'm not hitting as many balls, but I feel like I don't need to anymore. It's more just trying to keep my body fresh and injury free."
He also plays differently. "It's tough because I love to play fast. It's the way I've always played. I play a pretty hard paced game. I take the ball very early, I volley probably more than any other player, and that's when I play my best squash, so that's a tough one for me. But I need to be smart as well, and try to pick the times to play fast, and try to slow it down a little bit and draw on my experience when I need to get my breath back. Hopefully, I'll recover quickly, and get back into the match.
"I've still got very good ball control, so I try to mix it up. When I'm feeling well I try to play fast, and when it's not going my way, I try to slow it down and break up the rhythm a little bit. I try to pick the times when to play fast and when to slow it down."
Equipment matters, too, especially string. "It all adds up," he said. "Playing at such a top level, it's the little fine points that can make a difference. So being happy with my racquet, happy with my string, are two things I don't have to worry about."
A longtime Ashaway PowerNick® 18 user, David began play-testing Ashaway's new PowerNick 19, and switched to it at the end of 2010. The 19 gauge string, he said, "gives me a bit more power, a little more touch. And on top of that it still lasts a long time. The great thing about PowerNick 18 was I could never bust the stuff. The 19 is not lasting quite as long, but I'm still getting a long time out of my racquets. With the PowerNick 19 I can go to a tournament and have my racquets all strung up and not have to worry. Obviously, all the racquets are pretty much the same, but you always seem to end up with a favorite one, and if you know you can use that for the whole tournament, mentally it's a great feeling.
And what of the future? "It's still fun," he said. "I still enjoy the battle. I love being in there and competing and playing these great tournaments around the world and just pushing myself and seeing how much I can still do, without putting too much pressure on myself. I've won everything I need to and I've nothing more to prove.
"But I've still got the killer instinct, I still want to compete and perform, and win tournaments. If I didn't really care that much, it would be time to hang the racquet up and switch over to more of a coaching role. But I still feel I could have a major tournament in me."
We hope he does.
This article previously appeared in Squash Magazine.