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Squash: interview with Scotland's Australian coach Roger Flynn

Squash has one of the most action-packed schedules at this summer's Commonwealth Games because of the variety of tournaments on the go.

There is the men's and women's singles tournaments, and three categories of doubles contests - men's, women's and mixed.

When the Games begin, there's an extra special reason this year why the doubles could be one of the most riveting events of the entire event - and a lot of that is down to Scotland's Australian coach Roger Flynn.

And a change to the playing surface in the doubles tournament promises to open up the game like never before.

The tin - the bottom section of the squash court wall marked with a line, below which the ball cannot be struck has changed. In singles contests, the tin is 17 inches high for women and 19 for men, but in all categories of doubles this has been lowered to 13.

Flynn says the innovation he brought to the governing body of world squash was more a matter of common sense.

"The men's game recognised a long time ago that the men were much more powerful, very fast, and able to cover the court so much better, and so matches were going on endlessly because no one could really hit a winner," he said.

"So they lowered the tin in order to make it more difficult. That has the effect of allowing the ball to drop a little shorter, to make fewer errors and therefore really change the game to make it more attacking."

Making the same change to doubles tournaments promises a similar effect.

"It would be a little bit like lowering the net in tennis by six inches or 12 inches - suddenly you're able to hit a lot more attacking shots without the risk of making errors."

More attacking and fewer stoppages of play due to mistakes? That sounds like exciting viewing to me.

Flynn used the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 as an opportunity to meet with top figures in the World Squash Federation, the Asian Squash Federation and one of the world's elite players to try to make his idea for improving the game happen.

"When I suggested a radical change to a six-inch high tin, James Willstrop, the World No.2, just turned round and looked at me with a smile on his face," Flynn said.

"He's renowned as one of the most gifted shot-makers in the game, but he could already see what I was aiming at - and that was that the skills of the game would suddenly manifest again."

Two years later, Flynn produced a report for the World Squash Federation following extensive trials of various tin heights in Birmingham, and a decision to lower the tin to 13 inches for all doubles formats was made.

He said: "I have issues with that because I think the men's game needs to go lower still but the 13-inch tin does bring a completely different level of entertainment to the game of doubles than it did before. "The mixed is still probably the most exciting version of it, because of the different strengths and weaknesses the male and female players have."

Flynn says the highly tactical nature of doubles requires a great deal of testing to find the winning combinations, not unlike Olympic rowing.

"Which combination of four rowers makes the boat go faster, and which order are they in? Is it the person at the front, is it that same person in second, third, fourth position - does that make them go faster or not?

"Despite leaving it open to the players to choose who they wanted to play with early in the process of preparing for the Games, eventually the players asked me to do it. They're all very good friends, they're all great rivals in their own right- but they had difficult picking on over another and knowing whether that would be good or not."

And just what does make for that perfect combination?

"The key then is a mixture of attacking and pressure, so players that are good at generating pressure with their driving game, with their variation in deception, are generally speaking around the back of the court. Then you mix that with a player who can take the ball into the front of the court consistently and very well. You also need a mixture of maturity, so generally speaking someone with a little bit more capacity to lead on the court and inspire their partner to follow."

Flynn has now made his decisions, and barring injury Team Scotland's doubles pairings are now set.

Scottish No. 1 Alan Clyne partners Harry Leitch in the first men's pairing.

"Harry Leitch is one of the top researchers in embryonic stem cell research in the world, so he's our elder statesman and Alan's a younger up-and-comer if, you like," Flynn said.

"Harry is the pressure man and Alan is the fast shot-maker."

Next up are Stuart Crawford, also Flynn's assistant coach, and Greg Lobban.

"In Stuart's case he's coming close to retirement, but he's coupled with one of our youngest players who's also the No.2 in Scotland," said Flynn.

Franya Gillen-Buchert partners Alexandra Clark in the only women's doubles pairing. Gillen-Buchert teams up with Clyne for the mixed tournament, while Clark plays with Kevin Moran in the second pairing.

Flynn believes the much more level playing field in doubles provides Scotland's best medal prospects, citing Clyne and Leitch's fourth place in Delhi as an example of what can be achieved.

At the time Clyne was ranked in the 50s in the world, while Leitch didn't even have a world ranking, but the duo overcame opposition ranked 7th and 9th in the world in the quarter final.

"That's where we hope to do well, but I should mention Stuart and Greg beat Harry and Alan in British Championships recently," Flynn said.

"So for us, that suggests that both teams are pushing towards to a level we would hope could potentially lead us to a medal."

Meanwhile, the Scotland coach is tipping Clyne and Gillen-Buchert as dark horses in the mixed doubles thanks to their recent success against doubles teams made up of players in the top 10 singles rankings.

But who will Scotland need to beat if they are to win medals on home soil?

Flynn identifies Australia, Malaysia, India and New Zealand as some of Scotland's strongest rivals - along with England, who can count on the current men's and women's World Champions to boost their hopes.

Still, Flynn is convinced his team cannot afford to treat any matches as easy contests.

"The threats are universal - the game is so level in its possibilities that you could have someone come out of nowhere and just get it right on the day in doubles, and that could leave us wondering what happened," he said.

"They're all a danger - you can't afford to take any of them for granted in doubles. It'll be a very exciting event."

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