A major breakthrough for Michael McCue
by Randy Pascal
A first ever appearance in the semi-finals at the Canadian Open Men's Squash Championships, followed by a first ever berth in the national
final has provided local pro Mike McCue with a wonderful send-off to the 2016-2017 campaign.
After four straight years of losing in the round of eight at the big event, the 24 year old graduate of Lockerby Composite took a giant leap
forward last week. As expected, McCue cruised through his opening round match, ousting Cameron Seth 11-8, 11-9, 11-0.
Seeded fourth entering the competition, McCue backed up his ranking with a lengthy 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 11-6 win over Graeme Schnell, advancing to
the "final four" for the first time in his career.
From there, McCue would keep it "all in the family", so to speak, sending second seed and adversarial sibling Andrew Schnell to the sidelines with
a five set upset, 9-11, 12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-7.
Despite a straight set loss to Nicholas Sachvie in the final (7-11, 5-11, 5-11), McCue enjoyed easily his most significant breakthrough in recent
years. "In terms of the improvements I have made, it's more about equipping yourself with the skill and fitness to play at that level," said McCue.
"And the way that I played on Thursday and Friday, it was certainly maximizing everything I had available to myself. It was a culmination of all of the
improvements that really came together on those couple of days."
Despite playing the Schnell brothers on back to back days, McCue maintains that he could have not asked for matches that were much more different, one
from the other. "Graeme is a complete grinder," he noted.
"He is incredibly fit, plays a conservative, attritional game, basically waits for his opponent to break down. Andrew is supper aggressive, tries to play
at as fast a pace as possible, jumps on every loose ball as quickly as he can."
"Andrew is trying to win matches in 30 minutes, whereas Graeme tries to win matches in 90 minutes." Throw in vastly different expectations just based
on their relative competitiveness, and the contrast in games is even more stark.
"Andrew has always been the better one, even though he is younger, and Greame got really good from training with Andrew every day," explained McCue.
"Based on the seedings alone, I was meant to beat Graeme and supposed to lose to Andrew."
Unlike many other sports, squash seedings tend to hold true to form far more often than not. In that sense, the quarter final win was the one McCue truly
needed. "It was a really tense match," he recalled. "The whole thing was very edgy."
"There were a lot of arguments with the ref, there wasn't a lot of flow to it. There wasn't a lot of pretty squash." Safely through to the semis, McCue
could breathe easy. Or, at the very least, easier.
"Against Andrew, I was really able to enjoy myself. Whether I was losing points, getting a few bad calls, momentum was going against me, at all moments
of the match, I was enjoying being out there and relishing the experience."
"As the match wore on, when it was really a high pressure situation, I was completely relaxed," McCue continued. "As such, the crucial shots were easier
to hit." In the end, the Sudbury product was able to knock off the younger Schnell for the first time ever.
"I've not only never beaten Andrew, I never really came close." There was, however, a price to pay, and one that would be pounced upon by Nicholas
Sachvie, a finalist at the Northern Ontario Open Squash Tournament in Sudbury just over a week earlier.
"Mentally, I felt ok, but the physical output of those two matches against the Schnells really took a toll on my legs," acknowledged McCue. "And Nick is
just so aggressive in forcing the pace. Maybe if he had allowed me to slow things down a little bit, or he made a few errors, or gave me a bit of a sense
that I had a foot in the door, the whole dynamic of the match may have been different."
"But right from the start, we were playing these brutal rallies, point after point. I could feel that extra jump missing. It wasn't a great feeling, but
he basically gave me no opportunity. He was absolutely the best player all week."
In fact, where McCue needed nine sets to work his way through rounds two and three, Sachvie breezed. Back to back sweeps over David Baillargeon
(11-1, 11-7, 11-6) and Shawn De Lierre (11-9, 11-2, 11-7) in the quarters and semis left no doubt as to which Canadian squash pro is most on top of
his game, at the moment.
"He (Sachvie) is probably playing at a top forty pace in the world right now," said McCue. "He's always had the potential, he's an insane athlete. It's
kind of nice to see him fulfilling it now."
Similarly, McCue has now followed up his first ever top 100 player in the world ranking (he currently stands at #87 globally) with a best ever performance at nationals. Though he
recognizes that life beyond squash must come at some time, he tries hard not to dwell on it.
"There is a reality in squash, because the money just isn't there, that your career doesn't last forever," he said. "But if you think about that while
you're playing, it can put such an unhealthy pressure on yourself to perform."
"There can be so much riding on the validation of your efforts, strictly based on results. If you have that end date in mind, it tends to work against
you." A summer of training lies ahead, as McCue looks now to crack the Team Canada roster that will compete at the Men's World Team Championships in France
But he does so now, armed with an even better frame of mind regarding the resume that he has accumulated, than at any other point in the previous
decade or more. "I can definitely look back and think I have achieved way more than I ever expected."