Guest post: A blow-by-blow analysis of Curatoli (ITA) v Seitz (FRA), 2014 Junior World Champs

Match Analysis – Tom Seitz v Luca Curatoli Plovdiv 2014

This is a guest article by Rob Cawdron. Rob is a Sabre coach based at Shakespeare’s Swords Fencing Club in the UK. You can reach him on Facebook. We’re continuing the theme of up-and-coming young sabre fencers with an epic analysis of one of the most exciting Junior matches of the last season.

Luca Curatoli and Tom Seitz’s Semi-final at the Junior World Championships in Plovdiv really stands out to me as one of the best matches of the championships. One of the fascinating things about age group fencing is that, unlike the seniors, the fencers aren’t as well known to spectators, coaches and the other fencers. Unlike watching a senior championships, where there is so much footage and so much known about all the competitors, when watching a junior championships there can still be an unknown factor about many of the competitors. Therefore before we get started with the match, I want to present a bit of backstory about each of the fencers, as well as looking at how they fared in their run to the last four.

Luca Curatoli

Luca Curatoli

First off, let’s look then at Luca Curatoli, and you can forget everything I just said about “unknown factor” when we talk about the Italian. He came into the world championships in 2014 very much “known”. He was the world number 1 and in the run-up to the championships he had been in utterly majestic form. Of the last four competitions, he’d won three of them (including the European championships) and come second at the other. He’s also been a regular feature on the senior circuit since 2012, and has always managed at least a top 64 finish (including a top 8 in Chicago 2012). The term “red hot favourite” is thrown about a lot these days….but make no mistake, Curatoli was Red. Hot. Favourite.

Let’s have a look at his run to the semi-finals that day then, and try to get an understanding of his fencing. He went through Kisel of Belarus in the last 32, Voronov of Ukraine in the last 16 and Mackiewicz of the USA in the top 8. Through these matches we can get a feel for how he likes to go about his business. In the middle he looks to prepare deep, getting the distance close. He loves to draw the attack out, making his opponents miss then either replying immediately or sweeping them down the piste and finishing quickly against the counter-attack or with a big confident attack around a parry. If someone tries to rush him, he’s got a great feel for counter-offence and is able to pick off any attempt to charge him down. The only time he was really pushed was against Mackiewicz in the top 8, the American was able to throw Luca off his defensive game with some really well measured attacks through the middle, effectively nullifying his ability to make miss. Curatoli adjusted, slowing down his preparation in the middle and attacking the American early as he looked to start his attack. In summary then, expect him to look to keep the distance close, defeat his opponent’s attack, then reply immediately or sweep them down.

Tom Seitz

Seitz by comparison has had a strong, but more inconsistent season leading upto the worlds. He came 3rd at Dourdan, 7th at Udine and made a top 16 finish at the Europeans. It’s a strong set of results, but didn’t have the same level of incredible consistency that Curatoli had. He’s begun to take his steps onto the senior circuit, but having only started in February 2014, was very much dipping his toe. He then fits the bill of the “unknown factor”.

I hadn’t seen him before his semi-final match up with Curatoli and so went back to watch his progress through the tableaux with real interest to see what he was all about. He came through Yildrim of Turkey in the 32, Singer of Hungary in the 16 and Affede of Italy in the quarter-finals. He fences extremely aggressively, particularly in the middle, preparing to very close distance before looking to either attack with a big deep finish around parries or attack on preparation. Its explosive, its powerful and oh so French. He defends rarely, but usually accompanies it with changing up the distance to make his opponent miss, before pushing down the piste, very close, and finishing with that strong powerful lunge again. Like Curatoli he was only really challenged once, and that was in the last 16 against Singer. The Hungarian was very good at remaining calm, triggering Seitz’s attack in the middle early, then either parrying it or landing a counter-offensive action on the wrist. Seitz found himself 3-8 down at the half-way point, but was able to slow himself down in the second half, letting Singer show his intention to attack or parry, then either attacking on preparation or letting Singer parry before attacking to the open line. We can expect then that the Frenchman will be aggressive, looking to keep it close, attacking with big confident attacks, before drawing the attack out and then closing down the space and finishing strong.

The match

Let’s move onto the match then, and see what made this one so special.Here’s the complete match, if you want to watch through it first, but we’re going to be breaking it down one hit at a time.

Right away from the first point we can see Seitz is tuned into both his game and his distance. Both of them are preparing very deep, but Curatoli shows an intention to attack long too early and Seitz is relaxed and able to punish it with a really clean attack on preparation. It’s a great sign for Seitz that he’s calm enough to make that decision so late.

The second hit feels very much the same. Deep preparations from both, but again Curatoli jumps early and shows his intention to defend too soon. Seitz is still very relaxed, sees this and punishes with an immediate deep attack. Two hits down and Seitz has already been able to use both the actions that worked so well in his run to the semis. Curatoli is look very jumpy.

Oooh, something new! Same preparations though, Luca feels the opportunity to attack against Seitz who is quite stationary. Seitz gives no indication of giving ground, so Curatoli probably anticipates something counter-offensive from Seitz and finishes short. BANG! Outta nowhere, Seitz produces a really strong parry-riposte against Luca’s short attack, works a treat. Possible early sign of a strategy from the Frenchman?

Luca changes up his start on the next hit, preparing shorter, then into his attack earlier. Seitz sticks with what’s been working with his deep preparation. Curatoli again sees Seitz not looking to move back and makes the same kind of short finish he did on the previous point. Seitz once again though pulls out a fantastic parry from standing against the short attack, if anything more emphatic than the last. This feels like a definite strategy now from Seitz. Trigger Luca’s short finish against the counter-attack by being brave with the distance, then punish it with strong front foot parries.

More of the same from Seitz, strong deep preparation, Curatoli swaps back to his close distance preparation and does a much better job this time of showing his intention late, he’s able to make Seitz miss and finally has an attack of his own to take up. He’s clearly thinking about the parry when he takes up his attack though, and launches a big finish unnecessarily early which is a piece of cake for Seitz to make miss. He gathers his composure quickly though and calmly holds a close distance on defence, hinting at a desire to make Seitz miss. Tom bites and goes for the big attack and Curatoli is able to stand his ground and counter-attack into Seitz’s action. Much better from the world number 1, but still showing signs of edginess

Now Luca’s starting to work the timing in the middle. He again prepares deep, with a slightly slower prep than he’s used previously, it works perfectly. Seitz goes for the attack early and Curatoli is able to make it miss and reply immediately. This was very similar to how the previous point started, but Luca is able to reply immediately, possibly emboldened by successfully making Seitz miss the previous point.

Its like a game of who blinks first now in the middle. Both make deep preparations, inviting the mistake from the other. Curatoli feels the attack coming again and makes to take a parry, but Tom, not wanting to make the same mistake three times in a row, commits to a really full-blooded finish and goes around Curatoli’s parry easily. Luca was quite flat-footed here, possibly expecting the same short finish he got on the last two points.

We see the first change now from Seitz, looking to take advantage of that previous point and swing momentum back his way. He prepares much shorter than he has done up til now. Curatoli does the same, but is looking to take the attack, it proves a mistake, Luca has grown used to that really close distance Tom has been holding so far and suddenly finds himself with an ocean of space to charge into. The space proves disorientating and Curatoli rushes through the middle, Seitz’s attempted counter-attack misses, but Curatoli obligingly falls into a short finish and Tom can take a really strong parry. Arguably a lucky break here for Tom, but he earned that luck with a clever change in the middle that left Luca floundering.

An example of Curatoli’s sharpness and decision making wins this next point. Both of them prepare deep, and then immediately break. Possibly both of them are aware that defence in the middle is proving more successful than attack. However Luca is much quicker on the change of direction and is able to take the second attack up immediately against Seitz who looks stuck in the mud by comparison. A timely reminder that any sloppiness will be punished.

Two deep preparations and once again Curatoli is able to trigger the attempted attack on preparation from Seitz and makes it miss. As before though, Luca is far from composed on his long attack and throws the big finish far too soon, Tom once again makes it miss and takes up his attack. This time he doesn’t hang around as much on his long-attack and at the first indication of Curatoli opening the distance, Tom sweeps in with a strong accelerating finish. Curatoli, perhaps not expecting Seitz to take the attack on so early, is forced into a desperation counter-attack which lands nicely on Tom’s guard and is then eaten by the Frenchman’s strong attack. Really positive from Seitz, calling Luca’s bluff on his fake attempt to open the distance.

That successful attack proves extra valuable in the next point. Deep preparations, but Luca jumps early, possibly wanting to cancel out Seitz’s attack and he plays right into Tom’s front-foot parry game. A short finish and the Frenchman just stands his ground and takes a huge parry to take us emphatically to the break.

The story of the first half then, has been all about decision making. Seitz was able to race into an early lead playing off Curatoli’s initial jumpiness. Curatoli was able to settle back down and start to get parity, but the real difference has been the aggressive front foot parrying of Seitz which has completely neutralised Luca’s short sharp finishes up close.

First point of the second half and…..You gotta be kidding. Both prepare deep and break immediately. Luca seizes the chance to take up the second attack like he did in the first half. But once again Seitz, cool as you like, just stands his ground and takes a massive Seconde parry/riposte, you know, as you do. He’s pumped up and rightly so, great bit of clear thinking from the Frenchman.

Curatoli gets his act together quickly, preparing deep, draws the attack on prep as he’s done previously in this bout, making it miss and then starting his long-attack. Its another brilliant change from Seitz though, Luca is so worried about the parry that he winds up to go round it as soon as the distance starts to close, Tom capitalises on the wind up and dives in with a counter-attack, he gets a massive guard to the face for his trouble, but it’s a great change up from Seitz. He’s one step ahead on everything at the moment and its showing on the scoreboard.

After the break we see a hit completely out of character for this match. Both prepare quite deep, but there’s a bit of caution (maybe both wary of guards to the face?), Tom jumps on the attack and he’s off on the charge. Curatoli flies back towards his back-line, possibly the first time we’ve seen this all championships. Tom gets over-excited though, he doesn’t recognise Luca regaining his balance and gets caught not ready to finish. Bit of a weird hit in the context of the match that one.

Ahhh that’s much more like it. As you were with the preparations, Luca looking to defend against Tom’s attack, but the Frenchman throws out a giant finish and hits with relative ease. Much like the big attack he landed in the first half after missing a couple of times. He’s got some power, this boy.

Signs of a change from Curatoli. He doesn’t prepare as deep and with the extra space, is able to parry Tom’s attack much easier and can now start his own attack. There’s a marked difference in the attack too, he gets up close and stays there, much calmer, holding back his finish, being more patient. Seitz eventually buckles under the pressure and goes for the parry, Luca is able to finish strong around the parry this time rather than guessing when it will come. Much, much better from the Italian.

Seitz takes a bit of time before this point, and it works beautifully, settling him right down. Luca prepares deep again but shows his intention to go backwards too early, Tom makes a really strong, calm attack this time, and finishing just as Luca tries to regain his balance.

Important change here from Curatoli, he swaps back to the short preparation and remains calm. Tom has now got a feel for those big attacks and jumps, attempting to sweep through again, but Curatoli launches straight into Seitz as he looks to build up. It’s a classic, give Seitz all the space in the world and let him mess up.

Bit weird this next one, both attempt to prepare at a wide distance and it essentially throws both of their rhythm off a bit. Seitz triggers too early though, jumping out then back in very quick. Luca is able to keep his composure and doesn’t stop his attack or lose his rhythm completely. Right idea from Tom, just goes for it too early. Maybe betraying a bit of eagerness to get the fight finished.

Wide distance preparation again from Luca but he’s upping the speed of it now, forcing Seitz to go. Seitz feels Luca winding up and goes for the attack on prep, but it falls into the trap and Curatoli makes a very calm and very late parry-riposte.

Same again from Luca and Seitz is furious with himself. The Italian sets it up with a simultaneous action on the previous point where he prepares to close distance, but once again its that fast, short preparation that forces Seitz to attack. Another parry-riposte for Curatoli and he’s suddenly in this.

Curatoli has really upped the tempo in the match now, he starts exactly the same as the last few points, Tom tries to adjust the distance to wider, but he’s being rushed now and jumps onto defence very early. Curatoli sweeps down the piste, gets close and once again lets Seitz show him the parry before finishing strong. This increase in speed has left Seitz reeling.

Big point this, and possibly symbolic of how the tables are turning. Curatoli is flying, he’s raised the tempo here to something that Seitz is just not comfortable with, so Tom returns to what’s been working so well for him – deep preparation then parry. However Curatoli is now making strong committed finishes and even though Seitz picks the right line to parry, Luca just powers through. One light. Seitz is in trouble now.

Seitz is now looking for the attack, and he sees the fast small preparation from Curatoli and starts to go for the big finish. But Luca is on it now and launches into Seitz’s big action. We’re level at 12-12.

Seitz tries to slow down his preparation here and give himself some more time, but Curatoli is in the mood now and not willing to give him the luxury, he feels the hesitation and jumps on it. Curatoli leads for the first time.

Total brain-fade! Having worked so hard to get back into the match, then take the lead, Curatoli completely switches off from what’s been working for him. Both break after the initial preparation and Curatoli jumps on the attack, but goes for the short finish and Seitz punishes him with the front foot parry he’s been doing all match. This is a gift of a hit and a reminder that if you’ve got a game-plan that’s working, don’t change!

And this is exactly what a world number 1 does. He gets straight back to what’s been working and immediately makes amends. Sharp, high tempo preparation and by now he’s so far ahead of Seitz that the Frenchman doesn’t even get a light on. 14-13 and the remarkable comeback is nearly complete, Seitz looks completely deflated.

This last hit is a bit messy, but the reasons for it are still rooted in the reasons why Curatoli has found his way back in to this match. Again its that short but very high speed preparation that gets Seitz to react early, he jumps out and flies back in, his distance is all messed up, he’s off-balance and as a result his counter-attack lands flush on Curatoli’s guard as the Italian comes storming through. Perhaps ironically, Curatoli finally lands an attack with that short finish of his.

At 6-12 down, the world number 1 was in serious trouble. Seitz came into the match with a really strong game-plan and those front-foot parries completely dominated the first half of this match. To get back into the match from that point needed something very special from the Italian. Changing the distance in the middle was part of the answer, but from that far down upping the tempo was also needed. Curatoli showed some real champion quality during his comeback. Seitz was having to deal with not just a different feel of distance in the middle, but also being rushed into making decisions. He completely lost his feel in the middle and by the end of the match looked lost. What makes this such a special match to me is that ability from Curatoli to change the whole complexion of the match. It wasn’t so much about the actions themselves, it was his ability to change so many of the variables and take complete control of the match.

I hope you enjoyed reading and any comments are more than welcome!

Rob Cawdron.