Thursday 20 December 2007

Happy Christmas from squashblog!

Squashblog will return in January.

Look out for postings in the new year as the site moves into its second year of existence.

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Monday 17 December 2007

PSA tour videos take promos to new level

Pro-Active TVI wrote previously about Pro-Active TV's videos for the PSA tour.

There are now more examples now posted on YouTube, with the quality of editing and use of sound demonstrating long-overdue progress in the filming of squash promo material ...

Some of the best can be seen below:

PSA Tour 2007 title sequence - nice use of what sounds like early-90s Italian piano house (anyone know what the music is?)

Palmer and Shabana talk about being double World Champions before during the recent World Open in Bermuda.

Lee Beachill demonstrates the forehand cross-court nick

Linda Davie and Peter Lawrence explain the 3 ref system of officiating at the Canary Wharf Classic.

How about commissioning Pro-Active to produce the next Olympic pitch?

Pro-Active TV

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Friday 14 December 2007

Anthony Ricketts retires

Anthony RickettsThe Australian professional Anthony Ricketts has retired from the PSA tour.

The 29 year-old from Sydney has had a number of injuries in the past few years, and has decided that the damage to his right knee is such that he cannot regain the fitness required to compete at the top level.

I first saw Ricketts in 2004, after a period of injury that had seen him fall down the rankings. I had a typically English response to the brash Aussie's uncompromising behaviour on court ...

That is, I thought he should cut out the posturing and concentrate on the game (naturally, his English opponent was losing at the time :))

After that I was lucky enough to then see Ricketts in more events in Britain, and broadly agree with the sentiments expressed by others in the squash community when summing up his career and qualities as a player: he was a committed professional, a tough competitor who gave his all and was magnanimous in victory and generous in defeat.

However, to the spectator who wasn't used to his demeanour, he could be difficult to read and for this reason I didn't find him particularly endearing the first couple of times I saw him.

I was soon able to appreciate the often incredulous (sometimes hilariously faux histrionic) challenging of the officials for what it was: rather than seeking to rile the officals or gain any kind of unfair advantage over his opponent, Ricketts was obviously a proud, professional sportsman who simply wanted to be treated as such.

"This is a big moment for me, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time"

Ricketts wins the 2005 British OpenWhen an athlete has to retire through injury, they approach a new phase of their life knowing that they will almost never be able to return to professional competition.

Few would have begrudged Ricketts his British Open win in 2005 (pictured) and another major win the same year in the Tournament of Champions in New York - the big titles his talent deserved had come at last.

The Super Series of 2006, when Ricketts played Lee Beachill in the final, made me revisit my ambivalence about the way Ricketts behaved on court, when the Australian asked for the ball to be changed when clearly in trouble against the Englishman.

This upset Beachill, who subsequently lost, and I left fuming that Lee had been robbed by the actions of Ricketts, whom I felt may have acted within the rules of the game, but not necessarily in its spirit.

In hindsight I revised my opinion of that evening, with the officials
ultimately culpable as they didn't appear to have a grasp of the Super Series rules. The right of both players - and the paying spectators - to have a game properly officiated outweighed any individual grievances generated in the heat of the moment, and it showed Ricketts as a passionate advocate of a more professional tour (an opinion also voiced by fellow Australian David Palmer throughout his career).

Whoever was responsible on that particular evening, it wasn't a good advert for squash.

Deserved success

Ricketts probably would have won a lot more singles titles if injury had not plagued his years at the top.

He also had an illustrious doubles career, partnering Stewart Boswell for the most part when representing his country (see the doubles wins below. I also wondered why he never paired up with Palmer ...).

In recent years, I haven't been able to open a squash magazine without seeing Ricketts splashed across the page as the face of his sponsors Wilson, appearing in promotional material for their ranges of rackets. It appears that they had a successful relationship, and comments from Wilson suggest that the relationship may continue.

Australia could have done with Ricketts in the (just ended) World Team Championships. Aussies seem to relish team events and Ricketts must be just the sort of guy you would like to have around a squad.

The phrase "hard but fair" is often misapplied, but Ricketts - who was always first to offer his hand to an opponent, win or lose - seemed like a decent bloke who cared that things should be done properly.

His retirement means that the PSA has lost one of its strongest adverts for the increased professionalism that the sport aspires to.

Australia win the 2003 men's World Team championshipsAnthony Ricketts - career highlights

2000 Australian Open (winner)
2002 Commonwealth Games - silver medal, men's doubles
2003 Australia - World Team Squash Champions
2005 British Open(winner)
2005 Tournament of Champions(winner)
2006 Commonwealth Games - silver medal, men's doubles
2006 Australian Open(winner)
2006 Super Series Finals(winner)
2006 World Doubles(winner)

PSA tour titles - 9
Highest world ranking - 3

More coverage and tributes

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Thursday 13 December 2007

Beeb prescribes squash tonic for stricken football fans

The BBC sport websitePoor old footy fans stuck for something to do next summer have been given a sensible suggestion by Auntie Beeb.

After all home nations were knocked out of Euro 2008, the BBC has sought to lift sports fans' spirits by offering 10 alternative ideas for what to do over the summer.

And coming in at number 7 is (of course!) the men's and women's World Opens, to be held in Manchester in October ...

The full prescription reads:

7. Watch other sports. Who needs Euro 2008 when there's Lewis Hamilton storming through his second Formula One season, a Rugby League World Cup and an England Test series against New Zealand? The Olympics in Beijing will be just round the corner, starting with football on 6 August, and the squash world championships in Manchester in October will showcase top British talent such as Nick Matthew and Tania Bailey.

And plenty more British (and world) talent will be on show besides.

As many of the England football team's players are based in the north-west, what better way to round off a long, boring summer than to get themselves down to Sportcity?

10 things to do during Euro 2008

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Wednesday 12 December 2007

England regain World Team title

The victorious English team - Beachill/Matthew/Willstrop/BarkerEngland today regained the men's World Team title they had won in 2005 with a 2-1 victory over Australia in Chennai.

Nick Matthew lost the opening five-game match against David Palmer 3-2, which was followed by a 3-0 win by James Willstrop over Stewart Boswell.

A tense decider followed as England debutant in the World Teams, Peter Barker, played off against Cameron Pilley in the third rubber ...

Barker was the fourth string in the England camp, but was playing in the final due to Lee Beachill's withdrawal through illness.

In a tournament that had brought a number of upsets, Barker proved true to form and justified his higher world ranking (13) to defeat his Australian opponent (23) in straight games.

The 24 year-old from Essex has stealthily crept up the rankings to earn his inclusion in the England team (probably at the expense of Adrian Grant).

I had been looking forward to Jonathon Power's return to the world stage, but his anticipated appearance against Australia was curtailed due to back pain. Similarly, I was expecting Ramy Ashour to be part of the Egyptian team, but he also clearly had not recovered from his recent injury.

These disappointments don't seem to have dented the success of the tournament, with the progress of the Indian team on home soil and the drama of the final day ensuring that team squash had another positive platform on the world stage.

Right: Peter Barker talks about the greatest moment of his career to date.

Men's World Team Championship 2007

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Friday 7 December 2007

"No one was hurt in the making of this film"

Ouch !Er ... well, I can't be sure for certain.

But as the clip looks like it was taken from the abc channel in the US, it therefore appears to have been broadcast, so it is unlikely to have resulted in injury.

I'm sure it's not as bad as it looks ...

Click either here or on the photo to see the film (opens in new window).

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Thursday 6 December 2007

Power in India for World Teams

Power is back to compete for his countryThe Men's World Team Squash Championships 2007 - currently approaching the knockout stages in Chennai, India - are an incongruous affair for the squash fan.

The strength of competition at the top of the men’s game means that the eventual winners cannot safely be predicted. However, we almost certainly can say which four countries will provide the semi-finalists: England, Egypt, Australia and France.

Certain, that is, unless a member of the Canadian team who - rumour has it - can play a bit, has a say in proceedings ...

I wasn't aware that Jonathan Power was still available to be selected for his country after his retirement - I had read that he had participated in the Canadian Nationals, but thought we had seen the last of him in overseas events.

The dominance of the nations mentioned above means that his form will only really be assessed when he meets a top ten player - probably in the quarter finals.

I last saw Power compete in the Super Series of 2005, where he took Lincou apart 3-0 in one of the most emphatic games of squash I've ever seen. The Frenchman will be glad to see that Power is in the other half of the draw this time.

Whether Power can motivate his team to upset the seedings will depend on him beating (probably) David Palmer in the last eight. The Australian has been in great form, and there will be massive pressure on him to avoid losing to a player who has come out of retirement (even if his opponent is one of the greatest players of all time).

Focussing on an individual in a large team competition appears rather blinkered, but the reality of this event is that it only really gets interesting when the big boys square up from the quarter finals onwards.

That doesn't mean that the early rounds haven't yielded upsets: the Netherlands and India have already progressed further than predicted, with home advantage for the Indians paying off with a fantastic win over Wales.

Given the squash heritage of their neighbours and rivals Pakistan (who themselves are relatively weak compared to previous generations), it would be fantastic for the sport if India could go further and raise the popularity of the sport in the country.

England take the title in 2005Reigning title-holders England cannot call on Peter Nicol any more, and their challenge may depend on the strength of the player called upon to take the third rubber in later rounds.

The Egyptian favourites - in Shabana, Ashour and Darwish - now possess the strength in depth that means whoever they come up against (either Canada or Australia in the last eight) will have a daunting task deciding who plays who.

Hands up who'd refuse a ticket for Ashour v Power?

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Wednesday 5 December 2007

England Squash launch Facebook group

The England Squas group on FacebookEngland Squash's new marketing department have launched a new group for squash players and fans on the social networking website Facebook.

Billed as a "great way for members, clubs, fans, and anyone who is keen to get involved with squash, to communicate directly with England Squash", the group will also feature news from England's top professionals, "including James Willstrop, Nick Matthew, Tania Bailey, and Vicky Botwright".

Members will be able to "discuss the latest news and views through the interactive 'Wall'", as well as keeping in touch with the organisation more effectively.

This is a promising initiative from the new marketing set-up at the organisation, showing evidence of a new strategy that looks to embrace the possibilities that new technology provides.

It is also a great way of targeting younger squash players and fans.

With 215 members at the time of writing, it appears to already be having some success.

Facebook (requires member log-in - then search for England Squash)
England Squash

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Tuesday 4 December 2007

Order now in time for Christmas!

Quick - they might sell out!The ideal stocking filler for the discerning squash player, The 2007-2012 Outlook for Squash Balls in Greater China is available now.

Using econometric models which project fundamental economic dynamics within each region and city of influence, latent demand estimates are created for squash balls ...

The study "covers the latent demand outlook for squash balls across the regions of Greater China, including provinces, autonomous regions (Guangxi, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Xizang - Tibet), municipalities (Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau), and Taiwan".

Don't even think of stepping on court without reading it.

Buy it from Amazon

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Scottish squash to benefit as Glasgow gets nod

Artist's impression of squash at the 2014 Commonwealth GamesThe announcement that Glasgow is to hold the 2014 Commonwealth Games means that Scottish squash should receive a much needed boost.

The existing Scotstoun Stadium and Sports Centre will host the men's and women's squash, with investment ploughed into the venue to ensure it meets an acceptable standard.

The Games website claims that:

"The existing tennis courts will be transformed into the table tennis arena and new squash courts will be built. This venue is already famous for the atmosphere it generates during competitions, with our planned upgrades, this will only get better."

Squash in Scotland has suffered in recent years due to the retirement of players like Martin Heath, Pam Nimmo and Peter Nicol (following his move to England).

Scanning the junior events in the news, it also appears that players are not coming through at the same rate as in previous years at junior level. At the European U19 Championships in May, Scotland did not enter any players in the individual events.

Scottish Squash do however have their own National Junior Excellence Programme. It will be interesting to see if the prospect of playing in their own country in the Commonwealth Games inspires those who receive funding to emulate the successes of the aforementioned pros.

Photo courtesy of Designhive/Glasgow 2014.

2014 Commonwealth Games

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Monday 3 December 2007

Third title for Shabana

Shabana and Gaultier in the World Open final"I don't think I've ever played better".

Amr Shabana has made it three World Open titles in the past five years, beating Frenchman Greg Gaultier in only 42 minutes in the final in Bermuda.

Frustratingly for the loser from Epinal, it was the third time that Gaultier had been on the wrong end of a result from Shabana in major finals this season.

The 28 year-old from Cairo must now surely receive the plaudits that he deserves, joining the élite handful that have won the World title more than once.

Given that the Egyptian plays a dynamic game that makes him a bigger draw for spectators than some other top-ranked players, it is strange that his profile seems - for a triple World champion - relatively low ...

The frenzy surrounding the explosion on to the scene of Ramy Ashour seems to have allowed Shabana to quietly rack up the months as the best player in the world, with his compatriot and the rest of the top ten scrapping it out for the runner-up position in most of the big tournaments.

Shabana secured his third World title with a relatively easy win over the Frenchman, who perhaps succumbed to the frustration he is prone to. The champion was also quick to praise the organisation of the Bermuda event, claiming that it "should be a model of how every squash tournament should be".

I've also watched PSA videos of Shabana talking about the game, it is evident that he is an eloquent guy who has a strong sense of how a professional circuit should be ran.

Amr ShabanaMaybe this is why his profile has bubbled under the radar: the maturity that has led to a greater consistency has meant that a great player has emerged, but this in turn has driven away the more visible (in media terms) but less successful (in squash terms) "personality" that once walked on to court.

It now appears that people were too quick to stereotype him in the earlier part of this career as an undisciplined player who was too inconsistent to reach the very top. Things certainly looked this way when I saw him a lose a few years ago to David Palmer in the British Open in Nottingham.

However, his considered, sensible opinions on the game and his fellow professionals certainly don't reveal any weakness of mind, and three World titles hardly scream inconsistency.

It's just a shame we don't get the chance to see more of him in England.

He's overdue the coverage he deserves.

World Open 2007.

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Tuesday 27 November 2007

2.1 billion (!) won't see Ramy in Bermuda

Bermuda last hosted a PSA tournment in 2005 - the Bermuda MastersGiven the punishing toll squash takes on the body, its inevitable that players will withdraw from tournaments at relatively short notice.

Reading the news that Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish, Borja Golan and Stacey Ross had all had to pull out of the Endurance World Open Bermuda 2007 just before it was about to kick off must have been a real blow for the promoters and the spectators alike.

It now means that Egyptian prodigy Ashour has missed the two most prestigious events of the year - the British Open and now the Worlds ...

Secure in the world number 2 berth after some big tournment wins this year, the Prince of Egypt/The Special One (any more? Has any squash player acquired more nicknames more quickly?) would have been a sure bet for the final until a leg injury ruled him out.

Here's hoping he recovers quickly and will soon appear on British shores (maybe at Canary Wharf?). In his absence, Greg Gaultier and two-time champion David Palmer look best set to challenge Shabana for his crown.

Player involvement aside, the organisers are clearly confident that this World Open will be covered more extensively than any other:

"The event will draw extensive media coverage, including presence from Reuters, CNN, BBC World, NBC News, Fox Australia, and Orbit ESPN, and TV coverage is expected to reach up to 2.1 billion spectators worldwide."

2.1 billion?! How is this figure calculated? Shame they won't get to see the world's second best player.

Endurance World Open Bermuda 2007

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Monday 26 November 2007

Wot no BBC coverage?

The BBC website has not updated its squash page since late October 2007Visitors to squashblog may have noticed the lack of movement in the BBC RSS feed at the top of the page.

The date in the screengrab to the left appears to say it all - have the BBC abandoned coverage of squash on their website?

Squashblogger isn't best pleased either. The inclusion of the RSS feed at the top of the page rounded squashblog's design off nicely, and the feed is a lot more customisable than the one provided by the WSF.

The BBC site says that it was last updated on the 23rd October 2007. Does the lack of coverage of both World Opens mean that the BBC has decided not to cover the sport any more?

It is possible that the recently announced cutbacks at the Beeb may be to blame.

The inclusion of third party content at the bottom of the page, together with the disclaimer "The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites" does not augur well ...

Squash page at BBC Sport

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Saturday 24 November 2007

Water at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

The squash scene in Water, at the Lyric Theatre, HammersmithGoing to see a play just because it contains a scene involving a squash match admittedly seems a little odd.

A review in the Guardian had caught my eye, and with front-row seats at £13 it would have been rude not to (though I did have suspicions - in a play called Water - why the 'expensive' seats were so cheap ...)

Water at the Lyric Theate, Hammersmith, was unusual in its inventive use of audio-visual effects, most of which were either created or choreographed on stage ...

The play's theme was global warming - specifically the dangers posed by rising sea levels. It centred on a British marine biologist seduced by the greater (and it was hinted - unethical) funding and personal benefits of a north American university and the way he wrestled with his conscience in accepting them.

The biologist's relationship with his son and a sub-plot involving a civil servant working on climate change policy and her relationship with a 'free diver' explored the same themes, and though it often felt that the message was being rammed home, it narrowly avoided being over-earnest through the distraction of the innovative stage effects.

The interweaving of plots meant that we were frequently whisked from the present day back to the 1970s, when the biologist first brought the potential problems of climate change to the attention of a conference audience in Vancouver.

It was one of these flashback scenes that brought the squash court to the stage. Some of the courting (sic) of the biologist by a senior faculty member of the university was done on the squash court, and we see the two men verbally joust over their respective principles (the faculty is being sponsored by a large company not sympathetic to the Brit's environmental views).

We see this in silhouette from behind (see the picture above), with the popping sound effects of the ball being provided by one of the on-stage sound guys.

The use of a squash game as a metaphor for conflict is not exactly new (most recently it was reprised by Ian McKewan in his novel Saturday, and who can forget Michael Douglas getting one over Charlie Sheen in Wall Street?). What struck me was how - watching the two academics try to gain an advantage over one another in their tight shorts and headbands - the game itself was being used to represent the 1970s and (given that the play shifted back and forth in time) "yesteryear" in general.

The execution of the "game" on stage was therefore far more impressive than the recycled metaphor it represented. The other sport represented in the production was free diving, which as a modern sport was depicted as far more cutting edge, though to explain how it may also have been used metaphorically in other ways would be to spoil the ending ...

Squash on stage - you don't see it too often.

Water is showing at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, until 24th November
Read the Guardian review

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Friday 16 November 2007

internationalSPORTgroup unveils VIP membership

iSPORTvip Squash MembershipSquash promoter internationalSPORTgroup have unveiled a new marketing initiative, designed to retain and increase numbers attending their events.

The iSPORTvip Squash Membership is billed as "an exciting new opportunity for players, spectators and enthusiasts to receive a comprehensive range of exclusive benefits" ...

Membership will bring a host of benefits, including (depending on level of membership):

- Free tickets to the final of the 2008 British Open in Liverpool
- Priority booking, exclusive tickets discounts and access to VIP members' lounge at iSPORTevents
- Exclusive gifts and offers from sponsors and partners, including a free pair of Hi-Tec squash shoes, worth £60.00 (if you join by the end of the year)
- Exclusive discounts of all iSPORTmerchandise
- Free internation squash magazine subscription
- Free monthly electronic magazine and e-newsletter
- Free internation squash annual subscription
- Joining pack and personalised membership card

Exclusive membership is £50, and Platinum membership £250. Both represent excellent value for money for the committed squash fan, with the Exclusive membership priced competitively enough to tempt newcomers.

This is a brave new step by the iSPORTgroup (who recently put on the English Grand Prix, a slickly-ran affair that was hampered by suspect officiating), and given that squash is crying out for innovative marketing is exactly the kind of initiative it needs.

iSPORTvip Squash Membership

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Friday 9 November 2007

Botwright defeats new World Champion

Vicky BotwrightEngland's Vicky Botwright scored one of the best wins of her career yesterday, defeating the newly-crowned World Champion Rachael Grinham in the quarter final of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open 2007.

The 30 year-old from Manchester defeated her Australian oppontent 3-1 in just under an hour.

It was only Botwright's second win over the elder of the Grinham sisters ...

The world number 7's career has been consistent over the past three years, with Botwright cementing her position inside the world top 10 (highest position 5).

Though rarely troubling the top three of four in major competitions, Botwright has raised her game over the past 18 months, taking the title in Texas and reaching the finals of the Apawamis and Wolverhampton Opens.

She now meets Nicol David in the semis.

Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open 2007

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Wednesday 7 November 2007

Shabana attacks WSF over Olympic dithering

Amr ShabanaAmr Shabana has attacked the World Squash Federation for being slow in organising its campaign for squash's inclusion in the Olympic games.

He also criticised the organisation's marketing in general, noting the movement of the sport's epicentre towards the Middle East and the subsequent neglect of former squash powerbases such as Europe ...

In an interview with the Gulf Times, the Egyptian world number one pulled no punches as he bemoaned the face that he is unable to appear on the biggest stage.

Squash just missed out on inclusion for London 2012, and now hopes rest on it being included in the 2016 games. Shabana himeself has been reconciled to accepting that he will never appear in an Olympic event:

"There was a time when I was very eager to compete at the Olympics. But now since those hopes have been dashed I don’t worry about it any more."

He also sees the recent big-money tournaments in the Middle East as the benchmark for other countries to follow:

"The healthy competition in increasing the prize money between organisers of tournaments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait is of great help to the hardworking players."

It wasn't mentioned in the article whether Shabana spoke for the other PSA players, but it would be interesting to hear whether the PSA players' reps think that Amr's criticism is valid.

Shabana slams world body - Gulf Times

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Monday 5 November 2007

Innovative marketing on YouTube makes a racket

A Usual Day with TecnifibreThere's a couple of great new marketing initiatives from the PSA and a couple of racket manufacturers up on YouTube.

The videos from Tecnifibre and PSA/Dunlop involve a number of PSA pros and are a step forward in the promotion of the sport.

A Usual Day with Tecnifibre features stablemates Thierry Lincou and Wael El Hindi "acting out" a supposed day in their training regimes.

The main section where they play in the urban surroundings hints at a "street" element to squash. I found this particularly interesting, as it suggests a new direction in moving the game's image away from the stuffy associations that many think it still retains.

The film makers could have skipped the first couple of minutes or so where the players are hanging around the conventional court as the dodgy scripting cheapens the concept somewhat. But well done to Lincou and El Hindi for experimenting like this for the good of the game.

The PSA film Racket Evolution , which seems to have been put together in partnership with Dunlop, has Frenchman Greg Gaultier and world number one Amr Shabana from Egypt talking about the evolution of squash rackets from the wooden models of yesteryear to today's carbon fibre composite models.

The concept is not as innovative as the Tecnifibre film, but production standards are much higher.

Both players talk eloquently about the equipment they use - Gaultier recalls a particularly amusing exhibition that he agreed to play "retro" - and the technical jargon usually associated with racket technology is pulled apart by Toby Marcham from Dunlop.

The film has been slickly produced by Pro Active Television.

So, a bold concept on one hand and slick production on the other - the next step is to marry the two and make sure more people see the end product ...

A Usual Day with Tecnifibre
Racket Evolution

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Friday 2 November 2007

Don't try this at home!

Meet Alakazam - aka "The Human Knot".

What he does with a squash racket should under no circumstances be attempted in a bid to impress your mates.

He appears to command quite a crowd - I think the footage is either the US or Canada but Alakazam seems to have a British or Australian accent ...

He would make for an amusing pre-match diversion when a pro tournament was in town.

I wonder how much he charges?

The Human Knot

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Thursday 1 November 2007

World Squash Day 2007

Saturday November 3rd marks the fifth annual World Squash Day.

Chief Executive of the World Squash Federation Christian Leighton wants every national association to ask squash clubs to support the day by holding events of their choosing.

But while the day is a great marketing initiative and a useful tool for the next Olympics pitch, a glance at the World Squash Day website with only two days to go reveals no entries at all in the "2007 events list" ...

The England Squash website has no mention of World Squash Day.

The event was founded in memory of Scottish junior international Derek Sword, who died during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in 2001.

The WSF website lists events that have taken place on previous World Squash Days, including a world rally record, with groups of four playing a non-stop "feed" for an hour, former World Champion Carol Owens taking on some of the All Blacks rugby team, and a group of squash enthusiasts running up a mountain in St. Lucia.

The WSF also hope the scheme can help to raise the profile of squash as it strives for inclusion in the Olympic Games.

I am sure the day was advertised better in previous years (I seem to remember some photos of Lee Beachill knocking a ball around a court with Jahangir Khan). Given that the logo above seems to have been given little design thought, it appears that not a huge amount of time has gone into planning the promotion of this year's scheme.

This is a real shame, as a once-a-year event such as this should surely receive much wider media coverage.

You can show your support by getting your club involved and visiting the WSF website.

World Squash Day.

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Sunday 28 October 2007

Biggest weekend sees Grinham and Shabana take spoils

World Champion 2007 - Rachael GrinhamIn one of the biggest weekends ever for the men's and women's game, Rachael Grinham became World Champion for the first time (so much for my prediction) in Madrid, while Amr Shabana continued a rich run of form to take the largest ever squash tournament cheque in the Saudi International 2007.

A glance at the history books threw up a surprise: it was only the older Grinham sister's second appearance in a World Open finally (after losing to Vanessa Atkinson in 2004). Younger sister Natalie - again losing out in the final - had been runner-up twice in the past three years ...

Grinham junior might not begrudge sister the victory, given her own triple haul of gold medals in last year's Commonwealth Games. But this was to become champion of the world - and there must be no better feeling than telling your grandchildren that you once held that moniker.

The sisters battle it out in the finalIn the end the final was over relatively quickly, reading accounts of the match, with Natalie making a lot of mistakes in the first game, and Rachael resorting to her trademark lob to get out of trouble.

The 9/4, 10/8, 9/2 outcome was probably a briefer affair than many watching would have predicted, but both must have realised that, with Nicol David gone, not having to beat the number one player in the world presented a fantastic opportunity to take the title.

The ATCO Saudi International 2007 was the richest squash event ever staged, and it was fitting that the two best players in the world would do the sponsor's proud by making it to the final.

The all-Egyptian affair (I feel that phrase may soon become quite ubiquitous ...) saw Amr Shabana, the world number one, see off compatriate Ramy Ashour in four games. Shabana looked to be moving comfortably towards the title winning the first two games 11/5, though his younger opponent took the third relatively easily 11/1.

It is a mark of Shabana's consistency and maturity, that was not there in his earlier career, that saw him come back to win the fourth 11/9. There was a time when his brilliance was all too fleeting, such as becoming World Champion in 2003, with many commentators doubting his ability to maintain the level of performance to cement himself as the best player in the world.

Amr Shabana playing in Qatar, 2007Winning the World crown again in 2005 proved them wrong, and his dominance has been abundant ever since - it's just a shame that his lack of appearances in the UK have meant that this particular squash fan has only seen him in action a couple of times (losing to David Palmer in the 2004 British Open and to John White at Canary Wharf in 2005).

ATCO owner Ziad Al-Turki was particularly pleased with the event that went to seeding, though in a comment to the Squashsite website he indicated that perhaps the wrong Egyptian won this time:

"It would have been nice to see Ramy win, but the future is his ..."

Read more ...

Thursday 25 October 2007

World title wide open as champion suffers shock defeat

Shelley Kitchen at the Commonwealth Games, Melbourne 2006New Zealand's Shelley Kitchen earned the greatest win of her career yesterday, beating reigning champion Nicol David in five games in the Women's World Open 2007.

With the Malaysian world number one out of contention, the tournament - being held this year in Madrid - is thrown wide open ...

Reports suggest that Kitchen took the game aggressively to the Malaysian star early on, with the first game a ruthless 9-0. The next game followed suit, with the champion coming back in the third and forth to force a decider.

The draw for the remaining rounds leaves Kitchen, the Grinham sisters, England's Jenny Duncalf and Tania Bailey, previous finalist Natalie Granger, previous winner Vanessa Atkinson and the rising Egyption star Omneya Abdel Kawy battling for the biggest prize in women's squash.

Either of the Australian Grinham sisters must be favourite now to take the title, with my money on Commonwealth champion Natalie - a player who seems to rise to the big occassion.

Women's World Open 2007

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Squash on stage in Hammersmith

A theatreA scan through the newspapers' theater reviews threw up a tantalising prospect, currently to be seen in Hammersmith.

The play Water, by a new group called Filter, features a scene that uses a squash court. It is showing until 3rd November 2007 at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

The theme is climate change, with events centring on the G8 summit in Vancouver ...

Previews have been given rave reviews - the write up from the Guardian can be read here.

My review to follow ...

Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

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Friday 19 October 2007

Myfreesport previews Madrid

Myfreesport magazineMyfreesport magazine again chooses to preview a squash event this week, featuring the 2007 Women's World Open that begins this weekend in Madrid.

This is the second time in the past few months that the free magazine - given away to London commuters on a Friday morning - has chosen to cover the sport.

The article that appears below a picture of Nicol David playing Natalie Grinham highlights the popularity of the Malaysian world champion in her own country.

The Malaysian Prime Minister is reported to have claimed that the 24 year-old "Duracell Bunny" is "now more famous than me".

Myfreesport magazine

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Thursday 11 October 2007

Who's holding the ladder?

A squash ladder divisionI was dismayed when the organiser of my local squash league emailed all participants to announce that he was giving up the responsibility.

Having administered the divisions on a monthly basis for a number of years, he had asked the central London leisure centre where the league matches are held if they could provide him with some small remuneration.

This was not the first time he had made such an approach to the management ...

Previous attempts to get some recognition for keeping the courts regularly booked had also been ignored. Similarly, his latest attempt did not even merit a reply.

After explaining this reason for giving up the administering of the ladder, it was easy to understand why he had taken the decision. Why bother?

Luckily, various members proposed online solutions that users can administer themselves, and a couple of guys stepped in to manage the software and ensure the rest of us can still play regularly.

But the lack of central support from leisure centres for leagues such as mine could have a potentially serious knock-on effect.

If the centre has to justify the existence of squash courts to a council looking to sell off land for prime residential developments - or maybe to build a new fitness suite where users pay large subscriptions - then a facility that is not regularly used by an organised league is unlikely to be regularly used at all.

This is especially true in London (which has already lost the Lambs club) where developers are itching to build expensive apartment blocks.

The lack of support from the leisure centre only serves to make a council's decision easier when it comes to weighing up the benefits of widening sporting provision against the hard cash offered by a developer.

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Friday 5 October 2007

Matthew king of New York as top seeds tumble

Nick Matthew and James Willstop compete in the final of the 2007 US Open in New YorkNick Matthew pulled off one of the biggest wins of his career last night, defeating James Willstrop in the final of the US Open at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.

The first all-English US Open final since Lee Beachill defeated Peter Nicol in 2004 was not the climax to the tournament many would have predicted, in an event littered with seedings casualties ...

Matthew's wins over favourite Ramy Ashour and Frenchman Thierry Lincou in the previous rounds had given him no easy ride to the final - but is that ever the way in today's men's game, when competition at the top is of such a phenomenal standard?

This will surely give Matthew the confidence to try and consistently mix it with the big boys; in Willstrop's words he was "absolutely outstanding" on the night.

When the Sheffield man puts together a strong run (and avoids injury), as he did in the 2006 British Open, his attacking game gathers momentum and intimidates opponents.

Given the current Egyptian assault on the rankings, it is good to see Willstrop and Matthew in major finals, filling the (unaccustomed in recent years) English void left by Lee Beachill's drop in form and Peter Nicol's retirement.

US Open 2007

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Wednesday 3 October 2007

What's my name W-I-S-P-A?

What shall I wear for the next round?In a handy new initiative designed to make women's squash more appealing to the armchair viewer, WISPA has decided to make its players display their names on their clothing during matches.

The rule means that the women must have thir names displayed on their backs, and will apply for any players reaching the quarter-finals of WISPA Gold and Platinum tournaments.

WISPA Chief Executive Andrew Shelley said the decision was made because "we want our stars to be more easily recognisable, especially bearing in mind that a good deal of TV coverage is filmed from behind".

A useful excuse for the women pros to put in a call to their clothing sponsors and demand a new winter collection ... but will the PSA follow suit?

The WISPA announcement

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Tuesday 25 September 2007

PSAlive at the BO? Not quite ...

The first all-French final of the British OpenWhen I read that PSAlive were to webcast the finals of the British Open 2007 for free, I quickly recovered from my strop at not being able to attend (thanks to Virgin Trains' exhorbitant fares - see this post) and eagerly logged on at 7.45pm.

The problem was, so did hundreds (thousands?) of others ...

I initially managed to hear some of the commentary, and also managed to log on to the live chat, which is an excellent idea that I didn't know was a feature of the service. Due to the over-running of the women's final, the men's did not start until aroun 8.30pm, and by this time I guessed a few people would have lost patience with the server problems.

The PSAlive server overloaded during the British Open finalsAll credit to the PSAlive team for offering the broadcast for free - a marketing idea that obviously proved too successful due to the terminal volume of traffic that tried to access the match.

Hopefully some of the visitors might be tempted to part with a few quid to access live events in the future or download archive matches.

Though the tournament lacked (probably) the best player in the world, it appears that it was very successful, with photos of the crowds at each round showed very encouraging attendance.

The progression of the players largely went to seeding, but this Open seemed to save the best till last, with Greg Gaultier's coming of age to take his biggest prize to date and Rachel Grinham's epic win over reigning champion Nicol David to take her third title.


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Thursday 20 September 2007

Not a spectator sport? Ditch the dogma

Not a spectator sport? 5000 Egyptians can't be wrong ...There's a particuarly cruel remark about the great game in the Guardian this week.

Barney Ronay's article on the glut of world championships being simultaneously held across a range of sports draws an unwarranted parallel, suggesting that squash is not a game for the spectator:

"Women's football, for example, is a perfectly good sport, in the same way squash and 10-pin bowling are: great if you're taking part, but do we have to watch them?"

Ronay should get himself up to Manchester this week to see some of the world's finest athletes compete in the world's most exciting sport.

Better still, take a trip to either Madrid or Bermuda to catch squash's own world championships in October and November.

Stumbling across this negative representation of squash, it suggested to me that this is precisely the thing that the newly-formed marketing department at England Squash should be keeping keeping an eye out for.

The article in full

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Monday 17 September 2007

Wolverhampton title timely for Beachill

Lee BeachillLast week's win for Lee Beachill's in the Wolverhampton Open 2007 could not have come at a better time.

The former world number has been out of the top ten rankings for nine months, and the win at the Edgbaston Priory club will surely give him confidence going into the British Open - a title he has never won.

Having seen Beachill many times in tournaments, he appears to be a player whose state of mind affects the outcome of his games more often than his physical condition.

An excellent mover and one of the best exponents of a good-length game, the 29 year-old from Yorkshire also possesses a cache of attacking shots founded on deception - weapons seemingly at odds with the stereotype of an attritional player.

However he never entirely looks like he is enjoying his work on court, with a dogged look on his face that belies a fierce determination. Sometimes the head goes down, but this is rarely followed by the capitulation that this kind of body language displays in other, more emotive, players.

More recently he seems to have suffered from a loss in self-belief that has seen him go out of events in earlier rounds. The reasons for this are unclear, though to many squash players with families, constant world travel is a strain and can impact on their motivation - especially when they have been, like Beachill, the best-ranked player in the world.

To train and focus on reaching the same heights once more must require a huge mental, as well as physical, effort.

A frustrated Beachill in the 2006 Super Series FinalLosing the Super Series

If one particular event sticks in my mind as a point when his confidence must have taken a huge knock, it is the final of the 2006 Super Series. Anthony Rickett's request to change the ball during a game caused chaos, with the officials unsure as to whether this was allowed in the rules. Beachill challenged the request, and was particularly miffed by the lack of guidance available at such an important time in the match. He walked off incensed after losing, clearly unsettled by what had happened.

He had the right to feel let down, though it subsequently turned out that his Australian opponent had acted within the letter (if maybe not the spirit) of the Super Series laws.

With the top ten in the men's game stronger than ever, Beachill will find it harder to get back up the rankings, especially now that Ramy Ashour has graduated from the juniors and looks set to dominate the senior ranks.

Having followed his career, I'd like to see the likable, self-effacing Pontefract man have another (maybe final?) assault on the rankings and be competing in some PSA finals pretty soon.

The win in Wolverhampton provides an excellent platform.

Wolverhampton Open 2007

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Friday 14 September 2007

A step in the right direction

Sounds like there's been some blue sky thinking ...Very encouraging to read that England Squash's new Chair, Zena Wooldridge, is planning the creation of a Marketing and Communications Team within her organisation.

Her comments were made in Issue 5 - 2007 of Squash Player magazine:

"... the idea is that Club Services would come under Marketing and use part-time external consultants (with experience in leisure and fitness industry) to provide expertise when needed."

I would have also liked to have seen "media consultants" included in the parentheses above, but at least this seems that a conscious effort (and the funding to back it up) is being devoted to widening participation by actively "selling" the sport.

As I had argued before, innovative marketing and media engagement is needed as much - if not more - than grass roots work.

England Squash

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Sunday 9 September 2007

English Grand Prix 2007

James Willstrop defeats Thierry Lincou in the final of the English Grand Prix 2007I had planned to attend the British Open in Manchester this autumn, however the prohibitive cost of a London-Manchester train ticket and accompanying accommodation meant that I would have to find another tournament (London events where art thou?).

There were a few to choose from, given the busy schedule of events this season. A £15 return fare on Chiltern railways to Birmingham made up my mind, and I headed up to the west Midlands for some squash and a balti.

Though the English Grand Prix hadn't attracted the same quality of entrants as the British Open, it wasn't the standard of squash that somewhat clouded my experience in Birmingham ...

For the Saturday (semi-final) night that I attended was the first evening of squash I'd seen that was dominated not by the players, but by the officials.

The first semi-final saw Australian David Palmer take on James Willstrop, with the World Champion Palmer looking lean and fitter than his much younger opponent. The match see-sawed back and forth, and from early on destined to go the distance - Willstrop using a greater range of shots to deceive his opponent, while Palmer content to work the ball to a more consistent length.

Spectators at the English Grand Prix 2007From my sidewall vantage point I couldn't see the referee and marker, and apparently there was a third official in place in order to give the "majority decisions" that were called at a number of disputed moments.

I've seen this system in operation before with three players used to officiate on close calls at Canary Wharf, but on this occasion (if the same system was in place), it didn't seem to work, and Palmer in particular came off worse. A disputed call when Willstrop was at match point did not inspire much confidence, as the officials seemed to look to the players for direction.

This was a close match between two evenly matched players, but Palmer can feel justified in feeling frustrated - the inconsistency in decision making clearly upset his rhythm. Given his tendency to vent his frustrations, all credit to him for accepting the decisions with grace.

The Aston Webb Great Hall at the University of BirminghamTaking a stroll round the Aston Webb Great Hall during the break between matches, I was able to appreciate what a dramatic venue for squash the promoters had found. The entrance of the players from high up above the stage was a nice touch, but seemed a little melodramatic given the relatively small number of spectators.

Though the back wall spectator area was sold-out, the sidewall section where we were seated had round tables with unreserved seating. This is more comfortable for the likes of tall people like squashblogger, though usually means that the promoters have sadly sold fewer tickets than expected (the tickets that were being given away during the week seemed to confirm this).

The crowd had some familiar faces, and seemed mostly to be from the squash community. Given the fact that the hall was in the middle of a campus university when the students are on holiday, this was not surprising - unlike the aforementioned Canary Wharf tournament, the event was unlikely to attract "passing" spectators.

To the promoters' credit, they seemed particularly attendant to the paying punters' experience, and we were asked a couple of times if we would like to move to the back wall to get a better view.

Stained glass window in the Great Hall at the University of BirminghamThis we duly did (thanks Paul Waters), only to see Greg Gaultier's match against compatriot Thierry Lincou (looking slightly sluggish compared in comparison after a five-gamer the previous night) similarly marred by poor officiating.

Gaultier, like Palmer, is less fractious now than his younger self, but he lost his temper a number of times here, and justifiably so. On the receiving end of some poor decisions (by this time the groaning back wall crowd had begun to sense that this was to be the common theme of the night), the Frenchman repeatedly asked the officials to justify why a let was given. On one occasion, Lincou simply slipped over - a good five feet away from his opponent - and a let was given. An incredulous Gaultier asked why, only to be told to shut up and get on with the game.

A spectator sitting in the sidewall seatingThe most bizarre incident occurred in the third, with Gaultier conceding that a ball was down. The officials obviously did not see whether the ball was indeed down, and asked the players for clarification. At this point something was lost in translation, with Lincou repeating the word "concede" - which the officials took to mean that he - and not Gaultier - was conceding the point!

I felt that the officials repeated requests for "Mr Gaultier" to get on with the game were masking the fact that they had lost touch with the match (the score was also misquoted at least once). The crowd new it, and even Malcolm Willstrop, sitting to my right, giving a withering shake of the head at the proceedings.

Gaultier lost in five, clearly unsettled by the repeated breaks in the games. Lincou did what he is best at - keeping his head down and plugging away until his opponent makes mistakes.

They were introduced as "friends" as the came on to court, but the unlikely provocation that they had to contend with might have gone someway to test that claim, given the number of times it was implied they had to sort sticky situations out for themselves.

Lincou and Gaultier warm up for their semi-finalThere will always be times in a fast-moving game like squash when players are called upon to show sportsmanship and act honestly. But both semis of this tournament strained this principle to unreasonable lengths. Maybe the fact that this was the first time I'd seen the officials have a bad game means that their usual "invisibility" is indicative of assured professionalism and excellent judgement. But tonight, they did have a shocker.

The trophy was won on Sunday by Willstrop in another game that went the distance - the English number one's "who dares wins" attitude during an attacking fifth game finally breaking down the Gallic challenge.

Right: a video of the last point of the final, as recorded by a spectator and posted on YouTube.

Willstrop beats Lincou 11/8, 11/8, 9/11, 7/11, 11/3 (77 mins)

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Saturday 8 September 2007

Freebie glossy covers English Grand Prix

The article in Myfreesport magazineNice to see that the glossy sport magazine given away to London commuters on a Friday devoting a small preview section to this week's English Grand Prix in Birmingham.

Myfreesport magazine carries at least one decent interview weekly, with pretty decent photography throughout, considering it's being given away.

I keep a look out for squash articles, as the content tends to be pretty eclectic. And lo and behold, last Friday carried an article on the Birmingham event.

More than can be said for our quality dailies - and I rather fear that the BBC's coverage this season might be diminished, given the fact that the RSS feed at the top of this page hasn't changed for a while.

Myfreesport magazine

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Wednesday 29 August 2007

Resurgent British Open - but where's Ramy?

The show court at the 2001 British OpenIt was heartening to read in International Squash magazine Jonah Barrington's enthusiastic endorsement of what he sees as a new "British circuit" emerging (extracts of which are reprinted here).

His comments related to the busy autumn and winter schedule of squash events currently being promoted in the UK. Britain's most successful squash player also commented on the history of the British Open, and how he felt that, with the kind of backing that it is currently being promised, should soon again regain its proud status as the "Wimbledon of squash" - the most prestigious tournament on the tour.

However, around the time I was reading Barrington's comments, the news also broke that Ramy Ashour - currently the hottest ticket in world squash - had decided not to play in next months' British Open in Manchester.

How does Ashour's non-appearance sit with Barrington's vision of the event's status?

Sarah Fitz-Gerald competes in the 2001 British OpenWhy the "Wimbledon of squash"?

I've linked these two stories because they are maybe more related than they first appear. Firstly, I've always found the British Open's claim to greatness through the moniker "the Wimbledon of squash" a strange one, for three reasons:

1. The phrase is bandied around in relation to more than one thing. I have read it used to describe the British Open in order to emphasise its history and prestigiousness. I've also seen it used to describe (hitherto) squash's most important venue in the UK, the now sadly closed Lambs club in London. This multiple use is confusing, and lessens the phrase each time it is (mis?)applied.

2. The Wimbledon Tennis Championships have been around for a long time - since 1877, in fact. Squash's British Open has been in existence since 1922 (for women - interestingly, for sport, the women's tournament has been around for longer than the men's) and 1930 (for men).

However the difference is more significant than in the time the respective events have existed. The great tennis tournament has been held at its landmark venue for the majority of those years, with all the history, drama and memories bound up with the players' and spectators' knowledge of what the "Wimbldeon experience" is - from queuing in the rain to strawberries and cream to "Henman Hill". The tournament is even named after a place (unlike the other tennis Grand Slams), and it is this sense of a sporting venue being special for two weeks of the year that makes for such a great experience.

Ramy Ashour being presented with the Qatar Classic 2007 trophy by Jahangir Khan The British Open doesn't have this enigmatic claim, as it has moved over the years from city to city, venue to venue. The sense of occassion is simply not the same when a tournament is not rooted in the traditions of place.

3. Wimbledon is a tennis tournament, and squash maybe does itself a disservice by defining itself through its relation to another sport.

My argument is not that the British Open has not been (to date) the most important event in world squash. The records books show that it has. It is that the term "the Wimbledon of squash" is a misnomer. Barrington's enthusiasm for the event and his hopes for it to regain its previous hights will be shared by many squash fans (and players), but the degree to which it is possible is open to question, given the sport's decline over the past couple of decades.

Given the fact that the event has struggled over the past few years to attract a lead sponsor, one could argue that the British Open has long ago lost any claim it had to be the revered crown in the professional game. The World Open far out-muscles it in terms of prize money (this year the British Open musters $78,000 for the men's draw, compared to the World Open's $175,000), and it is clear that with the investment in the World title, together with hefty Middle East sponsorship from the likes of Ziad Al-Turki, has meant that the top players are beginning to look elsewhere for ranking points and a sizeable pay day.

Willstop and Ricketts battle it out in the 2005 British Open finalThe Open without the best player

Which brings me to Ashour's decision not to play in this year's competition at the National Squash Centre in Manchester. The tournament's failure to attract this year's top player (Ashour may not yet be the world number one, but it only seems like a matter of time) has received surprisingly little coverage in the squash media, maybe because the young Egyptian's decision may not have been entirely his own: "My manager recommended I didn’t play. It is not good for points. I need to concentrate on other events and watch the points."

I don't think that the British Open needs to boast the highest prize money of any event on the PSA or WISPA tours to retain a sense of its prestige. But it does require a level of sponsorship somewhere in the region of the big events in Qatar, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia in order for promoters to attract the top players.

What seems certain is that without comparable prize money and the ranking points that come with it, more players are likely to withdraw to keep fresh for more lucrative tournaments. History, it seems, may no longer be as important as it was.

But while history (and wanting to be part of an event that has a grand history) will always be important to some, so is change. Perhaps those of use who are well aware of the British Open's past should spend less time trading the tournament on its former glories and take a braver step into the future.

Paul Waters' internationalSPORTgroup clearly have the enthusiasm and a sense of vision that hopefully will tranlsate into the resurgence of the event that Barrington and many of those who love squash crave. The British Open is important to squash as, to an extent, it is its history.

The solution for how this braver step can be taken should thefore a question for the whole squash world, rather than the beliguered promoters who struggle from year to year to prevent the door closing on the Open's history for good.

Ramy Ashour pulls out of British Open 2007

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Wednesday 15 August 2007

Jansher announcement stuns squash world

Jansher Khan won the World Open 8 times and the British Open 6 timesThe squash world did a collective double-take this week, as reports coming out of Pakistan suggested that former world number one and multiple World and British Open champion Jansher Khan is to come out of retirement.

The 38 year-old from Peshawar has announced his intention to play in a "minor world-ranking event" in London in October. Details at scant at present, though the Reuters website reports that it will be held "in London from Oct 11".

Jansher retired in 2001, but believes that he is fit and ready to compete at a professional level once more:

"The reason for my comeback is that I feel I am mentally and physically fit to play the international circuit for another three to four years".

For fans such as myself who did not get to see the legend at the hight of his powers such an appearance is a must-see. For the current crop of male pros, the chance to play one of the game's greats is an intriguing prospect that would be hard to turn down and, as such, should help to boost the profile of the event and raise the prize purse on offer.

Watch this space.

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