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 ..."

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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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