Saturday, 27 December 2008

Happy New Year from squashblog

Happy New Year!Last post of the year before disappearing until mid-January. So (a belated ) Happy Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thanks to everyone who has supported the site this year: let's keep the debate going in 2009.

Things I wanted to write about at length this year but ran out of time ...

1. Player of the Year: For me this had to be Karim Darwish (bottom), who stepped out of Shabana and Ashour's shadows to win in Qatar and Saudi, and a runner-up in the Manchester World Open.

It seems a little strange to overlook Ramy's remarkable achievement in winning the World title, but the velocity of his rise made it kind of inevitable sooner or later (maybe for him the achievement will not be 'when' but 'how many'). Karim's ascendancy to his highest ranking of number 2 in the PSA rankings appears to have more in common with Shabana's career; his elder countryman began his domination at roughly the same age Darwish is now, after adding a missing mental component to complement his shot-making talent.

Darwish spoke after Qatar about 'playing to win rather than just playing': he has clearly also worked on the mental aspect of his game, and it's great to see a player who may have been thought of as a 'nearly-man' (that World Junior title seems a long time ago now) prove his doubters wrong though patience and application.

2. The scoring debate/row/storm/scandal: Yes, it really was called all these things in various parts of the squash media. I felt this kind of got buried under the World Open coverage - though hats off to Ian McKenzie for conducting something like a proper debate at the Squash Player site.

The bigger story here is not in the scoring change to PAR itself (which I happen to agree for the good of the professional game), but in the decision-making process. As Tom Cruise (nearly) said: show me the mandate!

Karim Dariwhs3. Olympic Task Force: some positive news about squash's Olympic bid probably passed many of you by (nearly me included) as it slipped out just before Christmas. It appears that a sense of urgency has finally hit the WSF with less than a year to go before the IOC vote on Olympic inclusion, and an 'Olympic Task Force' is being set up which, amongst other things, will engage with new media "by using the internet to approach all those Squash players and enthusiasts worldwide who would like to support the campaign".

After assuming that the governing body had taken the lower-key route that I suggested when things were looking dicey , does this now mean that things are swinging the other way? Let's judge when we see that internet campaign - and the other initiatives - emerge. Happy to help!

Read the WSF press release here.

4. Squash websites: yo-yoing up and down like the FTSE-100. What's going on? Does squash get the media it deserves?

5. The PSA board:
now composed of a good mix of voices that will hopefully bring objectivity and new ideas to the development of the men's tour. Let's hope this is matched by representative, transparent decision making over the next year as the organisation enters a new era.

6. Women's tournaments in London:
I'm being selfish here. While it was great to see the best women players in action in Manchester at the Worlds, they surely deserve a platform in the capital. There's nothing like Canary Wharf or the Super Series for the WISPA pros, and looking back over event calendars I can't find the last time a prestige-venue women's tournament was held in London - and that's where their governing body is based! Why?

I'll try and revisit most of these in the New Year. In the meantime, keep sending in your comments, thoughts, ideas etc.

Happy 2009!

Read more ...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Alan would approve

The victorious Egyptian teamAlan Hansen would surely nod sagely in appreciation of the 'strength in depth' of Egyptian men's squash.

But after their recent win in the World Team Championships, I reckon he might extend his favourite epithet to the women too.

Second seeds and in their second consecutive final, but did anyone really see it coming? And what about my premature suggestion that the Netherlands might be right up there? ...

The future is obviously not quite orange, as the Egyptian trio despensed with the Dutch girls with little difficulty in the quarter-finals.

I suggested in that previous article that when Natalie Grinham becomes eligible to represent the Netherlands that they might challenge for this title - it will be interesting to see whether her sister joins her one day.

Well done to the Aussie girls, btw, who put up a decent fight against Malaysia and beat the Dutch in a minor-placings play-off. The Australian team is weakened since the Grinham sisters departed, and Donna Urquhart, Kasey Brown and Lisa Camilleri vindicated their selection (is there any team game that Australia aren't any good at?).

England pretty much sailed through to the final - my tip for dark horses New Zealand offering little resistance in the semis. So much for another of my predictions!

The big unknown was always going to be Malaysia and Egypt after they were drawn together. Malaysia's world number one Nicol David hasn't lost in this event since 2004, and she won her second rubber against Egyptian number one Omneya Abdel Kawy after Engy Kheirallah had taken the first,

The decider saw Raneem El Weleily take on Malaysian Delia Arnold. The 19-year-old from Alexandria took the first two games before dropping the third, only to come back to win 11-3, 11-6, 10-12, 11-9.

'A packed crowd of partisan fans
'

Alison Waters v Engy Kheirallah in the finalAccording to the WSF press release the final was played in front of "a packed crowd of partisan fans" - given the apparently thrilling climax to the last rubber, it must have been a crazy atmosphere.

How wonderful if must be to watch live professional squash in Egypt right now. Video footage rarely gives a good impression of the atmosphere at a live squash game, and for now we'll just have to read about it.

If only some of that atmosphere translated to events over here in Britain, which are often marked by a distinctly British reserve (for what women's tournaments there are over here - more on that another time ...)

Anyway, the result came down to the last few points of the last rubber. Engy Kheirallah was pitted against Alison Waters, and after two games all, the last game went right down to the last, as the press release describes:

"(But) the 27-year-old Egyptian won the point on a stroke, before moving on to her own match-ball at 11-10 - which she won when a ball off the back wall from Waters failed to reach the front wall."

The Egyptian took the match - and won the title for her country - 4-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-0, 12-10. Apparently there was "immediate pandemonium around the glistening court as Egyptians jumped up and down, screaming with joy". More of that over here please!

It would be great to find out how many spectators attended the event, as would it be to find how many watched it on TV. As I noted in the previous article on the event, the tournament was available to watch for free on 247.TV.

Anyone with any numbers - or any reports on the quality of the streaming footage - please send then on ...

Read more ...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

"Squash makes a better world"? Hmm ...

TreeThe December 2008 edition of International Squash Magazine dropped through my letter box last week. With great photos but little beyond a narrative view of what's happened recently in the squash world, I rarely give it much more than a cursory glance.

But an article featured on the front cover - 'Saudi Arabia - Wbere Squash Makes a Better World' - had me turning straight to page 9.

I could see the point of the piece, but some of it sat rather uncomfortably ...

The article, written by Richard Eaton, concerns the current development of the game in Saudi, and focuses in particular on the Saudi International, which Eaton writes was:

"... created with the twin aim of transforming the lot of the professional player and of altering perceptions of Saudi Arabia".

The article goes on:

"The tournament began to have a long-term public relations effect for Saudi Arabia. Players and people who came to Saudi told family and friends about it. Players were taken to museums to understand something about the country's history. The tournament hosted a traditional night. And last year some players stayed on after the tournament enjoying the nearby resort, the great weather and the lovely hospitality".

No doubt all this is true, but there is something uncomfortable about reading of "great weather" and "lovely hospitality" (which journalists and others have very much enjoyed), when the country is frequently cited as having an appaling human rights record.

Describing the fact that squash players were "paying to play" in Saudi as "horrific" is a particularly poor choice of words - there are plenty of other, very real, horrors happening every day in the country.

The ethical questions hanging over all this are similar to those that occupied many column inches in the run-up and during the Beijing Olympics: large and tricky issues, which it would be interesting to know the governing bodies' positions on.

Eaton's heart is clearly in the right place, but on this topic I think it pays to choose words very carefully: it's not only squash that seems to be getting a good deal.

December 2008 edition of International Squash Magazine
Human rights in Saudi Arabia


PS - When was the last women's professional squash tournament in Saudi Arabia?

Read more ...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

PSA revamp tour for 2010

Golan v Gaultier in the 2008  Internationaux de FranceA while back I wrote an article about the decline of professional squash events in Australia (the country has not staged a major tournament for the past 17 years).

So good news earlier this week, as the PSA's new Chief Exec revealed in an exclusive interview with the Telegraph some of his ambitious plans for the men's tour over the next few years: top-level squash appears to be heading back there ...

The exciting development seeks to align the structure of the PSA world tour by 2010 to something akin to grand-prix format of the Master's series in tennis or F1 motor racing, with the biggest-money events all contributing to the 'race' that will culminate in a Finals event at the end of the season.

The Super Series has offered something similar over the years (though a kind of race-within-a-tour), but what distinguishes the new venture appears to be the higher-profile of the tournaments together with a higher proportion of PSA ranking points linked to performance in each of the top events. The 'final' would therefore prevent a bigger prize and incentive to aim at throughout the season. It would also mean that players would move between tournaments within a region, cutting out unnecessary plane journeys.

Mr Graham explained about the structure:

"Rather than it risking being a shoot-out, where players simply get prize money for winning, I hope we can structure it so that it had some relevance as to who would prevail at the end of the season".

From 2010, the calendar will have 10 distinguishable top-tier tournaments, while prize money will be offer at least $3 million over the year.

Plans are afoot to stage a tournament on Australia's Gold Coast, which would be a welcome step to re-igniting the public's interest in squash in the country and maybe sneaking some back page column inches (apparently they like their sport over there).

The programme also announced that a tournament would be staged in Namibia for the first time. It is yet to be decided whether the British Open will be included in the list.

Mr Graham has set the PSA a target for the PSA to "secure two major events by the end of 2008", and it appears that this goal has been achieved. Great to see explicit, measurable targets being used to develop the game for once - though I'd like to see more detail soon about how exactly the tour in 2010 will distinguish itself from the Super Series competition that has run with a degree of success for 16 years.

Australia & Namibia Declare Intent To Host PSA World Tour Events In 2010

Read more ...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Women's World Teams - watch for free!

The Women's World Team Championships 2008 is currently at the quarter-final stage in the National Stadium, Cairo.

Though reigning champions England are weakened by the recent retirement of Vicky Botwright, their strength in depth has carried them through to the final stages relatively untroubled.

And if you know where to look, you can watch it for free ...

Live coverage will be available free to squash fans worldwide following an agreement reached between the World Squash Federation and 247.TV.

"This will be the biggest ever live webcast of a squash tournament - and the audience is also expected to break all records for a live audience," said 247.tv spokesman Peter Wickson. Watch live coverage at 247.TV

During the recent Olympics presentation in Lausanne, the fact that web streaming of squash matches has become commonplace was given as evidence that the sport is embracing new technologies and selling itself to a worldwide audience.

Web streaming of live events has only really started to become mature in the past couple of years as the baseline client technology of regular users has become sophisticated enough to allow let people watch coverage uninterrupted.

I remember a year ago at the British Open it was announced that the public was going to be allowed to watch the Final live for free - a great idea, until the server crashed due to unprecedented demand: a vindication, of sorts!

Here's hoping that viewers of the 247.TV coverage have more luck.

Hong Kong spring upset, New Zealand look strong

Ninth seeds Hong Kong scored a 3/0 win over France to take a place in the latter stages. Hong Kong number two Joey Chan put the outsiders ahead, beating Celia Allamargot 11-8, 11-6, 13-11. It was left to the squad's third string Shin Nga Leung to ensure Hong Kong a place in the top eight - their highest-ever finish in nine appearances since 1990 - when the 19-year-old beat Maud Duplomb 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.

Third seeds New Zealand garner fewer column inches than they should, perhaps because they have been overshadowed by their neighbourly rivals Australia for so many years.

Now what Australia are no longer the force they once were in women's squash (many reasons - see here and here), the main challenge to the English girls comes from Egypt, though the Kiwi trio of Jaclyn Hawkes, Louise Crome and Shelley Kitchen have justified their third-seed status through a number of notable individual performances over the past year, and I would suspect that neither of the top two teams would want to face them in the final.

Women's World Team Championships 2008

Read more ...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

squashblog poll: a little bit of everything?

Squashblog poll resultsA poll that has been on squashblog since the end of the Beijing Olympics asked readers to identify the one key factor in getting squash into the Olympics.

The results were mixed - an indication in itself that there is still lots of work to do before the IOC vote in Copenhagen a year from now ...

The recent presentation in Lausanne concentrated on emphasising the sport's best virtues, suggesting an admirable lack of cynicism in the voting process.

It appears that the WSF have therefore taken the more conservative route that I suggested after the resignation of Christian Leighton in August, and voters in my little poll seem to agree that this is more important than making a big impression on the cocktail party circuit.

But is this enough, especially in comparison to the efforts of squash's rivals in the Olympic vote?

'Improved marketing of the game' also garnered almost a quarter of the vote in the poll. When compared to the huge budgets of rivals such as rugby sevens and golf, squash can clearly only do so much.

So when it was time for squash to present itself to the IOC in Lausanne, I was interested to see how things had moved on from the previous - unsuccessful - vote, when squash missed out on being included for London 2012.

Effective sports marketing in today's world is inextricably linked with the media. During that presentation a rather amateur-looking PowerPoint presentation was accompanied by a short film that appeared to have been made in the 1970s (this can be seen left).

The pitch simply came across as far too amateur in approach, and hugely out of touch with modern techniques of marketing and media presentation. I remember reading similar criticism on a leading squash message board (which mysteriously was removed soon after). I doubt whether this was the main factor why squash did not make it into 2012, but the efforts were clearly to be marked "could do better".

So I awaited the Lausanne pitch with interest, to see what progress had been made.

Speeches were again accompanied by simple PowerPoint presentation designed to impress IOC delegates (this can be viewed here). I am sorry to say that this does not suggest that the intervening years since the last vote have been spent learning from the way that others sports sell themselves as exciting and dynamic pursuits.

The words are admirable and present a persuasive argument. But communication is also about presentation. Is this the work of a professional organisation? How is this slideshow different from the one that was produced during the last vote?

The Lausanne presentation was also meant to feature a very hastily-commissioned 'high-level DVD' (this had not even been commissioned at the beginning of September, as discovered and reported by Squash 360) that would showcase squash at its best. This was apparently show at the WSF AGM in Manchester during the World Open, and I have yet to hear whether this DVD was used in the Lausanne pitch (I have made an enquiry to the WSF but have received no reply - updates here when I receive them).

An 'Olympic pledge' poster and a few PowerPoint slides are therefore all the props to show since the vote for 2012 inclusion. Those who ticked the 'marketing' box in my poll look like they might have a point.

A look back at my articles on Olympic inclusion show that it is almost exactly a year since Amr Shabana complained in the Gulf Times about the lack of effort that was being made on the players' behalf in trying to get squash into the Olympic Games. In mitigation, it would be unfair to demand that squash can compete with the marketing juggernauts that the likes of golf and rugby (see bottom of page) can fund. There simply is not the money in the game.

But with years to prepare for the vote, can we really say that the world's best player - on the evidence presented here - has been answered with the level of effort that befits his talent and own dedication to the sport?

On a wider, political level, what efforts have been made by the other squash governing bodies to hold those organising the Olympic bid to account?

There are 11 months left to make amends.


More on the Olympic vote

Read more ...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

WSF makes Olympic presentation in Lausanne

Pictured at the presentation (from L to R) are:  Christophe Dubi, IOC Sports Director; N Ramachandran, WSF President; Jacques Rogge, IOC President; Jahangir Khan, WSF Emeritus PresidentThe WSF President met Jacques Rogge this week in Lausanne before presenting the case for squash's inclusion in the 2016 Games.

With next year's vote on Olympic inclusion approaching rapidly, it is reassuring to see that steps are being made by squash's top administrators to promote the sport's best virtures at the highest level.

But how did the presentation go down? And what are squash's rivals up to?

Outgoing WSF President Jahangir Khan introduced his successor, Mr N Ramachandran, who was elected at last month's WSF AGM which was held during the World Championships in Manchester.

The WSF delegation took the opportunity to present a commitment signed by top squash stars, led by world number ones Nicol David (Malaysia) and Amr Shabana (Egypt), pledging that the Olympics would be the ultimate prize for any squash player.

The World Squash presentation party at IOC headquarters (L to R): Jahangir Khan, N Ramachandran, Sarah Fitz-Gerald, Tunku Imran, Susie Simcock and Andrew ShelleyThe much-anticipated pitch to the IOC that followed was headed by IOC member Tunku Imran, Susie Simcock and Jahangir Khan, along with N Ramachandran. Sarah Fitz-Gerald and WSF Technical Director Andrew Shelley completed the group.

The WSF press release after the presentation detailed the following as key areas of the pitch:

- Squash is a sport for our time: A sport giving great competitive exercise in a short time period, which has strong national federations and features development initiatives all the way from local level to elite.

- The sport is already featured in every major international multi-sport Games, except for the Olympics.

- It has uniform scoring.

- It is drug-free.

- Competing in the Olympics would be the pinnacle of the career of any squash player.

- The sport has had world champions from all regions, as well as around 150 national federations belonging to the world body.

I have yet to read any reaction to the presentation - details here when I get them.

The PowerPoint slides that accompanied the presentation can be viewed here.

The rivals

One of squash's rivals for inclusion in the Games - rugby sevens - has produced a promotional video with a host of stars for its pitch. Click here to watch.

Another big rival - golf - has also produced a series of videos with stars such as Vijay Singh and Ernie Els endorsing the bid. Watch it here.

So how did the squash pitch measure up? Time will tell ...

More on the Olympic vote

Read more ...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

World Open 2008: The Verdict

Walking to the National Squash CentrThe first World Squash Championships held in England for over twenty years were an opportunity for the sport to showcase its finest talent and provide a spectacle that would indisputably warrant Olympic inclusion.

But how did the event measure up ? ...

The National Squash Centre is a great purpose-built venue, and - being out-of-town - usually attracts what might be described as the 'squash community'. Unlike the adjacent Manchester City football stadium (any Premiership game is potentially a big draw) and the cycling velodrome (after the successes of Chris Hoy et al in Beijing), the status of squash is not (yet!) such that many first-time punters are likely to make the trip out to Sportscity to see squash for the first time.

So it's a real challenge for the sport to attract newcomers to come and watch professional events. Would the promise of the sport's top tournament be a big enough draw?

I'm happy to report that I did speak to one or two who were watching pro squash for the first time (all were impressed), even if the taxi driver who dropped me off outside was oblivious to the event happening in his own city (more on promotion and media coverage later).

The Manchester crowd know their squash, and every game I saw was at near-capacity. It would have been nice to see the crowd getting a bit more involved, but maybe the size of the prize at stake mitigated against spectators getting too over-excited. Still, given that the players were competing for the biggest prize in the game, I wish the audience would not be so reticent in showing their emotions!

The National Squash Centre doesn't have the natural sense of drama engendered by a glamour venue such as Canary Wharf, for example, and given the cavernous dimensions of the place would perhaps take double the spectators to really generate a cauldron.

That said, there was a definitely greater sense of anticipation than at other events held here - especially when the home favourite Vicky Botwright was on court - that was worthy of a World Championships.

The squash itself was of the highest quality. I almost feel that this is a redundant sentence nowadays, such is the level of competition at the top of the men's and women's games.

Left: Ashour v Darwish in the men's final (full match on YouTube)

I once read an argument put forward in a newspaper article around 10 years ago about what was considered the 'golden era' of snooker. Many feel that the glory days for that sport were in the 1970s and 1980s, when snooker enjoyed a much higher profile.

The same parallel could be drawn with squash.

Yet the counter argument that was put forward in the article suggested that - on the contrary - the present era (this was the late 1990s, early 2000s remember) was the greatest, even though media and public profile was lower: the standard of players had never been higher, there had never been a greater number of players competing for the top prizes, and the outcomes of tournaments (unlike earlier years) could not easily be predicted. It could be claimed that snooker is still in that 'greatest era'.

The same could be claimed about squash today. There have never been so many top players who compete consistently at such a high standard (especially in the men's game), and the winner of tournaments is never a foregone conclusion.

The irony for the sport is that, in a crucial year for raising its profile in the run up to the vote on Olympic vote, the oblivious majority of the public are missing out on a sport in its purest, most professional and competitive form.

I digress ...

This was a World Open of upsets - in both the men's and women's draws - and this served up two finals that few would have predicted at the start of the tournament. The success of Botwright in what was her last professional appearance gave the home crowd someone to root for right until the end, even though the fairytale ending to her career was not to be.

Many predicated that Ramy Ashour would have won his first World crown at such a young age, but the outcome of the men's final was by no means certain right until the end. In a rare visit to the UK he (and, to be fair, Darwish) gave the crowd a demonstration of 'Egyptian squash' that was full of flair and guile.

The attitude of the players was mostly excellent, with the matches that I saw containing very few contested points. The scoring changes and more attacking games that those changes seem to have been a catalyst for appear to have played a large part in this positive move.

Inside the National Squash CentreThis was especially important given the attendance during the week of Sir Craig Reedie, a serving representative on the International Olympic Committee. The sport was under scrutiny during the week as it had to underline its credentials for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games, with a vote on this being taken next year. A criticism levelled at squash in the past was that there were too many stoppages and that the players liked to argue with the officials too much.

Whether scoring changes, attitude of the players or better officiating resulted in there being fewer disruptions, the event as a spectacle game across as a great advert for the game, and hopefully went someway to dispelling some of the myths about watching live squash. Sir Craig gave a media briefing toward the end of the week that I missed, but I hope he was suitably impressed.

Local media coverage and promotion of the Championships appeared to be strong, and it was great to see banners hung around Manchester city centre marketing the event. What was disappointing was - again - the lack of coverage that the event attracted in the national press. Some of the broadsheets failed to even carry an article - even after the Finals - and results were relegated to the sports results listings.

Well done to the Telegraph though, who had regular reports throughout the week online, its rejuvenated squash coverage arriving just before the biggest event of the year.

Online coverage was patchy due to some of the journalists from the more popular squash websites being either unavailable or unwilling to cover the tournament. Squashblog, although only there for the semis and finals, enjoyed its highest visitor numbers to date, with most visitors (many from overseas) looking specifically for updates on what was happening in Manchester - so a squash media-hungry audience is out there!

The role of the 'squash media' (specifically internet coverage) in the development of the sport was one of a number of things that was getting political 'behind the scenes' during the week: the move to universal PAR scoring and the Olympic vote being the other big themes.

From an objective point of view, I'm happy to report that none of these things appeared to effect the running of the tournament, and the paying public was treated to a professionally-run, unpredictable and exciting week.

If I was to identify the one thing that has to be improved if the Worlds are to be held in the UK again I would suggest a change of venue. The National Squash Centre is a great facility for the players and probably the administrators, but holding the event in the middle of a large city would have attracted a greater buzz, afforded better facilities for the spectator, and crucially made the event more visible.

If you can't attract newcomers to come and watch squash then take it to them. On the train back I wondered how things would have been different if the event (or maybe the latter stages of it) have been held in Exchange Square in Manchester, or maybe at Salford Quays.

The portability of squash is often overlooked as one of its great selling points as a spectator sport, and promoters shouldn't shy from experimenting with this features in order to attract new audiences - even when staging the biggest tournament in the calendar.

Hi-Tec World Squash Championships Manchester 2008

Read more ...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Farewell John

A draw for a men's tournament that doesn't feature the name John White will be all the poorer for it.

The 35 year-old announced his retirement after losing to James Willstrop in the recent World Open.

Here we pay tribute to the original squash nomad ...

Left: John announcing his retirement in Manchester

When I first started to watch professional squash in 2002, John White was securely berthed in the top five in the world and was starting the ascendancy that would take him to the number one spot in March 2004 (a position he held for a couple of months).

John White, European Teams 1999It was evident that he was a tough competitor, and that few on the tour relished playing such a hard hitter. 'Big John' (always a slight misnomer as the six-footer was slimmer than photos suggested - kind of the opposite of my first impression of Ramy Ashour) was living in Nottingham after moving from his native Queensland, Australia via a spell in The Hague, and would always be a contender in the latter stages of the UK events that I attended.

White was tough in a never-say-die kind of way, and was easier for the British crowd crowd to warm to than, say, Anthony Ricketts. When on the receiving end of poor decisions he rarely remonstrated with the officials, and this brought the respect of players and spectators alike.

Rallies were never lost causes to White. Some say that being tall is not really an advantage in squash, but John exploited his reach to keep in the fight - even if it meant risking injury (see below, left!). Probably the best match that I saw him play was against Thierry Lincou in the semi-final of the Canary Wharf Classic in 2007. John's physical commitment pitted against the Frenchman's guile that day was a great display of contrasting styles, and made for a memorable evening's squash - and a great advert for the game. The Canary Wharf event attracts many who would not normally come and watch professional squash, and they could not have picked a better evening to attend.

John does the splits!As I reported at the time (also see video below, left), one particular rally that White eventually won brought the crowd to their feet for the longest standing ovation that I've seen.

White's 1998 conversion to Scottish representation (his father was born in Edinburgh) meant that I saw him competing a number of times in the British Nationals (a title he won in 2004), and he would also represented Scotland in the European Championships, the World Cup and the World Team Championships.

In March 2005 White moved again, this time to the USA, where he and his family established a new base in Philadelphia. His successes in US tournaments brought him back into the top 10, and his frequent trips back to the UK to compete in events brought warm appreciation from spectators.

In 2007, White was appointed Director of Squash and head squash coach at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Aside from his inspiring commitment on court, what also endeared John to spectators was his sense of humour. I remember a double exhibition during the Super Series at Broadgate a few years back, where he pretended to ignore the other three players and go for a lie down beneath the tin.

This - and the other practical jokes, asides etc. - were loved by the crowd. You got the feeling that White - although a model professional - equally recognised that the paying punter came to be entertained.

His biggest achievements? A look back at the records shows that his greatest successes on the tour came relatively late in his career. White went full-time in 1991, but not until April 1998 did he break into the top twenty. He was runner-up at both the World Open and the British Open in 2002 (aged 29).

John winning the first English Open in 2003He then took the PSA Masters title in 2003 (beating Thierry Lincou in the final 15-8, 17-15, 17-16), and then there was the British Nationals in 2004 (beating Lee Beachill in the final). His performances at Canary Wharf (where he also reached the final in 2007), will also stick long in the memory (he reached 30 tour finals in total).

Plus that 'big hitter' label will still remain - 172 miles per hour, which remains a world record.

In the video interview at the top of this page Andy Nikeas sums up White's contribution to squash: "a finer ambassador you could not wish for".

Few would argue with that.

JWSquash - John's website

Read more ...

Friday, 31 October 2008

Butler serves up rugby's Olympic crudentials

Olympic ringsRugby columnist Eddie Butler - writing in Sunday's Observer - has made a couple of compelling points for rugby sevens' inclusion in the Olympics.

Squash administrators take note ...

The commentator and former captain of Wales notes as part of a longer article:

"If there are selling points, one would be that rugby would use - and fill - the Olympic stadium between the opening ceremony and the start of the athletics programme. Another would be that rugby is prepared to take itself to new places and excite new audiences.

If rugby were to be selected it would do wonders at junior levels in a whole new raft of countries where state funding is dependent on a sport's inclusion in the Olympic programme. Rugby could be going truly global."

The point made in the first paragraph about filling the stadium is something that squash cannot compete with, but the portability of the sport gives it other advantages where scheduling and location are concerned.

Is squash equally prepared to "take itself to new places and excite new audiences"?

Read more ...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Islington courts update

Sobell CentreWith uncertainty hanging over the future of squash court provision at the Sobell and Finsbury Leisure Centres in Islignton, communication with Islington Council has brought a promising update ...

Howard Barnes, Assistant Director of Cultural Services at the Council, informs me that outline schemes for the re-development of both the Sobell and Finsbury Centres propose the provision of four courts at each site (which would retain current provision at Finsbury but cut the number of courts at Sobell from the current six).

The projects are in their very early stages of this project, and design briefs are yet to be worked-up.

The current timetable for the design briefs is early 2009 with further public consultation timetabled during the first three months of the year.

Watch this space ...
Court watch: Sobell Leisure Centre
Court watch: Finsbury Leisure Centre

Read more ...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Golan hits new heights in Qatar

Borja Golan pushed Amr Shabana hard but eventually lost in straight games 11-9, 11-5, 9-11, 11- 9 in the second round of the Qatar Classic Squash Tournament, yesterday.

It was a strong showing by the Spanish number one, whose recent performances suggest that a rise up the rankings may be imminent ...

The surprise recent runner-up of the Internationaux de France - where he lost to Gaultier, beating Thierry Lincou and James Willstrop on the way - had also caused Shabana some trouble in the second round of the recent World Championships in Manchester.

The 25 year-old from Santiago has ranked as high as 19 (October 2007). According to Shabana he has "... been studying the top players ... he now knows how to play them and mixes it up. Before he was waiting for us to attack and he just retrieved."

The top ten will be watching his progress with interest.

Next up for Shabana is an intriguing clash against Peter Barker, who came off a run of good form to perhaps have a slightly disappointing Worlds (though in fairness he was unlucky enough to run into the subsequent Champion Ramy Ashour in the third round).

Read more ...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Have your say with easier commenting

Comments boxIt's now even simpler for you to have your say about the future of squash at squashblog.

Each article now has a free comment box under it (rather than taking you to another page), so you can respond immediately to whatever is written. Click on 'Read more ...' to see a full article and you will see the comment box beneath.

You can comment anonymously, leave your name if you like, or log-in via a Google or other blogging accounts (each comment is post-moderated).

Have your say about the state and future of squash.

PS - Did you know that there is a squashblog Twitter community?

Read more ...

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Countdown to Copenhagen

The World Squash Federation launched its 'Countdown to Copenhagen' during the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships 2008.

Click right to see a video of the launch event, provided by Squash360.com.

There is almost exactly a year to go before the IOC votes on which sports will be included in the 2016 Olympics.









The World Squash Federation will outline make the case for the sport's inclusion in the IOC Session in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Left:
the second half of the press conference.

Read more ...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Squashsite closes

The popular squash website Squashsite has closed.

However, the site claims that since shutting down at the end of the Hi-Tec World Championships in Manchester that the owners have already been deluged with 'reactions, suggestions and offers' ...

It remains to be seen whether the shutting down of the site brings the support from the governing bodies that they had been trying to negotiate before they chose to close.

Squashsite had provided a comprehensive daily news service for squash around the world for a number of years, and its loss will leave squash fans with few online alteratives other than the governing body sites when looking for news on professional and amateur/recreational squash.

The producers of the site claim a multitude of reasons for deciding to stop updating its pages and shutting down - all of which are explained here ...

Read more ...

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Ashour defeats Darwish to take first title

Ramy Ashour v Karim DarwishEgyptian Ramy Ashour lost the first game to fellow countryman Karim Darwish, but came through to take the next three to become World Champion in Manchester today.

His 5/11, 11/8. 11/4, 11/5 victory was characterised by wristy shot making that was matched for much of the game by Darwish ...

Mistakes from Ashour gave Darwish an early 3-0 lead in the first. A couple of lets followed, which briefly halted Darwish's progress, and it struck me how few interruptions I had seen during their matches this week. There are far fewer lets than there used to be (how much of this due to the PAR scoring I am unsure), but it is far better for the game and the spectator to see the match uninterrupted.

Ashour v DarwishDarwish took some risks during the long rallies, with low, skiddy, cross-court drops stretching Ramy and mostly paying off. At 9-4 up, Darwish's confidence was evident as he pounced early on the ball (his speed was not something I'd noted in the past), and a tin from Ashour followed by a stroke gave Karim the game 11-5.

The second started off rather scrappily with a number of strokes given away. Darwish was persisting with a percentage game interspersed with deceptive attacks, but Ramy was beginning to loosen up and attack more frequently. At 7-6 to Ashour there was a let called after he tried to run around Darwish who was in the process of hitting a drop in the front-court. This seemed hard on Karim (who - half-jokingly - protested that the shot was "the best (he'd) ever done").

A high cross-court backhand kill that nicked seemed to sap the remainder of Darwish's enthusiasm for the rest of the game, and Ashour opened his account 11-8.

Ashour at the moment of victoryRamy obviously had decided that he was in no mood to be constrained by Dawish's more patient game in the third, and began to hit more audacious shots. His impish pleading for a let at 3-1 amused the crowd, and it was evident that Ramy's character was to endear him as much as his style of play (is it just me or does Ashour look a bit like Pete Sampras when he delivers the innocent shrug?).

Darwish was beginning to run out of attacking ideas, as Ashour second-guessed almost everything thrown at him. Ramy was by now chucking in attacking boasts from very deep that had Darwish wrong-footed, and his greater variety told in taking the game 11-4.

At the start of what was to be in the final game, Darwish was visibly frustrated, staring down the barrel as he was. He stuck in the game to 4-4, before Ashour began to give an exhibition in how to turn defence into attack, turning seemingly lost causes into instant attacking positions.

From this point Ramy ran away with it, and quickly raced to his first (or what are likely to be many) World Championship titles. After the winning point he fell to his knees, racket above his head (see photo above) before being congratulated by Darwish.

In the post-match interview he spoke of the great spirit that exists amongst the Egyptian players, and that he "tried not to express emotion too much" as he was playing a friend and compatriot.

His comment that is was "always important to keep a good spirit on court" will have gone down well with the IOC representative who was watching both finals - as will the absorbing display highest class sport, professionalism good behaviour that many have witnessed this week.

Read more ...

David wins third World title; Botwright retires

Nicol David v Vicky BotwrightNicol David claimed her third World Championship with a 5/11, 11/1, 11/6, 11/9 victory over England's Vicky Botwright this afternoon.

The partisan crown rooting for Botwright had something to cheer about right from the start of the first game, as she took the game to the Malaysian World number one ...

Botwright had particular success dropping on her backhand, often taking the ball high to force David to unsuccessfully counter-drop. Botwright seemed relaxed and composed, and stuck at her tactics to take the first 11-5.

At the start of the second David started immediately to control longer rallies, volleying wherever possible to push Botwright to the back of the court. The increasing variety in her game seemed to affect Botwright's confidence when attacking, and the Malaysian took the second easily 11/1.

The third game was tighter as both players started to rely on their ability to achieve a platform to attack from longer rallies up the side wall. Botwright was still working her backhand drops, but failed to impose herself at the T when she was given chances to put the ball away. 11-6 to David.

The fourth was neck-and-neck all the way, both players retrieving well under pressure, both perhaps hesitant to force the issue. At 8-9 down, Botwright hit a superb, flat, backhand kill that brought it to 9-9, and the crown volume suddenly rose.

A drop from David and a slightly lucky stroke (never the way you want a tournament to end) gave the champion her third title.

Nicol was undoubtedly thrilled. She was a worthy champion this week, but in the two matches I saw (the semi against Madeleine Perry and the Final) she didn't look as infallible as her long run of success would have one believe. Once she has established her rhythm she is very difficult to break down, but there were glimpses in both games that this rhythm might be cracked if early pressure is sustained.

I sense that the gap at the top of the WISPA rankings is narrowing given some of the upsets this week.

An emotional Botwright giving her final interviewBotwright departed the professional squash arena with a tearful farewell to the crowd, thanking those that had helped her sustain a career at the top of the game, including the 'England girls', England Squash, her parents and fiance.

Right:
An emotional Vicky Botwright gives her final post-match interview

She now takes up a position as Head Coach at the Manchester squash centre.

I had written earlier in the week that Botwright had under-achieved on the court at the National Squash Centre, and it is a shame that her career finished without her ever becoming National champion there.

The script that had been written for the 'fairytale' ending that was not to be had a Henman-esque feel about it, which might equally apply to Botwright's career: a very respectable stretch at the top (she was ranked as high as five in December 2005), a firm crowd favourite and particularly successful when representing her country in team events.

Henman - now also retired - polarises opinion between those who think that being one of the world's top tennis players for so long (and a great ambassador for the sport to boot) is a tremendous achievement in itself, and those who dismiss him as a very British kind of failure: lacking killer instinct, never won anything of note etc.

It would be a shame if writers of Botwright's biog in the annuls are similarly split between those who followed her career and witnessed her dedication, highlighting her individual and team successes and (very late!) Indian summer in reaching the final of the Worlds, and those who will only remember her for a certain clothing-related incident that made the tabloids in 2001.

Most followers of squash will hope that she is remembered for the former, particularly because that one incident that some see as a blemish on a great professional career (including service to her country through the National squad) was a result of misguidance rather than lack of commitment on the squash court.

Read more ...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Semis bring more upsets

Vicky BotwrightA fairytale ending to Vicky Botwright's playing career remained a possibility tonight after coming through her semi-final against Jenny Duncalf.

However, the match that would guarantee a British woman finalist for the first time since 2003 didn't end in the way either would probably have wished it, with Duncalf retiring due to injury at the end of the second game ...

Jenny had taken an injury break early in the first game, and it was clear that she was not moving freely after resuming. Botwright took advantage to take the game 11-3.

Though Duncalf briefly rallied in the second, where she appeared to be surviving on pure instinct to nullify her England team mate's attacks, it was not enough, and Botwright took the second 11-6 with a backhand cross-court kill. A few moments later player colleagues in Duncalf's corner waved to the officials that she would be playing no further part, and it was all over.

It was a sad end to the week for Duncalf, who had achieved one of the best wins of her career earlier in the week when she defeated Natalie Grinham for the first time in 13 attempts. She has now beaten both Grinham sisters in major tournaments in 2008, after putting Rachael out of the British Open in Liverpool earlier in the year, and surely is now due a top tour title.

Botwright admitted in the post-match interview that she had “always failed miserably at the Nationals”, but today she appeared to play unencumbered by memories of under-achievement on this same court.

David v Perry


In the final Botwright will meet defending champion Nicol David, who safely navigated her way around the upsets that had littered both draws this week. Her semi-final was the first time that I had seen David play – a rather sad fact that belies that dearth of WISPA events in the UK over the past few years (as I've said in these pages before, how about a Super Series-type event in London for the women?).

Her opponent, Northern Ireland's Madeleine Perry, took an early lead, attacking to deny the Malaysian length, and was quickly 4-1 up. David's drops also seemed easily readable by the Irishwoman, but just as she was gaining momentum her own short game began to be exposed, with balls chipped far too high above the tin,

Nicol David v Madeleine PerryThe World Champion was quick to exploit the time this bought her, and started to work her opponent, increasingly finding a rhythm that had been disrupted earlier in the game. A couple of strokes and a tinned ball by Perry handed David the game 11-6.

At the start of the second Perry had chances that she was unable to take. Apparently having worked out where David was fallible, she was increasingly frustrated at her mistakes when preparing to exploit them. 9-6 down, Perry started to move David about the court more, varying her game and causing the world number one to commit the same errors that were plaguing her game.

In many ways this was as frustrating game for the spectator as it probably was for Perry. David finally wrapped up the match in a third game which was again notable by the frequency of Perry's mistakes. The 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 win will suggest a routine victory when this draw is looked back on in years to come, but Perry's obvious talent meant that on the day it was far more closer than it will appear in the scoring books.

It's a shame I haven't had the opportunity to see that talent more over the years.

After the game the winner spoke of “sticking to what you have to do” when asked how she would approach her (surprise?) opponent in the final. If Botwright is to make the fairytale come true she has to prevent David sticking to what she does best – as Madeleine did, albeit briefly, today.

Shabana v Ashour

It was not just the top woman player I had never managed to catch on these shores; I had also been waiting a long time to see Ramy Ashour (whose title of 'hottest young prospect' now appears to have transferred to Mohammed El Shorbagy).

Ashour came on to court for his semi against defending champion Shabana looking like he had wandered in from the beach. Relaxed in a floppy purple ATCO t-shirt, it was if he had been asked to stand in for a knock-up while Shabana waited for his real opponent to arrive.

What struck me on seeing Ramy for the first time was his size; a lot bigger in the upper body than he appears in photos (or even on video), he reminded me of Christiano Ronaldo – another athlete who at first appears rather lanky, but is far bigger and imposing when seen against and opponent.

Shabana still has the swagger that I first witnessed years back in Nottingham when he faced David Palmer in the final of the British Open. On that day he appeared to spend most of the time on the floor, the swagger apparently more about posturing to the officials and the crowd more than an indication of nonchalant self-belief.

You don't win three world titles without mental toughness in squash, however, and this he has obviously developed in the intervening years. But I have a nagging suspicion that playing in Britain – for whatever reason (Amr has voiced opinions about the organisation of competitions recently)– brings out a frustration in him that arises at crucial times. It was evident in the Liverpool British Open against Palmer, and I detected it in the final of the Super Series against Gaultier

The guy sitting next to me watching the match reckoned that Shabana had never won a tournament in Britain, and that he was out to prove something to himself this week.

These two clearly know each other's game inside and out, and the first four games were a exhibition in attacking squash, and a great demonstration of the advantages that the WSF feel that PAR scoring – voted on in the AGM this week – can bring to the sport.

Shabana tried repeatedly to mix it up and get Ashour (almost literally) off his back. The younger man's anticipation is remarkable for such a big player playing off his opponent's shoulder in the front court, and his access to such a range of shots with those long limbs was akin to a Victorian-era signalman, casting his eyes over an array of shiny levers before selecting which one to pull. He simply has every shot in the book.

At 2-1 up and 8-7 in the fourth, Shabana appeared to have regained control, but a couple of reckless points brought it back to 9-9, and an attempt at a kill off Ashour's serve which flew back into his body gave game ball to Ashour, which he converted. It seemed a strange lack of concentration within sight of victory, and the younger man's 7-0 almost instant lead in the fifth suggested that Shabana had given up. A number of mistakes, mainly tins, by Ashour saw Shabana take seven points of his own in losing 7-11.

What is it about Shabana in Britain? This was the third match (see above) that he had seemed to have become upset by something, but I didn't expect it it happen the World Championship semi-final.

He didn't comment at the end, but maybe his thoughts will come out in the future. Shabana is one of the most articulate players, and is not afraid to voice his opinions.

Darwish v Palmer

One player who always seems to hold it together mentally when it really matters is Palmer. And he kept it right together here, even though he appeared to be treated rather harshly on a number of occassions by the officials.

Darwish was dogged in his receiving and deceptive at the front wall. He took the first 11-6.

Darwish v PalmerI don't think I've ever seen Palmer lose a match 3-0, and the game got physical in the second as Darwish come out the better on a number of contentious decisions. The end of the game was particularly dramatic, with Palmer diving to retrieve at 8-9 before springing up to stay in the rally, before Darwish killed the ball cross-court, which brought a fist-pump from the Egyptian.

A couple of outsanding rallies followed, before Darwish again deciding that enough was enough and killed the ball to take the game 11-9. It was telling that he stayed on court for much of the between-game break, and clearly he saw the finish line before him.

The third saw another couple of questionable lets go in Darwish's favour, but the Egyptian kept his nerve to win 11-8. At the end he told master of ceremonies Andy Nikeas that the felt “fresh for the final”. It will be his – and Ashour's – first.

Read more ...

Friday, 17 October 2008

Shabana in little mood to follow upsets

Amr Shabana in an earlier eventReigning Champion Amr Shabana took care of business in just 20 minutes in his quarter final against Mohamed El Shorbagy this afternoon.

His easy 11/2, 11/3, 11/6 victory made sure that there would be no upset in a week that has so far been chock-full of them ...

El Shorbagy had burst on to the scene earlier in the week with a shock win over Thierry Lincou, but his Egyptian team mate Shabana was not hanging around to become another scalp for the youngster, losing only 11 points in the match.

Earlier in the day Nick Matthew managed to take a game from second seed Ramy Ashour (is he still the hottest prospect in men's squash?!), who started the match slowly before gathering momentum.

Vicky Botwright continued her amazing final attempt in the world's premier squash event with a four-game win over Alison Waters. She now faces Jenny Duncalf in the semis, which guarantees an English woman in the final for the first time since Cassie Jackman lost to Carol Owens in Hong Kong in 2003.

Duncalf earlier beat Natalie Grinham for the first time in 13 attempts.

More news, comments videos and more ...

Read more ...

Grant claims greatest win to overcome Gaultier

Adrian GrantAdrian Grant saved three match balls to score the greatest win of his career to date yesterday, beating Frenchman Greg Gaultier 9-11, 12-10, 14-12, 1-11, 13-11 (98m).

"This is a massive step for me - definitely my best result by far," said the 14th seed from Lewisham ...

He now meets Egyptian Karim Darwish in his quarter final, who defeated Alister Walker 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-8.

Other results from yesterday:

Men's 3rd round (lower half of draw):

[5] David Palmer (AUS) bt Daryl Selby (ENG) 11-5, 11-13, 11-3, 12-10 (83m)

[3] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Davide Bianchetti (ITA) 11-7, 13-11, 11-8 (48m)

Women's 2nd round (top half of draw):

[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [13] Rebecca Chiu (HKG) 11-3, 11-8, 11-7 (24m)

[9] Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) bt [8] Laura Lengthorn-Massaro (ENG) 21-23, 19-17, 12-14, 11-6, 11-7 (85m)

Jaclyn Hawkes (NZL) bt [4] Natalie Grainger (USA) 11-5, 5-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-8 (41m)

[14] Madeline Perry (IRL) bt [6] Shelley Kitchen (NZL) 11-5, 11-6, 11-2 (34m)

More World Championships coverage

Read more ...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

World Open: Day 3 and 4 video highlights

Click left to see highlights of days 3 and 4 of the World Squash Championships 2008, provided by Squash360.com.

Great footage in there of the El Shorbagy/Lincou upset, including Lincou's reaction ...

Read more ...

Hi-Tec World Squash Championships Manchester 2008 coverage

World Open logoNews and comment

13/11/09 - The Verdict
19/10/08 - Ashour defeats Darwish to take first title
19/10/08 - David wins third World title; Botwright retires
18/10/08 - Semis bring more upsets
17/10/08 - Shabana in little mood to follow upsets
17/10/08 - Grant claims greatest win
16/10/08 - Botwright dethrones Grinham
16/10/08 - El Shorbagy beats former champion to come of age

Videos

Paul Waters interview
Day 3 and 4 highlights
Welcome to Manchester

Coverage elsewhere

Daily Telegraph news reports

WSF coverage
Squashsite reports

squashblog @ Twitter

Read more ...

Paul Waters interview

Click left to see a interview with Paul Walters, CEO of the internationalSPORTgroup and Tournament Director of the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships - Manchester 2008, provided by Squash360.com



More news, comment, videos and more ...

Read more ...

Botwright dethrones Grinham

Vicky Botwright at an earlier tournamentManchester squash star Vicky Botwright pulled off a sensational upset yesterday when she beat defending champion Rachael Grinham in the second round of the women's event in the Hi-Tec World Open Squash Championships in Manchester ...

Also: Botwright v R. Grinham - head-to-head

It was only Botwright's third win over the elder of the Grinham sisters, in what could have been her last match at a World Open.

Botwright previously beat Grinham in the quarter final of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open 2007, and she'll finish her professional career in singles squash with a 50% win record against the Aussie - a statistic that many of her top ten colleagues would envy against the World and British Open champion.

The 31-year-old former world No5 recently announced her decision to retire at the World Championships after accepting the role as Head Coach at the prestigious National Squash Centre.

She now faces England team mate Alison Waters in her quarter final.

Botwright v R. Grinham head-to-head

WORLD OPEN 2008
Vicky Botwright bt. Rachael Grinham 3 - 1 ( 5 - 11, 13 - 11, 11 - 8, 11 - 8 )

CATHAY PACIFIC HONG KONG OPEN 2007

Vicky Botwright bt. Rachael Grinham 3 - 1 ( 5 - 9 , 9 - 6 , 10 - 9 , 9 - 4 )

QATAR CLASSIC 2007
Rachael Grinham bt. Vicky Botwright 3 - 1 ( 1 - 9 , 9 - 5 , 9 - 3 , 9 - 5 )

CIMB MALAYSIAN OPEN 2007
Rachael Grinham bt. Vicky Botwright 3 - 0 ( 9 - 2 , 9 - 1 , 9 - 0 )

CIMB MALAYSIAN WOMEN'S OPEN 2006
Rachael Grinham bt. Vicky Botwright 3 - 1 ( 9 - 3 , 9 - 3 , 3 - 9 , 10 - 9 )

QATAR CLASSIC 2005
Vicky Botwright bt. Rachael Grinham 3 - 2 ( 9 - 7 , 1 - 9 , 0 - 9 , 9 - 5 , 9 - 0 )

Hi-Tec World Open Squash Championships

Read more ...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

El Shorbagy beats former Champion to come of age

Mohamed El Shorbagy at this year's World Junior ChampionshipsMohamed El Shorbagy shocked Manchester yesterday with 12-10, 11-6, 7-11, 10-12, 13-11 (81m) victory over French sixth seed Thierry Lincou.

In the first big upset of the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships, the Egyptian junior World Champion appears to have made an immediate transition into the top tier of the senior game ...

Those who have been following El Shorbagy's rapid progress of the past year will perhaps not be surprised that he has claimed his biggest win to date at the Worlds, but even they would not have foreseen him beating former World Champion and world number one Lincou.

The 17 year-old from Alexandria is coached at Millfield School by legend of the game Jonah Barrington. He now faces compatriate Hisham Ashour in the third round, before a potential quarter-final tie against top seed Amr Shabana.

Elsewhere, other upsets - though perhaps less earth-shattering than El Shorbagy's win - included Samantha Teran, the 16th seed, crashing out to Annie Au, a 19-year-old qualifier from Hong Kong 11-5, 11-4, 3-11, 11-5.

New Zealander Jaclyn Hawkes also defeated higher seeded former Champion Vanessa Atkinson, despite a fightback from the Dutch player, to win 11-9, 11-7, 8-11, 10-12, 11-5.

Hi-Tec World Squash Championships

Read more ...

Welcome to Manchester

Click right to see a video preview of the World Squash Championships 2008, provided by Squash360.com.

The Championships are this year held at the National Squash Centre, part of the Sportcity complex of buildings in Manchester, England. The complex was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in the city.

Like the music ... anyone know who it is?

Read more ...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Best week ever for squashblog!

Web statsSquashblog has just enjoyed its best week for visitor figures since launch, with readers coming to the site in increasingly larger numbers ahead of the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships ...

The past week has seen the highest number of unique visitors and the highest number of page impressions on the site to date, with readers from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Mölndal (Sweden), Kuwait, Oklahoma and the Dutch Antilles!

Since its launch in January 2007, squashblog has sought to raise the profile of squash through dialogue with the squash community, the media and other agencies - so please comment on each article (you can do it anonymously!) and have your say about the future of the sport.

RSS and squashblog @Twitter

Did you also know that you can read each article post without visiting the site? If you use an RSS reader, type the following code in and you will automatically receive articles as soon as they are posted:

http://www.squashblog.co.uk/feeds/posts/default

We also recently launched the first squash community offering on Twitter, the "micro-blogging" site (you can also see updates from the squashblog Twitter page to the right of the squashblog main site).

Find out more here

Read more ...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Hi-Tec World Squash Championships finals day already a sell-out

Sarah KippaxDemand for tickets to the Championships, which get underway this Saturday with the qualifying rounds (which are free to the public), have also resulted in all hospitality packages for the finals being sold out.

With both the men’s and women’s World Opens running concurrently at the National Squash Centre in Manchester’s Sportcity, the nine day tournament will see the leading 64 men and top 32 women in action in what promises to be the biggest squash tournament staged ...

Amr Shabana of Egypt and Nicol David of Malaysia will be favourites to retain their titles, but there will be no shortage of home grown players on show with 17 British players guaranteed to line up for the knock-out stages. Tickets are still available to see all the action up to and including the semi-finals, but fans are advised to purchase soon as numbers are becoming limited.

There will also be a strong presence of players from the north west, including National Squash Centre coach and world number 12 Vicky Botwright, who will be retiring from the elite level after the Championships, and Cheshire’s Sarah Kippax (above), the official ambassador of the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships.

Purchase tickets here

Read more ...

World Champions gallery

The Telegraph's squash page continues to beef up its content ahead of the Hi-Tec World Squash Championships, with a nice gallery of men's World Open past winners up on the site.

Have a browse back down the years and see such great champions as Nicol and Power (right) here.

Now how about the women?

Read more ...

Monday, 6 October 2008

Not Strictly about squash ...

Andrew Castle and his partner on Strictly Come DancingThe man who brought headbanging to the tango apparently taught Stefan Edberg to play squash.

If you never thought you'd read that sentence ... read on ...

Andrew Castle, the former British tennis number one, GMTV presenter, current contestant and all-round housewives' favourite on Strictly Come Dancing introduced the former Swedish tennis star to the great game when Edberg was living in London.

It appears that the Swede is also actually pretty good at it, competing regularly for his home town of Växjö.

Castle himself plays squash for Surrey, and occasionally has a hit against Tim Henman. I can't find any reference to it, but I seem to remember him also commentating on squash for the BBC some years ago.

It was last Saturday night that Castle's tango had the judges reaching for the rule book, after introducing a headbanging move that would have been more appropriate at a Metallica concert (right) ...

Squash traditions given the chop

Read more ...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Telegraph increases coverage

Daily Telegraph squash pageWith squash coverage in the mainstream press often relegated to the small print of the sports results section, it was promising to see that the Telegraph appears to be bucking the trend - at least online.

The squash page on its website has started to carry regular updates, written by journalist Rod Gilmour ...

The page appears to be carrying features and interviews - as well as news updates - and will hopefully boost interest amongst the readership in the run-up to the World Squash Championships in Manchester later this month.

Daily Telegraph squash page

Read more ...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Re-structuring, re-branding, re-launching

Jahangir Khan at the 2007 Women's World OpenThe coming season marks a crucial period for squash, as it races to get its house in order and put on its best frock before next year's vote on Olympic inclusion.

With that in mind, the three main governing bodies are all working behind the scenes on, variously, restructuring their leadership, increasing their media presence, and strengthening their brand ...

Leighton leaves WSF: finally official

The worst kept secret in squash has finally been confirmed on the World Squash Federation website: Chief Executive Christian Leighton has left the organisation.

A news article dated 22/09/08 states that a "re-structuring" of the organisation is taking place, with Leighton being "a casualty of the new setup" ...

Why the re-structuring necessitated the departure of the Chief Exec is not explained, but the next paragraph of the article does its best to talk-up his contribution:

"Christian has made a significant contribution since joining the Federation in January 2005, particularly in squash's bid to join the Olympic programme," added (Jahangir) Khan. "We wish him well in his future pursuits."

What the re-structuring might entail when complete is not expanded on, though during the process of its implementation the administration the Federation will be overseen by its Management Committee, led by Khan and featuring Vice Presidents Heather Deayton (Hong Kong), Gerard DeCourcy (New Zealand) and Frank van Loon (Netherlands).

As previously commented on this site and others, the departure of senior management during a crucial year for squash's Olympic hopes does not bode well.

Sources tell me that a promo video is hastily being compiled in order to showcase the sport at its best; here's hoping that a professional media production company who are experienced in putting together such pitches have been commissioned.

The WSF is due to meet IOC President Jacques Rogge on 13 November.

Textbook graphic illustrating how to create brand identityRe-launch or re-brand?

Leighton's departure coincides with what appears to be an unnanounced re-launch (and re-branding?) of the WSF website (and the organisation itself?). At first I took the new logo for one of those 'rabbit or duck?'-style optical illusions, where you are not quite sure what you are seeing, before realising that it is actually a racket-hitting-a-ball-through-an-acronym ...

In keeping with those optical illusions where the trick only works first time, when I now look at the logo I can't help but see only the racket and ball, which is a success of some kind.

It was also brought to my attention that the International Rugby Board's website (one of the WSF main rivals in the race to become an Olympic sport) looks very similar ...

I've asked the WSF to clarify whether the website is a relaunch/rebrand/redevelopment but as yet have had no reply.

WISPA issues directive to players

As noted recently on Squash360.com, WISPA is leading the way in promoting the virtues of the sport and the professionalism of its players in support of the Olympic campaign.

A recent WISPA Bulletin from Chief Executive Andrew Shelley issued a call to arms:

BEIJING BEHIND US, THE FINAL PUSH AHEAD

"When the Olympics began a few weeks ago all WISPA members were reminded that this was the time that they may be asked about why squash wasn’t included and whether we can get into them in the future. The notes are worth repeating now as the focus must remain strong as squash continues to press its claim for inclusion.

We missed out on selection for the 2012 Games in London, but next year (October 2009) at the next IOC meeting which will be held in Copenhagen there will be decisions made about the venue selected for 2016 and the sports played.

As a result of baseball & softball being voted out of London but not being replaced there are 26 sports to be played there, and thus places for two more in 2016 (the Olympic Charter stipulates a maximum of 28).

So, we are in a fight with baseball and softball who want to get back in, along with the other shortlisted sports of karate, golf, rugby sevens & roller sports.

Remember:

- We are a truly worldwide sport, and compete in every other Major Games, including the Commonwealth, Pan American, Asian and All African Games.

- Squash is different to all other sports in the Games, and rates as one of the most gruelling and skilled sports.

- Our top players are serious professionals.

- All our players are serious sports people.

- The Olympics would be our greatest event by far and the ultimate goal for our players would be to win a gold medal. (This is important to stress as this differentiates us from golf, tennis, soccer and some other sports where there are other great, highly coveted 'major’ championships such as Wimbledon, The Masters or the World Cup.)

- We have become a really good spectator and TV sport because of the all-glass court. The glass court can be erected in any spectacular location and does not require an expensive stadium to be built, cutting costs for the host city/nation.

- The top players in the world are a diverse group of people that come from many nations that are not the 'super powers' in the Olympics - creating opportunities for different nations to have a lead on winning medals.

The Olympic bid is of paramount importance as we use the year in conjunction with WSF & PSA to promote ourselves in any way that we can. Creating a bigger profile and reaching out to key people and contacts is a main thrust of the strategy."

Great point about the portability of the court as an asset: I don't think I've seen this in any squash-and-the-Olympics articles to date.

England Squash to rebrand

While we're on the subject of changes and interventions being made by governing bodies, I read recently that England Squash is also undergoing a rebranding.

Ben Taylor, Marketing Co-Ordinator at ES, responded to my query about their work in this area:

"We are working with a branding agency, Fudge Studios, to create a new brand that represents the organisation as a forward thinking, modern organisation, but that also shows that squash and racketball are vibrant, exciting, relevant sports that are worthy of more interest, participation, and media coverage."

Sounds promising - I look forward to seeing the result of the collaboration.

Read more ...