Thursday 31 January 2008

More courts at risk: Morley Sports Centre

Squash courtA row in the Morley Observer over the decision not to include squash courts at the new Sports Centre has promoted a petition to be set up calling for the government to intervene ...

A letter written to the newspaper raised an objection to a sports centre with fewer facilities, prompting a number of responses , mainly in support of the squash courts' removal.

You can sign the e-petition to stop the down-grading of Morley Sports Centre here.

Sign the petition
Morley Observer

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Monday 28 January 2008

Kitchen sinks Waters as seeds flounder

Shelley KitchenRecent recipient of WISPA's Most Improved Player award Shelley Kitchen justified her accolade by beating England's Alison Waters in a hard-fought 3-2 win to take the Harrow Greenwich Open title.

Natalie Granger's loss to Laura Lengthorn-Massaro in the quarters had robbed the event of its top seed, and Kitchen's topsy-turvey win over Vanessa Atkinson in her semi-final had set up a final that perhaps few would have predicted.

But it is Waters' characteristically stealthy progress through the rounds that also suggests potential beyond her ranking ...

While Kitchen looks set to consolidate her position in the top 10 after this win, it could be that 2008 similarly proves a breakthrough year for the 23 year-old from London.

Waters has also done well in the January Greenwich event in the past couple of years just prior to the British Nationals, and obviously finds it easier than us mere mortals to raise herself from the post-Christmas torpor (do athletes have these?).

Twice in recent years has Waters made it to the final of the Nationals, first in 2005 when it always seemed destined to be Linda Charman's year, and then last year losing to Jenny Duncalf in a close five-game match.

Alison WatersOn both occassions Waters played underdog, slipping through to the final by playing her unfussy, methodical game as bigger names crashed out.

Reaching the final in Greenwich a couple of weeks before the Nationals take place at the National Sports Centre therefore seems like some kind of omen, and in repeating the pattern she'll be hoping it will be third time lucky in Manchester.

Beginning and ending 2007 at number 11 in the rankings, Waters had been as high as 9 and low as 14 throughout the year. Quarter final appearances were in abundance, but the last semi she made it to on the main WISPA tour was in Greenwich last year.

Success for her by the end of 2008 would be to not finish again as runner-up in Manchester, emulate Shelley Kitchen's recent improvement by ensconcing herself inside the top 10, and grab some WISPA titles along the way.

Harrow Greenwich Open 2008
British National Championships 2008

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Tuesday 22 January 2008

World Squash Day 2008

World Squash Day 2008World Squash Day 2008 will be held on Saturday March 15th.

In a clever initiative to attract greater participation, this year's event will tie-in with the Sport Relief campaign.

Founder of World Squash Day, Alan Thatcher, explained the reason behind the decision: ...

"This is great news for the sport and it gives every squash club on the planet the opportunity to support two major objectives: to raise the profile of squash and to raise valuable money for Sport Relief."

In previous years, events have taken place in more than 40 countries.

World Squash Day is endorsed by the WSF and supported by national governing bodies.

World Squash Day 2008

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Saturday 19 January 2008

UK calendar fills up but I don't like Mondays

2008 is shaping up into a veritable tournament-fest for squash fans in Britain, with four big events scheduled to attract the world's best players.

After a slightly worrying 2007 in the UK, where the Super Series was rescued in the nick of time and the British Open wobbled back to its feet, the coming 12 months look set to bring the sport back to Blighty with a vengence.

But why are the British Open finals being held on a Monday?

The final matches were held on a Monday last year, and there have been a number of other tournaments where the climax of a competition has fallen outside of a weekend - last year's English Open, for instance, finished on a Tuesday ...

I can only think that it is the availability of venues that means that events can't be scheduled to finish at the weekend. This can't be good for the average working spectator, who would struggle to attend a Monday final if it is not held in their home town.

That small gripe aside, the British squash fan can look forward to the following during 2008:

Canary Wharf Classic (London)
Super Series Finals (London)
British Open (Liverpool)
World Open (Manchester - both men and women)

The geographical spread of these events is also important in bringing the game to a wider audience, as is the return of the Super Series to Broadgate - as I've said a number of time before, harnessing the financial muscle that only London can bring is crucial to the sport again dropping a firm anchor in the UK.

However, it's a shame that although WISPA's finest will be there for the BO and the World Open, there is no big women-only affair to match Canary Wharf of the Super Series.

While fans of the men's game will get to see the likes of Shabana and Ashour, it is only rarely that spectators in Britain get to appreciate the skills of Nicol David and Natalie Grinham.

How about a women's Super Series for Broadgate?

Canary Wharf Classic
Super Series Finals
British Open
World Open

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Thursday 17 January 2008

Ashour takes ToC as US interest grows

Ramy Ashour v James Willstrop in the Tournament of Champions 2008 finalRamy Ashour celebrated his return after injury with a win over James Willstrop in the final of the Tournament of Champions, held in Grand Central Station, New York.

The majestic venue is the perfect stage for flaunting the spectacle of live professional squash in the US, a country rapidly developing a greater interest in the sport ...

First reports suggest that the Egyptian's 3-0 win over his 24- year-old opponent - a much-anticipated rivalry that many hope will continue for years to come - doesn't tell the whole story, with the 11/7, 13/10, 11/9 scoreline a close affair between the two attacking players.

A recent article in the New York Times reports that squash is increasing in popularity in the country, with young people choosing squash as a sporting route into studying at Ivy League universities, taking advantage of a system that has long aided American football and basketball players.

Describing squash as "an indoor racket sport long associated with private clubs and old-boy networks", it suggests that the reasons for an increasing number choosing a minority sport as a way of gaining entry to prestigious colleges is not as cynical as it first appears:

"College is not the only reason the game is enjoying a youth boom. In recent years, squash leagues and tournaments have become more welcoming to intermediates and novices, said Kevin Klipstein, the chief executive of US Squash."

"Proponents have also managed to sell the sport's appeal outside its traditional preppy demographic. Several private clubs in New York have opened their courts to teams of young people from the inner city."

One these initiatives is the Citysquash programme, a scheme that uses squash to provide an "after-school enrichment program that provides motivated and talented young people from economically disadvantaged households with a nurturing and structured team environment" based in the Bronx at Fordham University. Its Board of Advisors includes Jonathan Power.

The US professional circuit has also received a shot in the arm in the past couple of years, with John White moving his base there and Natalie Granger qualifying as a US citizen through residency.

In the junior ranks too there is evidence of talent coming though the system with Olivia Blatchford - recent winner of the Irish Junior Open U19 title at the age of just 14 - looking a strong prospect for the future.

Tournament of Champions 2008
The New York Times article

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Monday 14 January 2008

British Junior Open 2008

Boys U19 final - Mohamed El Shorbagy, Egy, beats Gregoire Marche, FraEgypt sent out a warning for the future to the other leading squash-playing nations in the recent British Junior Open.

Six of the eight age-category winners hailed from north Africa.

With four Egyptians now encamped in the new PSA top 10 rankings, the country is further establishing itself as a dominant force in world squash ...

And although the Egypt's women have a smaller representation at the top of the WISPA rankings, their strength in depth was evident in wins by Nour El Sherbeny (G13) and Nour El Tayeb (G15).

England, Australia, Pakistan, Canada and France - historically the countries that can be classed as the other leading squash playing nations - fared less well overall in the junior tournament held in Sheffield.

For an excellent analysis of the top countries' overall year-on-year strength, as represented by rankings, see this article by Tomas Jovanovics.

British Junior Open 2008

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Monday 7 January 2008

Harrow waves goodbye to squash courts

Squash courtA recent article in the Harrow Times I stumbled upon hasn't brought new year cheer.

It appears that another leisure centre has proposals to do away with squash courts in order to make space for more lucrative pursuits ...

Professionals Carla Khan, Farjan Rasheed and Middlesex under 19 number one Nikhil Shah are among the regulars at Harrow Squash Club who use the facilities.

The redevelopment will cut the number of courts from 8 to 2.

The loss of the courts would have a sad irony. Squash was invented in Harrow School around 1830 as an outdoor variant on rackets, and when the game proved popular, the first four squash courts were constructed at the school in 1864.

Many members of the club have commented on the proposals (follow the link below), as it appears that Harrow Council have not consulted the squash club.

Read the article and add your comments

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Sunday 6 January 2008

9th World Squash Refereeing Conference

The 9th World Squash Refereeing Conference was recently held in Chennai during the World Men's Team Squash Championships.

The two-day conference, this year entitled Towards World-Class Refereeing: A Program For Improvement, attracted officials from across the world ...

The itinerary featured a number of sessions on consistency when officiating. Inconsistency riles players of any sport, but squash suffers particularly from disagreements where a player feels a decision has been made where the officials are unsighted (due to the position of the referee and the marker in the back wall seating, the ball and players' bodies are often obscured).

The most significant development in officiating the sport over the past year or so has been the re-introduction of the 3-referee system. This appears to have been a success with players and officials alike (though has not yet been rolled out across all PSA and WISPA events) and has ironed out some refereeing inconsistencies.

To a spectator, the officials seem to do an amazing job, and are generally treated with respect by the players. However, players themselves have voiced opinions on the need for a greater professionalism attached to the job of being a squash official, and it is true that altercations between players and officials can often look uglier than they are when magnified in the goldfish bowl of a glass show court.

This can give squash a disproportionately bad image, especially when compared against a sport like football, where the players give the officials all manner of abuse, which the spectator conveniently ignores as they either cannot hear it above the crowd noise or are distracted by other things happening on the pitch.

It would be interesting to explore how other technologies could be used to assist the officials when making certain decisions. Lets/no-lets require the subjective interpretation of experienced officials, but proving whether a ball was down or not could surely benefit from a technological solution.

The minutes of the conference do not yet appear to be on the WSF website - comment to follow when they appear.

9th World Squash Refereeing Conference

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Friday 4 January 2008

Stars honoured at World Squash Awards

WISPA Most Improved Player - Shelley KitchenThe third annual World Squash Awards took place on 21 December at the RAC Club in Pall Mall, London.

Devised by Eventis Sports Marketing - the company formed by Peter Nicol, Tim Garner and Angus Kirkland - the awards honoured a range of achievements throughout the squash calendar, and boasted a "star-studded gathering, featuring top players past and present as well as leading squash figures from around the world" ...

It would be difficult to argue against the PSA and WISPA Players of the Year (Amr Shabana and Nicol David respectively), as both spent the year further cementing their lengthening holds on the world number one spots.

Less predictable was the WISPA Most Improved Player, which Shelley Kitchen won, maybe due to her unexpected win over Nicol David in Madrid's World Open. Over the past 12 months the New Zealander has risen from 14 to 10 in the rankings, and while breaking into the top ten demands a greater consistency of performance which many players find hard to sustain, in purely statistical terms the award seemed a little hard on the other nominees, who have maybe taken greater individual steps.

It's a shame there wasn't a PSA Most Improved Male Player of the Year award, as Peter Barker would surely have been a good bet after his rise up the rankings and triumphant anchor-leg performance in helping England to retain the World Teams.

It was also interesting to see a non-player recognised, with the journalist Dicky Rutnagur honoured for his coverage of squash, which began back in Hashim Khan's breakthrough days.

The awards in full:

PSA Male Player of the Year:

Ramy Ashour (EGY), Gregory Gaultier (FRA), Amr Shabana (EGY)
Winner: Amr Shabana

PSA Young Male Player of the Year:

Ramy Ashour (EGY), Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY), Omar Mosaad (EGY)
Winner: Ramy Ashour

WISPA Female Player of the Year:
Nicol David (MAS), Natalie Grinham (AUS), Rachael Grinham (AUS), Shelley Kitchen (NZL)
Winner: Nicol David

WISPA Young Female Player of the Year:
Annie Au (HKG), Heba El Torky (EGY), Low Wee Wern (MAS), Maria Toor Pakay (PAK), Camille Serme (FRA)
Winner: Camille Serme

WISPA Most Improved Female Player of the Year:
Emma Beddoes (ENG), Line Hansen (DEN), Shelley Kitchen (NZL), Tenille Swartz (RSA), Samantha Teran (MEX)
Winner: Shelley Kitchen

Lifetime Achievement award: Heather McKay

Services to Squash award: Dicky Rutnagur

World Squash Awards 2007

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Wednesday 2 January 2008

"Bound to create a good deal of interest in squash circles"

A freezing cold squash court, yesterdayAbercorn Sports Club in Edinburgh has (apparently) achieved a world first for squash.

The club has installed new squash court heaters, that "will provide (their) players and visitors with a stable court temperature regardless of outside temperatures" ...

The heaters have been fitted in courts 1 and 2, and "are of a type not fitted in any other squash courts in the World".

Used in a recent closed tournament, they were voted a great success. And as they promise to provide "players and visitors with a stable court temperature regardless of outside temperatures", they are "bound to create a good deal of interest in squash circles".

Many squash players will be going blue with envy as they spend the first 15 minutes of their winter months' court time frantically pummelling a two-spot in avoid it dropping like a stone.

Abercorn Sports Club

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Tuesday 1 January 2008

I love 1970s (Happy 2008)

Gogi Alauddin in 1977So then squashblog charged out of the trenches right from the new year get-go, gunning for nay-sayers like Jonathan Aitken brandishing a squash racket and the trusty shield of whatnot ...

And first in the firing line is Harry Pearson in the Guardian, goading the great game across the Christmas-New Year demilitarised zone when the 'blogger was back in barracks.

Before we share it, here's a new year quiz ...

What have the following got in common:

A Question of Sport
They Think It's All Over
Mark Lawrenson partnering John Motson in the commentary box for international football matches

Yep, they're either unapologetically sh*t, or A VERY BAD IDEA. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, funny.

What is it about sport and comedy on TV? Try and think of an example where the two conjugate successfully. It's pretty damn hard.

Has there ever been an edition of A Question ... that hasn't featured some gurning ex-pro resorting to some lame laddish banter about Sue Barker's matronly tone in order to raise an arms-folded titter from his team mates?

Actually, I can't answer that question. The last time I sat through a full half hour of it, Bill Beaumont was slumped comatose in his seat while Emlyn Hughes stood on his head to trying to identify an East German pole vaulter by their backside during the mystery guest round.*

The one glorious exception that comes to mind where sport and comedy avoided the preditable NASCAR pile-up is the film Caddyshack (Rodney Dangerfield RIP).

Anyway, not to hype it any longer - here is the article extract from What won't happen next year:

'At the World Masters Championship squash in New Zealand organisers deny that their sport suffers from an image problem. "People keep saying squash is just too 1970s to take seriously," says Abigail Crimpelene. "But I don't think that is true and everybody I talked to at the pre-competition fondue party agreed with me." The event itself is marred by an injury to the No1 seed Mateus Rose of Portugal, who crashes his Vauxhall Viva into a space hopper. "Apparently he was having trouble steering because earlier he'd hurt his wrist in a Clackers-related incident," says a New Zealand police spokesman.'

I wonder if he's been to see the play Water that I recently reviewed here.

I loved the 70s - in fact I was born during them: the year of KISS's Destroyer tour, when global warming hadn't been invented, and unnaturally hot weather was greeted by regional news crews broadcasting housewives frying eggs on the bonnets of Ford Capris, rather than the holding international climate summits.

The British squash legend also made an appearance in Mike Leigh's successful screenplayBut given that in the space of little more than a month I've read an article and seen a play that both represent squash as a pastime still enjoyed by the likes of Tony from Abigail's Party rather than Lewis Hamilton in a pre-season fitness drive, then maybe we should be worried. After all, why are clichés clichés?

At least none of the top PSA pros now sport large mustaches, which seemed essential to attaining consistency of length and longer rallies in 1977.

And there's more ...

* Amazingly, a quick look at Wikipedia threw up something genuinely funny that has happened on AQOS. The Australian cricketer Shane Warne was on the show at the time:

When the opposing team incorrectly guessed Venus Williams as the sports star shown, the answer was obviously Serena Williams but Warne thought differently and thought it was Roger Federer despite the two having different skin tone and being of a different gender.

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