Wednesday 28 May 2008

Surf City joins tidal wave

Courtesy of

Surf City joins tidal wave
San Diego, CA, USA

It was an idea in the minds of Chris Walker and Greg Scherman, proprietors of San Diego Squash. Now two years later it is a viable, vibrant program that has changed the lives of its participants ...

What is Surf City Squash?

It is a non-profit organization that attempts to inspire underprivileged youth to excel through a program combining squash, academics, and community service. With its first year coming to a close, Surf City Squash has changed the lives of the 18 participants providing opportunities for enrichment and excellence.

Chris Walker, former English captain and oft capped star, helped start the program at his club in "America's Finest City" with donations from hedge fund managers on the East Coast and supporters in San Diego. After an extensive search, Renato Paiva, former ranked world junior player, South American champion, and Harvard coach, was selected as Executive Director. Eighteen middle school students, ages 12-14, were selected to participate after three tryouts in which 60 students competed for the slots. The students were chosen based on enthusiasm, responsiveness, and interest.

Ten times a month the students come to the facilities at San Diego squash where they spend over two hours, half of the time on the squash court, and the other half in study sessions. Once a month they participate in a community service project that varies from feeding the homeless, beach clean-up, to aiding autistic children. The success of the program is evident by the improvement on the squash court, in the classroom, and in their personal development.

Ten members of the team, 5 boys and 5 girls, recently traveled to Philadelphia where they placed 5th in the Urban National team championships and most of the students will be participating in the individual championships in Massachusetts in mid-June. The students have played in numerous tournaments in Southern California and have done extremely well for first year players.

Surf City Squash is part of a tidal wave that is transforming squash in the United States. Formerly a sport restricted to those who attended the right schools or were members of certain clubs, squash is spreading through the development of urban squash programs throughout the country. Surf City Squash has just been granted membership in NUSEA (National Urban Squash and Education Association), becoming the only such sanctioned program in the Western section of the United States. At sites in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, magnificent facilities have been built through private donations bringing new and different groups into the squash world.

You can learn more about this exciting and developing program at its website:

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Thursday 22 May 2008

Squash rides the Metro

James WillstropApparently there was an important football match last night, but that hasn't stopped the Metro finding the column inches for a half-page interview today with England's number one squash player ...

In the interview James Willstrop talks about his quest to become the best player in the world (and remain there), the current Atco Super Series Finals 2008 and looking forward to a rest after a gruelling schedule of tournaments.

The Super Series finals are this year being held again at Broadgate Arena, though Willstop's run of matches (and a slight injury scare) seem to have caught up with him as tonight he will be playing for a minor placing in the event.

Metro logoOne of the two Frenchmen - Greg Gaultier and Thierry Lincou - will contest Friday's final, where they will be joined by the winner of Amr Shabana and David Palmer's semi-final.

Atco Super Series Finals 2008

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Tuesday 20 May 2008

Opposition sets out stall for Olympic inclusion

If squash thought it had a good case for inclusion in the 2016 Games, one of its rivals sports has just raised the bar ...

An article in the Guardian reports that the International Rugby Board (IRB) has put an experienced and professional team in place to help get rugby sevens into the Games, some members of which were involved in the successful bif for London 2012:

"The London 2012 influence is coming into play at the International Rugby Board as it launches a campaign to promote rugby sevens as an Olympic sport. Rugby is among seven sports seeking inclusion in the Games, the others being softball and baseball - which were axed from the Olympic roster for London - golf, squash, karate and roller sports.

Leading the campaign for the IRB chairman, Bernard Lapasset, who is also vice-president of the French Olympic committee, is the London consultancy Vero, which was set up by the London 2012 strategist Mike Lee.

Adding to the 2012 flavour will be Wilder Films, which created two of the six videos in the final presentation that helped swing the vote in London's favour."

Squash narrowly missed out on being included in the London Games after IOC members decided not to include any more new sports. Though rugby sevens was on that shortlist too, it was karate that emerged as squash's closest rival for inclusion.

While squash seems to tick all the boxes for inclusion on its intrinsic values and benefits, it appears from the IRB's set-up that a slick marketing, PR and media campaign may also be required to impress the voting delegates.

The WSF's video to promote squash that was used in the previous bid for Olympic inclusion can be viewed here.

The decision for which sport/s to include in the 2016 Games will be made at the IOC assembly in October 2009 in Copenhagen.

Read the article

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Monday 19 May 2008

Super Series returns to Broadgate

The Atco Super Series Finals 2008 are being held at Broadgate Arena, behind Liverpool St. station in London this week ...

Back in the capital after a brief move last year to Manchester, the event is already a sell-out.

Though some of the big name players have had to withdraw through injury, the line-up for the event which culminates on Friday night is still very strong and boasts current world champion Amr Shabana and last week's British Open winner David Palmer.

The withdrawal of Egyptians Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour (whom I hoped to see for the first time in England this year but now won't get the chance!) means that England's Lee Beachill sneaks into the draw to join fellow European Team Championship-winning team mate James Willstrop.

Atco Super Series Finals 2008

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Sunday 18 May 2008

British Open 2008

Liverpool Echo ArenaApproaching the Liverpool Echo Arena from the Albert Dock, the venue for this years' Dunlop British Open reminded me of the hulking BC Place enormodome that cast a permanent shadow of my hotel in a recent visit to Vancouver.

Squash doesn't often make it into venues of this ilk in the UK, and the securing of such a large berth coupled with the tie-in with the city's European City of Culture 2008 festival screamed "this is still a Big Event".

But would the action inside bear this out?

I was there on the Saturday (quarter finals day), and after dashing up from London early in the morning I managed to catch all of the first session.

I assumed that the pinky-red banners that you can see in the photo above were advertising the squash, but when I got up close to the Arena I saw that they featured a tennis player. When I also had to queue at the box office behind a group of pensioners booking for Jools Holland for 15 minutes, I wondered if I had come to the right place.

So though the venue looked mightily impressive from the outside, it wasn't exactly decked out to attract those a passing crowd - though to be fair, the Arena is right at one end of the docks.

When I finally did step into the cavernous auditorium, the sight of Andy Nickeas (see last year's British Nationals report) lurking in the shadows court-right reassured me that proceedings would be well in hand.

The glass court inside the Echo ArenaAnd though only noon on quarter-finals day of the Dunlop British Open 2008, the 500 or so punters lining the steeply-tiered backwall seating for Natalie Grinham v Isabelle Stoehr had decided to skip a day sittin' on the dock of the bay (it was probably the hottest day of the year so far) and catch some of the world's best squash players instead.

The way the glass show court was spotlit inside the darkened arena really gave the 'stage' an added element of drama, though because the seating was so highly tiered (25 or so rows), it had to stand back somewhat so that those seated right at the top would be able to see. This gave a greater distance between the front row and the backwall than you usually get at squash events, so some of the intimacy that can build in tenser moments was perhaps lost.

A large screen hanging from the Arena roof displayed the score and details of the upcoming matches (why no replays?), and between games showed images of the Beatles to promote Liverpool's City of Culture year-long festival.

The stage therefore looked mightily impressive - but what about the performances?

Natalie limps out

The first match between Natalie Grinham and Isabelle Stoehr looked - on form - a comfortable win for the Australian, but although Grinham was eventually to withdraw before the end with a leg injury, it would do the Frenchwoman an injustice to characterise it as a simple walkover.

Grinham's greater athleticism brought a quick lead, but her haste was tempered by Stoehr's workman-like backhand drives that stifled the Australian's game and hauled a 2-6 deficit back to 6-6. Though Grinham grumbled about not being awarded a couple of lets, these were being outweighed by Stoehr's mistakes, which ultimately cost her the game 9-6.

The second started similarly, with Stoehr unable to find a consistent rhythm. At 0-4 down, a languid forehand pickup that found the front-right corner was the catalyst that gave her the confidence to risk an all-court game, and she finally started to dictate Grinham's movement. 8-4 up, it was clear that the Australian had decided to write the game off, and after throwing the next point hurried straight for the door.

A three-minute injury break was announced, where Grinham received treatment to her leg, and after coming back for the third game it was immediately apparent that she could not continue.

So a bitter-sweet victory for the Frenchwoman. Judging how good this performance really depends on when in the match Grinham started to feel pain in her leg. Stoehr's run of points in the middle of the second game appeared to show an ability to match Grinham in her shot selection and movement when the Australian did not appear to be in any trouble. Rematch please!

Andy Nickeas's interview after the game asked the winner to comment on the prestige of the tournament, and Stoehr reflected on how tough her matches had been in the British Junior Opens in the past.

Darwish focussed

Before Karim Darwish's game against defending champion I walked down and had a wander around the stands. Nice to see some proper food being served (which I didn't have time to sample), and the stalls selling the usual array of equipment appeared to be doing a steady trade.

By this juncture the men's draw had really opened up, with Ramy Ashour failing to even appear on the glass court after being defeated by Azlan Iskander in the previous round at Liverpool Cricket Club. Not good for the organisers, but then the world number 1 and the existing British Open champion were making progress without too much much trouble.

In my article prior to going up to Liverpool I noted that both the men's and women's events were going to seedings. With Natalie Grinham limping out and Ramy Ashour losing the day before that was all changing, though what followed next turned the draw completely on its head.

Defending champion Greg Gaultier looked sharp when warming up against Egyptian Karim Darwish, and when the game started looked in no mood to hand around, killing Darwish's first serve of the match into the front left-hand nick.

It was the Frenchman who continued to attack, with his opponent seemingly reluctant to take his own attacking chances when they fell to him. Darwish's patience brought the game to 5-5 when Gaultier tinned a drop, which was followed by a similar miss from the champion and greater risk taking from the Egyptian.

An audacious back-court drop from Darwish saw him take a 10-9 lead, which was followed by yet another tinned effort from Gaultier that handed Darwish the game 11-9.

The second game was similarly close, with Darwish now dropping at both corners with unreachable accuracy. At 7-7, Gaultier seemed to be afflicted by the mistimed drops that took the first game away from him, tinning twice on his forehand from font court.

Darwish hit a millimetre-perfect forehand attacking boast from mid-court - his first really wristy attack of the match - to take it to 10-9, before closing out the game to take a 2-0 lead.

By the third it was clear that Gaultier was going to struggle to retain his title. Darwish was now mixing it up, wrong-footing his opponent and forcing him into more and more errors.

What was really disappointing was the way Gaultier appeared to give up at 3-8. The last points were deliberately thrown away, with the match-point ball hit out of the court.

Natalie Grinham had done something similar in the match before, but she was clearly suffering from an injury. Gaultier's reluctance to fight for the title gave little creedence to the prestige of the British Open title that was to be emphasised a number of times throughout the day during the post-match interviews.

Full credit then to Karim Darwish, who spoke afterwards of this desire to win the famous tournament and the extra focus that he had given to it when preparing for his trip to Liverpool.

Jenny's greatest win?

I had noted in last year's British Nationals that Jenny Duncalf seemed to be developing a resolve that could see her graduating from domestic success to international title winner.

If one point bore this out more than any other in her match against Rachael Grinham, it was at 5-2 up in the first game when she retrieved a ball from round her back to keep in the point. She was playing with a panache not hitherto seen, a willingness to match the elder Grinham sister's variety of strokeplay that had emerged from her greater confidence.

At 5-5 both players looked to lob as first defence, a tactic that I had seen Rachael use to devastating effect in the 2004 British Open final in Nottingham, when she lobbed Natalie Granger out of the game on her way to her second BO title.

Duncalf had obviously done her homework, and when this didn't work for Grinham, the Aussie switched to attacking boasts from mid-court to win the serve back. Still Jenny wasn't phased, anticipating well to take the first game 9-5.

To predict that Grinham was going to follow the men's champion by throwing in the towel and give up her title would have been to underestimate an Australian's attitude towards competition. In typically dogged Aussie fashion, Grinham came right back in the second, taking the game 9-1 and suggesting that normal service had been resumed.

But the Englishwoman refused to acccept that the first game had been an aberration, repeating her tactics from the first game to win the next two 9-7, 9-1. It was the first time that Duncalf had beaten Grinham, after four previous meetings where she had only managed to take two games in total from the three-times British Open winner.

Jenny was "thrilled" to be in the semi-finals. There would now be a new champion in the women's event too.

Shabana v Palmer

World champion Amr Shabana has not won the British Open, and in this scrappy match against three-time winner David Palmer he never looked liked a real contender.

When I saw both players in the Nottingham final in 2004, it was a very different Egyptian on court than the one who is currently the best player in the world. Shabana back then was a great shot maker, but had not aquired the discipline that would bring him three world titles and the world number one spot.

So I was hoping that this match would demonstrate the greater maturity that the past four years have brought. The Egyptian started sprightly, so quick on to the ball, wrist snapping like a whip. Palmer was struggling for rhythm, but brought a 1-4 deficit back to 7-5, now starting to put Shabana on the defensive, At game point, the Australian put away a forehand kill with real venom, indicating to all those in attendence that a fourth title was not going to be an optional extra for his trophy cabinet.

In the second - as Grinham had done to Duncalf - the higher-ranked player started to justify their status. Shabana shot into a 5-1 lead, holding the ball well and taking the ball deceptively late. A succession of Palmer tins saw the Egyptian run away with the second 11-3.

The third game was crucial in this match. Palmer threw the kitchen sink at Shabana, but the Egyptian seemed to soak up everything coming his way, showing that his defence matches his mercurial shotmaking. The presure from the Australian began to finally show as Shabana made a number of errors to hand the game to Palmer 5-11.

In the fourth, the game got scrappy at 8-8, with Shabana falling and being denied a stroke, then Palmer being given a dubious let when the ball looked down. Ever the professional, Palmer appeared less affected by these delays than Shabana, and regrouped to take the match 11-5 as Shabana grew more frustrated and appeared towards the end to run out of steam.

Run out of steam or given up? Again it was difficult to tell. A tournament that was quietly running to seedings had produced a run of upsets, but while this is great for the underdog-supporting neutral, the organisers would have surely wanted to see an Ashour or Shabana contesting the final, especially given the infrequency with which they visit these shores.

Title number four for Palmer, three for David

Jenny Duncalf's march to the final of the British Open continued after she went on from her victory over Rachael Grinham to beat Stoehr in the semi-final. Here she faced Nicol David, the World Champion who had only dropped one game en route to the final (against New Zealander Shelley Kitchen). The difference in class evident from the 9/1, 10/8, 9/0 result showed that there was only ever really one name on the trophy, and the Malaysian collected the title for the third time.

The men's final lasted nearly three times as long, and from reports appeared a five-game minor classic.

As I wasn't there it wouldn't do it justice to try and summarise the march, but a report can be read here. Suffice to say, it went right to the wire (or should that be frame?) in the fifth, with Palmer (who had overcome Dawish in the semis after the Egyptian had to retire with an injury) finally triumphing 13/11 over James Willstrop after what sounda like either a fluke or a dubious call.

So, Palmer became champion for the fourth time. With two World Opens to add to his four British Open titles, surely it is time - as he moves towards the end of his career - to reassess his standings in the all-time greats. Though the Australian is of the same generation as Peter Nicol and Jonathan Power, he is seldom talked about in the same breath. Is this down to his style of play? His temperament? A question for another time.

What wasn't in doubt was Palmer's commitment to the event, and he - if maybe not others - approached this year's British Open with an eye on the title and the accompanying prestige that he still obviously feels worth fighting for.

Good on him. And good on the organisers for securing a great venue. The British Open is still building its way back from the uncertainties of previous years, and fittingly got the final it deserved.

But the status of the event requires commitment from all of the top players, and I can't say for certain that some of them gave it here.

Dunlop British Open 2008

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Friday 9 May 2008

Few upsets so far in Liverpool

As the Dunlop British Open 2008 moves from Liverpool Cricket Club to the Echo Arena, the quarter-finals are taking shape ...

The biggest upset so far has come in the women's event, with Isabelle Stoehr defeating number 8 see Omneya Abdel Kawy in the first round.

All the seeds in the men's event made it through the first round, though there were notable performances from Alister Walker, who managed to nick a game off Ramy Ashour, and Tom Richards, who managed to do the same against Adrian Grant.

I mentioned Richards' progress coming back from injury in an article not long ago, and since then he has continued to make gains, winning his first BSPA title in the Colets Open 2008.

Prior to that, the 21 year-old from Surrey reached the final of the Curitiba Open in Brazil, finally losing to Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez.

The latter stages of both men's and women's draws in this year's British Open look like going to seeding, though former World Champion Vanessa Atkinson (this year unseeded) will fancy her chances against Shelley Kitchen later today, while Barker v Beachill looks like the most difficult to call of today's mens matches.

Squashblogger will be at the Echo Arena for the quarter finals tomorrow - watch this space for pictures of the venue and the action!

Dunlop British Open 2008

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Who hits hardest?

Radar guns speeds on squashuk.comSome big hitters are in action in this weekend at the Dunlop British Open 2008.

But who hits hardest? has the answer (and the radar gun!) ...

He's often introduced on to court as "the biggest hitter in the game", so it's no surprise to see 'Big' John White at the top of table, with a ball recorded at 172mph hit at the Canary Wharf Classic 2005.

The table also records the efforts of amateurs at radar gun exhibitions, with the hardest-hitting non-pro recorded as Abbotsley's Simon Scott, with a 160mph ball hit at this year's Canary Wharf tournament.

Check out the full table here.

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Wednesday 7 May 2008

May tournaments bring Egyptian stars to UK

With Amr Shabana and Ramy Ashour trading blows around the world in the biggest finals on the PSA Tour, it's been a while since we saw either of them in the UK.

That's about to change in May, with two of the most prestigious men's events being held in Britain.

First up is the prestigious Dunlop British Open (8th-12th May), where Frenchman Greg Gaultier is defending the title ...

The self-styled "Wimbledon of squash" (a moniker I have questioned in the past) will this year be held at the ECHO Arena in Liverpool, as part of the city's European Capital of Culture celebrations.

The British assault on the title will be without 2006 winner Nick Matthew, with the Sheffield man struggling to return after a shoulder injury, though James Willstrop will hope to continue a good run of form in challenging the top French and Egyptian players.

The pick of the first round draws appears to be number 2 seed Ramy Ashour v rising English prospect Alister Walker. Walker recently scored his biggest win, against Gaultier in the Canary Wharf Classic, and seems to raise his game against the top players.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the new venue, and how the event is building towards regaining its status.

The Atco Super Series Finals 2008 will follow the BO by returning to Broadgate Arena in London on 19th-23rd May after moving temporarily last year to Manchester.

Egyptian prodigy Ashour won the event last year at his first attempt, and this year will be joined by Shabana, Greg Gaultier, David Palmer, James Willstrop, Thierry Lincou and Wael El Hindi in the tournament.

The Super Series Finals are contested by the top 8 players who have achieved the best results in the following events around the world over the previous year:

Below: a video of Thierry Lincou from the French TV channel Stade 2 made at the Super Series in 2006.

- Pace Canadian Classic
- Infor Windy City Open
- Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions
- Sheihka Al Saad Kuwait Open
- Qatar Classic (06)
- Dunlop British Open
- US Open
- Saudi International
- Qatar Classic (07)
- Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open
- Endurance Bermuda World Open

Tickets for both events can be purchased through the iSPORTgroup by clicking here.

Dunlop British Open - Liverpool 2008
Atco Super Series Finals 2008

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Tuesday 6 May 2008

Sweet 16 for England in Euro Teams

Joey BarringtonWhat was billed as the most closely-fought Euro Team Championships for years has ended in a familiar result.

Despite facing strong squads from France and the Netherlands respectively, England's men's and women's teams won the titles for the 16th consecutive year ...

Joey Barrington (left, in an earlier tournament) made a perfect start to his England debut, beating Denmark's Kim Poulsen 9-3, 9-2, 9-1 on Day 1, before another good day at the office with a 9-1, 9-2, 9-2 over Scotland's Lyall Paterson.

His more experienced colleagues took up where he left off, powering to the Final, where James Willstrop, Adrian Grant and Peter Barker (in a career-first win over Thierry Lincou) did the business against a strong French team.

In the women's Final, Alison Waters, Vicky Botwright and Jenny Duncalf took the title without dropping a game against their Dutch opponents, Botwright's 3-0 win over Vanessa Atkinson being the stand-out result.

It will be interesting to see how the winners fare against the Netherlands next year, when Natalie Grinham will be eligible to play.

European Team Championships 2008

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Thursday 1 May 2008

Ukrainian women whitewashed on debut

Euopean Teams logoSpare a thought today for the Ukranian women's team at the European Team Championships, currently in their pool stages at the Frans Otten Stadion in Amsterdam.

Well how would you feel if your team had just lost 81-0 ?!

Nina Taraschkevych, Anastasia Spivak and Anastasiya Netrebchuk each failed to score even a single point against their Italian opponents, the debutants each on the receiving end of a 27-0 thrashing.

If anyone out there feels like taking pity on the Ukranian women, you mght want to apply for the Squash Manager's job currently being advertised at the Grand Prix Club in Kiev ...

The men's winner looks surely be drawn from the top three teams: England (title holders), France and the Netherlands, while the women's event looks to be heading towards a repeat of last year's England v Netherlands final.

Recent Dutch aquisition Natalie Grinham is not eligible to represent the Netherlands team until 2009.

Full coverage can be seen at the link below.

European Team Championships 2008

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