Friday, 14 August 2009

Media response speaks volumes in aftermath of 2016 failure

Women's boxing and golf grabbed the headlines, with squash hardly warranting a mention. After recent optimism that squash would be put forward for the vote in Copenhagen for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics, the sport will now not even be put through to the final voting stage.

Again squash has failed. Those who have followed the campaign might see a drawn-out investigation into the reasons for failure as rather pointless – it would surely throw up the same reasons squash failed to make London 2012. Yet the media's reaction yesterday – at least in the UK – perhaps provides the best clue to this huge disappointment ...

Squash's mass media profile, as evidenced by the reaction to the victory of golf and rugby sevens, is still woeful. Yesterday, no UK newspaper I read (save the Telegraph) or radio coverage provided any analysis of squash's merits, or those of the players who could quite conceivably win medals for Great Britain. Discussion centred purely on the merits of the two winning sports, with their heavyweight media profiles and marketing power to attract new audiences being cited as the factors that clinched it. Some discussion was given over to whether participants in rugby and golf would see an Olympic gold as the pinnacle of their sport. Journalists mostly agreed that it wouldn't. But they also agreed that it wouldn't matter.

BBC Radio 5 Live spent a good part of its post-evening news programme discussing the vote. When squash was mentioned as one of the losers at the end of the discussion, Matthew Pinsent – briefly an IOC official himself - muttered something about the winners easily being the best two candidates on the list. That – together with the fact that almost all the other sports journalists I have heard/read over the past 24 hours did not even mention squash – tells you all you need to know.

Briefly, where did squash go wrong?

Emails and articles seen by this website from as late as last autumn showed that a centralised campaign had barely begun, when the golf and rugby marketing machines were moving into top gear. What had squash's administrators been doing from the (far closer-run) 2012 vote up until then? The organisational changes at the top of the WSF and PSA may turn out to be for the better in the long term, but all the changes in personnel over the past 18 months surely cannot have been conducive to a co-ordinated campaign. Efforts in the past few months have showed a greater professionalism, but it may all have been too little too late.

Badminton caught the imagination of the UK public in Athens, just as swimming did in Beijing. This was due to performances in Olympic games, of course, but individual successes would not have had such far-reaching implications for those sports if the media had not got onboard to celebrate them.

Maybe squash was always destined to be unable to compete with the money of golf and rugby. If that is the case, then maybe next time there won't be other challengers with such muscle. However it was depressing to see, after a spirit of optimism that pervaded the squash press over the past few months, that during the vote IOC delegates quite obviously never intended to press for squash's case. The vote in the run up to London winning the 2012 Games now looks in hindsight like the best opportunity for a generation.

The squash 'community' is – relative to the other sports mentioned here - a small one, and those who have a stake in it, in may different forms, are - perhaps understandably – hugely protective of it. The long-term consequence of this has been a tendency to look inwards and resist outside help (interference?). There has been lots of behind-the-scenes discussion this year – much of it ill-tempered - about media rights. These differences need to be resolved: simply fighting for one's corner will not deliver squash its long-term objectives. Those agencies quite content with their stake in the sport should realise that they would have more to gain from smaller slice of a bigger pie.

From all the correspondence I have received, those arguing about the best way for the media to serve the sport all seem to have the sport's best interests at heart. There is a wealth of energy to be tapped and some great ideas being suggested.

If certain bodies, organisations and individuals could see fit to work together, maybe the 2020 campaign (if deemed worthy of a bid if the general profile has not improved) will deliver a happier result

Read more ...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

What would they do?

WimbledonWhat could Malcolm Willstrop do for squash with £25 million? Or Neil Harvey? Or any of our top squash coaches?

I'd pondered this ever since I found out that this was the pile of surplus cash the Wimbledon tennis fortnight generates for the Lawn Tennis Association each year ...

Left: photo copyright AELTC

So over the past decade, the LTA - charged with developing tennis players in the UK - have had around a quarter of a billion pounds (couldn't decide on italic or bold for that - no HTML attribute quite does it justice) to spend. And have produced ... ?

So it was great to read this week Malcolm Willstrop's thoughts on exactly this subject. He rightly sees the class issue as central to Britain's pathetic record in producing top tennis talent (the one issue that the not-very-great and not-very-good running tennis in this country were most reluctant to give credence to - or discuss seriously - whenever I heard or saw them interviewed over the past few weeks).

Most fascinating was reading of Mr Willstrop's unsuccessful efforts to partner with the LTA to bring tennis facilities to Pontefract.

Given the relatively minuscule budgets that have been used (and continue to develop) develop world class squash players in the UK, it seems that those running tennis might do well to stop looking at other countries' systems for producing players and recognise that there might be something to learn from another sport closer to home.

Read the article.

It's Manchester - again!

Pleasingly, I hadn't sighted that old phrase 'the Wimbledon of squash' floating around the squash press over the past couple of weeks: that is until I received promo emails advertising that the British Open will this year be held again in Manchester.

The email mentions that "despite the difficult economic landscape over the past twelve months which has affected many major sports" the BO is going ahead. Which is of course great news (given the event's troubles not too long ago).

But the National Squash Centre again? A great venue in a number of respects - but a braver choice might just pull in more than the regulars.

Read more ...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sport magazine returns with Matthew article

Sport magazineIt disappeared from the streets of the 'Smoke for a few weeks but appears to have found new backing.

Sport magazine - the London freesheet that we've featured here a few times for its coverage of squash events (and its great photos) - is back ... and a squash player gets a full page ...

Flip to page 46 and you'll find a profile of England's Nick Matthew in the magazine's 'Sporting Bodies' feature. The Observer featured James Willstrop talking about 'how he got his body' in a similar piece a few weeks back.

Read this week's edition (see page 46!)

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Squash 2016 receives worldwide support on WSD

World Squash Day in at Buckingham PalaceSquash's bid for Olympic status gained pace last Saturday 23rd May with the Squash 2016 logo being unveiled around famous London landmarks on World Squash Day.

A Routemaster London bus was hired by James Poole to tour the banner around the capital, with publicity opportunities being taken at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye and the Tower of London ...

Elsewhere around the world World Squash Day achieved its biggest level of participation to date.

The day began with Phil Buscke of The Datsuns performing a bungee jump live on TV from Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand (see bottom).

Leading professionals lent their support to the bid by joining in hundreds of Olympic-themed events, all taking place on the same day, Saturday 23 May.

The biggest event was held in the USA at the Apawamis Club in New York, where squash legends Jonathon Power, David Palmer and John White took part in a 100-a-side 'Battle of the Border' fixture.

World number two Natalie Grainger, a World Squash Federation 2016 Ambassador, who participated in the event, said: "It was fantastic to see so many leading players supporting the event and more than 500 people came through the club's doors on the day. The event raised money for the bid, showcased squash in the most positive way and helped to raise the profile of the sport."

The World Squash Federation reported the rest of the events happening on WSD in its press release:

"From the professionals of North America, through Europe and Asia to the townships of Soweto in South Africa, thousands of children were entertained to free coaching lessons and a vivid introduction to squash on a very special day for the sport which boasts 20 million players across all five continents.

Rio, Chicago and Tokyo - three of the cities bidding to host the 2016 Olympics - held special events throughout the day. As well as open days at every squash club, enthusiasts took to the streets in numbers to be photographed waving their Squash For 2016 banners at prime locations in each city.

The 'Squash For 2016' cry rang out in all 14 States of Malaysia where more than 53 squash venues at squash centres, clubs, colleges, universities and schools - even Armed Forces centres and Police Squash Clubs - joined in this major effort.

The Japan Squash Association hosted a press conference in Tokyo attended by more than 20 members of the National media.

Other open-air events took place in India (with photographs outside the Taj Mahal and the Gateway to India) and South Africa (Table Mountain).

In Cape Town, South Africa, Villager Squash Club hosted a "Last Man Standing" tournament. It turned out that the tournament should have been titled "Last Person Standing" since a woman, Siyoli Lusaseni, was crowned the Champion, after five hours of squash and 24 games with different squash enthusiasts!

Another huge event in terms of participation was in Mumbai, where Indian ace Ritwik Bhattacharya was the star turn in a programme of State League fixtures with 128 players from Maharashtra between the ages of eight and 65.

Illustrating Squash's cultural diversity, Iran and Nepal held massive press conferences, arranged national TV coverage and invited prominent IOC guests.

Women's world No1 Nicol David, also a WSF Olympic Ambassador, hosted an open day at her training base in Amsterdam, while back home in Penang, Malaysia, she raised $10,000 towards the Olympic Bid by auctioning off her collection of clothing and rackets which she had worn and used to win major tournaments during her illustrious career.

Without doubt the most exhausted supporters of the event were at the Leñadura Country Club at the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, and at Thurles Squash Club, County Tipperary, Ireland, where club players held 24-hour squash marathons.

Mexico's world No16 Samantha Teran, another Olympic Ambassador, headed the celebrations in her homeland which featured activities at many of Mexico's most important clubs, and concluding with a gathering at the Angel of Independence in the centre of the capital.

A special tournament to celebrate Squash 2016 Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil, attracted not only hosts of squash enthusiasts to the Clube Paineiras do Morumby, but also the famous Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.

At the end of an exhausting, but hugely successful weekend, World Squash Day founder Alan Thatcher said: "The event was massively supported by national federations, and some extraordinary individuals came to the fore to organise amazing events in so many different countries.

"The energy and commitment from so many sources was almost overwhelming, and clearly illustrated the passion we all have to see Squash gain its rightful place in the Olympic Games."

World Squash Day

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

World Squash Day to descend on world capitals

World Squash Day 2009With just two days to go until World Squash Day 2009, squash fans around the world are preparing for events to publicise squash's bid for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Promotional bus tours and 24-hour squash marathons are just some of the events planned as far afield as London, Chicago, Madrid, Rio, and Tokyo ...

Including: meeting times and route for Saturday's 'Big Day Out' in London

WSD has been branded 'Squash 2016 Day' this year in support of the Olympic bid.

In London, a bus tour of major sites dubbed the 'Big Day Out' will hoist a 'Squash For 2016 banner' at various locations, starting at the Royal Greenwich Observatory at 11am, before heading on to various venues, such as the O2 Dome and Canary Wharf, after which stops will be made at the following locations:

1pm: Tower of London and Tower Bridge
1.45pm: St Paul's Cathedral
2.30pm: Covent Garden
3.15pm: Houses of Parliament
4pm: Buckingham Palace

All squash fans are welcome to attend. At the end of the day the plan is for everyone to adjourn to Hyde Park for refreshments.

The organisers are asking groups around the world participating in WSD to send in photos so that they can 'show the IOC that squash is a truly global sport' ahead of the crucial Olympic vote later this year.

The Squash for 2016 banner will also be unveiled in front of many of the world's most iconic buildings in cities such as Chicago, Madrid, Rio, and Tokyo.

Squash's hard working pros are also supporting WSD: Nicol David is holding an auction of her prized tournament memorabilia in her home city of Penang, while Nick Matthew will be heading to Milan for the Five Nations Tournament with his Hallamshire, Sheffield, team taking Squash 2016 banners, flags and T-shirts to the Polisquash Sports Club.

The day will start with Phil Buscke, guitarist with Kiwi band The Datsuns, bungee jumping from Auckland Harbour Bridge in Squash 2016 t-shirt live on TV.

World Squash Day 2009

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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Finsbury and Sobell courts to be saved!

Sobell CentreSTOP PRESS!

It appears that there is a silver lining to the credit crunch where squash is concerned ...

We've reported the latest developments on the future of the Finsbury and Sobell leisure centres for the past couple of years, focussing on the threat to the squash courts there.

So today's news that Islington Council is going to shelve its plans to rebuild the premises (which would have almost certainly reduced the numbers of squash courts) due to tumbling property prices will be a sigh of huge relief for all the squash players in the community who use the facilities.

Full details here.

More to follow ...

Read more ...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Digging behind the headlines from Euro Teams

ETC 2009The headlines (sic) reporting a double-English win may have lacked originality, but this year's European Team Championships was perhaps more remarkable for individual stories than the final result.

I think I might give up tournament predictions after suggesting that the English women might struggle against the Dutch in the Final of this year's European Team Championships. They went on to beat the Netherlands 3-0 - but more of that later ...

When writing that previous article I had forgotten that James Willstrop was injured (though happily on the mend); hence I overlooked what bearing this might have on the English men's chances of retaining the title. Alister Walker was also making his debut in the team, and was preparing for, as he put it, his "first big match in the shirt".

He went out first against Julien Balbo in the Final against France and put the team on a strong footing with an efficient 3-0 win: another French feather in the bandanna after memorable victories over Greg Gaultier and Renan Lavigne in his run at Canary Wharf last year.

With Willstrop missing and Lee Beachill retired, Nick Matthew was the senior member of the squad and duly delivered against Greg Gaultier, taking their rubber in four games. Matthew has put together a strong run since coming back from injury; a shame this has come towards the end of the season. If he can maintain fitness over the summer then 2009/10 has the potential to be his most fruitful year.

Peter Barker could not repeat his victory over Thierry Lincou at the same stage last year, and went down 3-0. This pitted Adrian Grant against Renan Lavigne in the decider for the title. There was nothing in it, and the Londoner eventually prevailed 13/11, 12/10 (Lavigne would have had to win 3-0 for the French to take title, or 3-1 and win on countback).

Taking the final rubber to win the event for his team was a nice personal accolade for Grant who, while (and I only found this out recently) the current English pro with the most PSA tour titles, has not won a 'big one' and perhaps doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Like the recently retired Vicky Botwright, his biggest wins may come wearing the England kit.

31 years and counting


I had been anticipating the England v Netherlands Final less for the impact that Botwright's absence might have on the rest of the England girls than the fact that it was Natalie Grinham's first outing since defecting from Australia.

It was not a debut to remember. Not content with having the hoodoo over one Grinham sister in recent times, Jenny Duncalf politely declined to read the script for Natalie's appearance in orange. It went to five, with Duncalf prevailing 11/8 in the final game.

This was the second rubber after Alison Waters had beaten Vanessa Atkinson in straight games. Atkinson has slid down the rankings in the past couple of years, but has still managed to reach a number of finals in the past 12 months. I can't quite decide whether she's in terminal decline; I always seem to arrive at events after she's been knocked out so can only really go on recent results. Maybe being in the unaccustomed position of Dutch number 2 will have some bearing on her future as a pro.

Laura Lengthorn-Massaro beat Annelize Naude, and the unblemished run in this event was extended to 31 years.

This double English win might not have made for stirring headlines, even within the squash world, but the smaller stories written in Malmo gave food for thought. How will Grinham fare in the Dutch team (the next Women's World Teams is in 2010)? Will any of the English women be ready to mount a sustained challenge to the top three next season? Does the performance of the English men suggest that England still possess real strength in depth? (I don't see a young Ashour or El Shorbagy coming up behind them; the Men's World Teams in September may be a sterner test).

One other story that hasn't received much column space was Tanya Bailey's return from injury. She beat Ireland's Tanya Owens on Day 3, though didn't appear in the Final. In an interview she mentioned that she would soon be off for a hip operation. Though her career has been beset by illness and injury, like Botwright she has been a fantastic servant for her country, and has had many successes in England colours. She will be 30 later this year, and it would be sad if the former World Junior Champion did not appear next season for one last crack at the big titles that have eluded her.

Finals results:

Alister Walker 3-0 Julien Balbo
11/1, 11/7, 14/12

Nick Matthew 3-1 Gregory Gaultier
11/9, 8/11, 12/10, 11/5

Peter Barker 0-3 Thierry Lincou
13/15, 7/11, 7/11

Adrian Grant 2-0 Renan Lavigne
13/11, 12/10

Alison Waters 3-0 Vanessa Atkinson
12/10, 14/12, 11/7

Jenny Duncalf 3-2 Natalie Grinham
11/5, 11/7, 5/11, 8/11, 11/8

Laura Lengthorn-Massaro 2-0 Annelize Naude
12/10, 11/2

Tournament photos
ETC 2009

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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Looking for the Ukrainians

UkraineDate.comLooking up the early results of this year's European Teams, I found this ad (left) dwarfing the adjacent scores on a well-known squash website.

Of course! Now I remember the unfortunate stat from last year's tournament - the Ukrainian women's team being thrashed 81-0 on their debut.

But where are they this year?

The men's draw features a six-man team from the Ukraine headed by Ruslan Sorochynskvi. They've already gone down 4-0 to both Italy and Sweden in Pool F, but at least they got some points on the board.

Sadly, the women do not appear to be entered in the draw this time.

Many ads on websites appear randomly, and no inferences should be drawn from this one.

Record under threat ?


ETC 2009England has a phenominal history in both the men's and women's events - particularly the women's, where they are defending a 30-year (!) unbeaten record.

But the defection last year of Natalie Grinham from Australia to the Netherlands has significantly bolstered the Dutch team - and on paper there is very little daylight between them and the English women.

This suggests that player selection will be crucial in the latter stages.

European Team Squash Championships 2009

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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

World Squash Day 2009: Squash 2016

Squash 2016World Squash Day 2009 will be held on Saturday 23rd May.

The day is being re-branded as 'Squash 2016 Day' this year in support of squash's bid to be included in the 2016 Olympic Games.

National Federations and clubs all over the world are organising events to promote the sport and the Olympic bid ...

From the WSF website:

Squash 2016 Bid Team Member and former world champion Peter Nicol said: "Our ultimate aim is for every club in the world to open their doors on this one special day, to show people what a fantastic sport we have, to get media and personalities involved, and encourage new participants to take up the game."

The event is endorsed by the World Squash Federation - and World Squash Day founder Alan Thatcher said: "This gives every squash club the opportunity to support two major objectives: to raise the profile of the sport and to raise valuable money for the Squash 2016 Bid Fund.

"The Olympic bid is an ambitious project which, if successful, will give squash a deserved place in the Olympic Games. That bid process is not cheap and it is up to every squash player to help the cause."

Nicol added: "Squash 2016 Day is free to join and we look forward to seeing a massive response, with clubs and federations employing their creative powers to organise fantastic global festival of this brilliant game."

World Squash Day was set up in 2002 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when a former Scottish junior international player, Derek Sword, was one of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Former Scottish junior international teammates Peter Nicol, Martin Heath, and Laurie Maclachlan decided to honour his memory with an annual event.

Squash 2016 t-shirts, which were proving popular at this year's Canary Wharf Classic, are available here.

Squash 2016 Day (World Squash Day)
Squash 2016

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Sunday, 26 April 2009

Times article ridicules 2016 aspirations

Time articleA disappointing article last week in The Times by Giles Smith took a sideswipe at squash's Olympic aspirations.

The article, about the role of persuasive language in winning bids for sporting events, suggests that squash has no chance in the 2016 vote because no one wants to watch it.

An unnecessary remark given the main context of the article - but why not publish my response?

The article concerned Barack Obama's letter to FIFA in support of the US's bid for the 2018 football World Cup, and suggested that golf should hire Obama to help their cause.

It goes on:

"Or what about squash? (It's up for Olympic consideration, too.) Actually, maybe not. There are limits. I'm not sure even Martin Luther King at the peak of his powers could convince the International Olympic Committee that anyone wants to watch squash."

My reply (limited to a fixed number of characters - I should have copied and pasted it) pointed out that if squash make the Olympics it would receive the media support it deserves in this country, its profile would be raised and we (the Times is a British paper) might win some more Olympic medals!

True, the main focus of the article is about football, but even if my comment and those of other squash fans (Squash site invited others to respond) were not deemed worthy of being publishable, hopefully a point might have been made.

The Times article

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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Peter Barker - what's rocking sport

Hallelujah! A sportsman's ipod is cracked open to reveal something other than rap and supermarket trolley 'lifestyle music'.

Intriguingly, Peter Barker's listening preferences strike a maudlin tone not usually heard in the testosterone-sodden locker rooms of professional sport ...

Right: An interview with Barker after winning the World Teams

An interview for the Guardian's 'What's rocking sport' column a couple of weeks back uncovered a fondness for Jeff Buckley and Leonard "Godfather of Gloom" Cohen.

Was it the tear-jerking success of Alexandra Burke in the X Factor that stirred Barker's love for the "Bard Of The Boudoir" (I'm looking these up, btw), or is his interest more authentic?

Also on his list is a right-out-of-left-court penchant for Modest Mouse, who I have heard alot about and who have played ATP, so they must be cool.

I had no idea who Sufjan Stevens is, but apparently he has made an album called ... er ... Enjoy Your Rabbit.

Apologies to Nick Matthew who apparently accompanied Barker to a Beth Orton concert in the US, thereby atoning for mentioning the words J***s B***t in the same feature a while back :)

What's rocking sport: Peter Barker

1. Jeff Buckley - Grace
2. The Killers - Hot Fuss
3. Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen
4. Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
5. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

Squashblogger's top Leonard Cohen nicknames:

1. The Grocer Of Despair
2. The Poet Laureate Of Pessimism
3. Master Of Erotic Despair

Matthew rocks the Guardian
His name is ? - and he is funky

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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Canary Wharf Classic 2009

The Canary Wharf venue from the VIP barWhen Peter Nicol asked me what I thought about the "interactive exhibition" I had just seen, I garbled something incoherent about "crowds getting involved" and "innovation".

Five seconds later our promoter, VIP and resident Squash Legend was delivering a flawless live link-up for a regional news broadcast. I removed my fist from my mouth and pondered some more.

Behind the court the sun set before the final of this year's Canary Wharf Classic. High above a last ray of light refracted through the huge glass arch of the East Wintergarden before receding into the dusk.

Had I just glimpsed squash's future ? ...

I had jumped off the tube just in time to catch the technologically-enhanced warm-up for the sixth final of this tournament. I'm glad I did.

Squash and technology


In the last tournament I wrote up I bemoaned the lack of crowd-pleasing interval entertainment. I've also written here before about the sport not taking enough risks with the technology that might be available to enhance it as a spectator sport.

The busy bar at the East WintergardenTonight we had South African pro Stephen Coppinger and England's Peter Barker playing a short game wearing head mics, commenting on their game as they played. This was not the first time I had seen this done - see this great footage of cricketers Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds commentating on a match during play.

We can't expect squash players to comment on their games during competitive matches - but what other possibilities are there?

They were also wired up to heart monitors which gave readouts on the large screen above the court and smaller ones facing sections of the crowd. Again, it probably wouldn't be wise to have this kind of information displayed at every match - but what other possibilities are there?

The speed of each ball hit was displayed it in the front wall via a radar gun positioned somewhere around the court. The speed of squash is one if its main draws, and this kind of thing could (like in tennis) become a fixture. But what other possibilities are there?

Stephen Coppinger and Peter Barker play with heart rate monitors before the finalThis technofest was accompanied by music played over the PA system throughout, with compere Alan Thatcher and official Linda Davie interacting with the players during play.

They had lots of fun and so did the crowd. This 'interactive exhibition' was an experiment set up by the organisers, and it worked. But it suggested lots more than that. It showed how with a bit of innovation squash can broaden its appeal and reach new audiences.

Each of these toys were portable; ideal for a game that has never marketed itself enough on one of its prime assets - its inherent portability. What will purists make of such bells and whistles (purists please comment below!)?

To some extent the the argument in favour of modernising the sport by altering its format has been partly won. The change to PAR scoring in pro tournaments appears to have been vindicated (the men appear to have welcomed it, though too early to tell with WISPA events), even if the transition was handled in an all-too-familiar-to-squash administrative fog. The exhibition tonight suggested that modernisation of format could be (relatively cheaply) augmented with props designed to enhance spectators' experience. Though it was only an exhibition we were watching, possibilities for competitive play abounded.

Let's hope we see some more of these experiments with technology at other venues soon - ideally with an IOC offical in the front row.

"Inspirational but humbling"

James Willstrop about to do a live link-up for BBC news before the finalSo what might have been kept back for keeping people in their seats after an interval trip to the bar was put before the packed crowd from the off. During the twenty minutes or so before the final I had a scout round, taking in for the first time the great facilities and view from the VIP bar (see top photo).

Down below Alan Thatcher bigged-up the 2016 vote, and the WSF will be pleased to note that the 2016 T-shirts seemed to be doing a decent trade at the stall.

Those sitting the interval out courtside were watching the 2016 promo video on the big screens. I wasn't sure about this after seeing it online, but it worked well in the hall tonight with the soundtrack banging out combined with the atmosphere this venue seems to generate. A huge step up from previous efforts put together by governing bodies; if I were to point out one area for criticism it would be the graphics overlaying the footage, which appear something of an afterthought.

So to the final. Sitting back down I overheard a couple of newbies describe the Barker v Coppinger exhibition as "inspirational but humbling". It's a shame I didn't ask their opinion an hour later, after another final of the highest quality, albeit not a five-gamer as in each of the previous years.

Palmer and Willstrop in the finalI've written here before about the strength of competition at the top of the men's game. The sport itself may still be lurking in the shadow of it 1980s heyday, but the past decade may be looked back on fondly in years to come as something of a golden age. After years of dominance by a handful of players, literally anyone on world top ten ladder was in with a decent shout at tour events.

At the end of this match David Palmer would talk about deferring retirement for as long as his body would stand up to it. If he could be given a bye straight to the final of a PSA tounrnament, he'd still be the odds-on favourite when he's 50.

Few are more feared once a trophy is waiting on the baize than Palmer. Whatever the players might feel about their own form during a tournament, or however many five game matches either finalist has played, few are so demonstrably up for it than Palmer when the silverware's in reach.

Like when a terrified Frank Bruno crumbled after making the mistake of eyeballing Iron Mike, Palmer's opponents in all those finals were half-beaten during the knock-up. Though the temper that sprung out earlier in his career is now tamed with the natural self-assurance that comes with being in your early thirties, that extra steel is never far from hand. Few can enjoy playing him.

The East Wintergarden venue from outsideThat is why 2 World crowns and 4 British Opens (count 'em) are locked in the cabinet. To coin Shane Warne's phrase, he 'backs himself'. And then some.

It would be interesting to look up the percentage of times he has won when in a final. When he gets there, the outcome is rarely in doubt. If I were to pick a defining moment to illustrate this it would be the 2002 World Open final against John White in Antwerp.

Match point down in the fourth, Palmer was moments away from losing the first World championship to be held for three years (there was no World Open for the men in 2000 and 2001 due to lack of sponsorship).

White had match ball at 14-13, which Palmer saved. At 14 all White called 'set one', but tinned to allow his opponent back in and take the game. Palmer took the first of his World titles 13-15, 12-15, 15-6, 15-14, 15-11.

Much has been written about that final. In hindsight (that handy tool for crafting a a good story while sanding off inconvenient burrs of reality) - and with White retired - it is easy to borrow the sportswriter's cliché about triumph of the cold professional over the nice guy.

But there is some truth in it. White will always have more fans, but Palmer has the trophies.

So seeing Palmer clearly deep in the 'zone', stretching in the foyer 15 minutes prior to coming on court tonight indicated that James Willstrop was not going to catch the Aussie on an off day.

Right: A compilation of first round action from the tournament.

Willstrop had come in to the final after two hard fought five-game matches, including a recovery from two games down to the rapidly improving Spaniard Borja Golan in the quarters. Coupled with the illness and injury that had troubled him this year it was testament to his competitive instincts and commitment to this tournament (he had won it three times previous) that he managed to question Palmer's nerve after coming back from 2-0 down to take the third.

The Australian dominated the first two games, throwing textbook shapes with his metallic orange 'bling racket' (as described on the BBC 606 website) down the backhand wall, to dictate rallies through an imperious length.

The 11/9, 12/10 scoreline half way through the match on paper doesn't do justice to Palmer's command of the court, with Willstrop rarely picking up points by design. A number of balls were hit out of court, while a few more appeared to die prematurely in the front-right court - both players appeared to be miffed slightly by the behaviour of the ball on the court tonight.

At 6-1 down in the third, Palmer had more than one hand on his opponent's title. As he had done all week, Willstrop dug in for a final heave. The crucial moment was at 3-6, when Willstrop hit a loose ball off the wall into mid court. Palmer double-pumped his bling-laden right hand to kill the soft ball, only to fire it straight back at Willstrop on his shoulder.

After finding himself out of position all night, and with split-second instinct, Willstrop stuck his hand out and intercepted. The ball was dead at the backwall before Palmer had time to turn round.

Now the crowd really got behind 'Jimbo' who, given his efforts this week, would have been mortified if he were to have not taken a game here. Willstrop started to take more risks and his deceptive game started to reap some reward. As Palmer appeared to be wilting, Willstrop seized the initiative to take the game 10-8.

The presentation ceremonyBoth men were clearly exhausted by the fourth. A near mid court kill took Willstrop 2-1 up, but his renewed intention quickly waned as Palmer snuffed out his attacks with the superior efficiency of movement that he had exhibited all evening.

At 6-6 Willstrop served out, clearly almost spent. Palmer took hold of the ball and the Canary Wharf title 11/9, 12/10, 8/11, 11/7.

When asked about his performance after the game, Willstrop said that he was "pretty unhappy with it", which his body language suggested was a massive understatement. He gets great support here as he does in Manchester, and his success in this event over the years demonstrates that the venue brings out the best in his game. Those who were lucky enough to appreciate all of his efforts throughout the week would surely not agree with his self-criticism.

This was evidently a big win for Palmer - "right up there with (his) best victories". He joked that he never gets to play in front of his home crowd, and that he played a mind game with himself where "every time he heard support for James he convinced himself that it was really support for him".

Like Nicol plotting to take Commonwealth gold in 2006, or Power coming back one last time to occupy the world number one spot just before retiring, Palmer seemed bent on proving something to himself. He finished by telling Alan Thatcher that playing over the age of 30 was about "making adjustments with daily training ... trying to keep up".

There are some young (and other not so young) players on the tour who'll hope he doesn't carry on till 50.

ISS Canary Wharf Classic 2009

Squash 2016

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Friday, 27 March 2009

BBC article singles out squash as most worthy

BBC srticleIn a month where two showpiece squash tournaments held in London have worn their Olympic aspirations on their sleeves, a new article on the BBC Sport website sings squash's praises as a 2016 hopeful.

The blog written by Matt Slater, who is responsible for Olympics-related content, weighs up the contenders for October's vote in Copenhagen before concluding that squash has the greatest claim for Olympic status ...

Slater was supportive of the bid in a previous article from 2007.

Welcome coverage of our sport's bid just at the right time.

Seven sports seek Olympic love

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Thursday, 26 March 2009

Super Series Finals 2009

Walking into Queen's Club, Chelsea, LondonWatching Robert Edwards compere a squash tournament always reminds me of a Catholic wedding I once went to: a somewhat fussy ceremony spun out over a couple of hours, presided over by a man who knew what was best.

I thought the veteran 'Voice of Squash' had retired, but '21st Century Squash' is clearly short of talent of Edwards' magnitude ...

I came to Queen's Club on the last night agnostic to the claims that the event would herald the new dawn squash has been waiting for.

Happily, I am pleased to report that Mr Edwards earned his fee here at this year's Super Series Finals, investing the new venue and the presence of a HRH with a greater sense of occasion than Broadgate ever received. His style may not be to everyone's taste, but it felt right on this night, in these hallowed surroundings.

The clubhouse at Queen's ClubWas this also because we were in posh Kensington rather than stuck behind an All Bar One in Liverpool Street? Or was it down to the new marketing and PR that were brought in by Ziad Al-Turki?

The congregation at the last night night of this year's Super Series Finals was a broader church than we're used to seeing at this annual event, with the blue blazers of Queen's Club replacing City pinstripes.

The organisers had also pulled off a coup in getting HRH The Duchess of Gloucester to attend the final night.

The venue itself was a couple of indoor tennis courts modified into the usual iSport set-up, with a large backwall seating area and two sidewall areas with round tables and unreserved seating. This is where I sat, after registering with the helpful iSport and Greenspace (the brand consultancy brought in by Ziad Al-Turki) staff.

Backwall spectators - a full houseI found my way to these seats after one of the (contracted out?) security guys bluntly told me, arms folded, when I potitely enquired about a media seating area, that the seats were all sold-out. Fair enough, but the event could have done without their glowering at the crowd as if it was a football terrace.

The squash

Karim Darwish treated his third place play-off against Shabana with his serious face on, and we weren't going to see the repeated boast-and-lob showmanship that this precursor to the final has prompted in previous years.

Oh well - he is currently the best player on the planet, and we can't begrudge him from wanting to win everything.

Amr didn't appear too fussed about the $14,250 prize money on offer this evening, and after plugging away at Darwish finally gave up the ghost in the third to lose 11/8, 11/9, 11/5. I wonder if he'll be more motivated for Canary Wharf ...

Intermission

Karim Darwish sits beneath one of the large banners during his 3rd/4th place play-off against Amr ShabanaWhat we could have done with after what felt like somewhat of a practice-match was a good knock-around doubles exhibition. Where was John White when you needed him?

Always a favourite at this event and others in the UK, I have fond memories of him entertaining the crowd not only through his natural instinct as a player in competition, but also in various exhibitions at big events, and we could have done with him here to get the crowd going at half-time.

I notice that doubles exhibitions have become unfashionable in recent years at tournaments in the UK. It would be sad if this was part of a wider drive to demonstrate professionalism in the run up to the 2016 vote. At some events the time when the crowd has been most engaged or captivated with the players is during a four-man lark around, and it's important to show that the game is also a lot of fun too.

I hate to see any empty court that usually hastens the natural instincts of spectators to toddle off to the bar. Perhaps if the court were filled in 'transtition' periods if might give the opportunity to demonstrate what else squash has to offer, such as junior talent or some of the WISPA pros (rarely seen in London).

Bet on the GG

If Greg Gaultier continues to demonstrate the form that was on display tonight, he is going to be a favourite for Canary Wharf - and may soon challenge the top two Egyptians for the number one spot.

Greg Gaultier receives words of advice from his coach during the final against Thierry LincouStrangely the mood of evening actually lightened during the final, as the Queen's crowd unfamiliar with Gaultier's gesticulating started to warm to him (though I did nearly have to cover my eyes as he stepped out of court to remonstrate with the officals right in front of the Duchess's lap).

Lincou still conducts himself on court with the professionlism that has characterised his career, but while he appeared tonight as alert and focussed as ever, he is not quite as quick as he was, and was always half a pace behind his younger countryman tonight who was poised on his shoulder throughout.

Gaultier took control from the beginning, relentlessly putting Lincou to the back of the court before dropping with consistent accuracy. Former World Champion Lincou really did not look like he wanted to spend the whole night banished to the back wall, and raised his game in the second to start imposing some control on rallies.

With the match levelled at 1-1, Gaultier was spoiling for a fight with the officials. Given that this event and Canary Wharf are stated showpieces for the sport in its Olympic bid (the matches this evening were filmed from a number of different angles), this would not have gone down very well, but either due to Gaultier'a self-restraint or the strong words from the officials, a lid was kept on things.

Gaultier lifts the trophey, presented by HRH the Duchess of GloucesterIt was during the assessment of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester that is was noted by the IOC that squash has a problem with players too easily remonstrating with officals. It is all too easy to blame the player in these situations, but clearly the officals need to be held accountable too. In the Shabana v Darwish game earlier in the evening there was at least one occasion when both players had exited the court door to tell the officals what the decision was before any decision had been made.

This would not happen in tennis, and the Queen's Club members watching tonight would have noted this difference.

Gaultier finally took the title for the second year running 11/6, 8/11, 11/5, 11/5 (63m) after re-imposing himself in the third. It had not been a vintage evening's squash, but the best player over the week had come out on top. Gaultier's exhuberance may try one's patience during play, but it makes him a great speaker when he wins. He had the crowd in fits and even managed to sneak peck on each royal cheek (is that allowed?!)

Really pleased as well to see that people sat in their seats at the end to see the presentation and hear the interviews - something that rarely happens. Maybe this was out of respect for our VIP (and the Duchess) - Mr Edwards was certainly very persuasive in preventing people from going home early.

Back next year?

If the Queen's Club is to hold this tournament in subsequent years I can see it turning into a kind of Lord's of squash, contrasting with the more lively Edgbaston of the Canary Wharf event (watch the Ashes crowds this summer and you'll see what I mean!).

The sport needs both, and there is room for provision to be made to further foster inclusion for even more divergent audiences. This week's experiment at Queen's Club appeared to be a success, but there will be some who say that squash needs to break away from the private members clubs of old.

The fact is that squash cannot afford to choose its audience, and it needs the support, patronage, and facilities of places such as Queen's. It also needs to attract the working class kid in east London, and maybe some of the 'urban' initiatives (that seek to change squash's image as well as where it is played) are the way to go.

The portability of the sport is a huge advantage in trying to appeal to these different audiences, and other changes such as the re-organisation of the PSA tour to move region-by-region (as suggested by Mr Al-Turki) would certainly help put the sport on people's radars for longer concentrated periods.

Had I just witnessed '21st Century Squash'? Not sure about that. The design of the advertising, marketing and PR materials (all contributing to the brand) looked very good, particularly some of the merchandise that was given out (there was a very nice fold-out map of London squash clubs).

To some extent this modern, minimalist design was maybe slightly divergent from the austere feel of the Queen's Club, and would have contributed to a greater overall impression at a more left-field venue. But these materials were well produced, and some thinking had obviously gone into them.

National media coverage - the efforts of Rod Gilmour at the Telegraph aside - was sadly again almost non-existent.
Bottom: Gaultier wins for a second year

In terms of the more practical elements of the event: the format of the evening was pretty much similar to the British Nationals, the World Open or many other of the pro events I have attended over the past years. Loud music pumped out, nice introductions for the players, interviews afterwards.

A feature that was here at Queen's but is not always seen at big events are the large video replay screens. These worked very well here tonight, with the crowd fixated on them between points. These should now become a benchmark standard feature, but organisers must ensure that the players or spectators do not manipulate the officals into using them to make decisions. The position of the officals in the crowd in squash make this an awkward possibility.

This was perhaps not the most entertaining Super Series finals night that I have been to, but it was certainly a step up a level to further cement itself as a 'big tournament' (a rather elusive phrase - much like a 'big club' in football - not necessarily down to the money floating around or the number of people who go and watch it).

It never really felt like this down in the tent at Broadgate.

At the end of the day maybe there is only so much you can do with a bunch of people sitting watching two guys in a goldfish bowl. Maybe the true value of '21st Century Squash' is the plurality of experience that different squash venues can offer when they all adopt a benchmark for marketing, technology, design and all the other little things that go into creating a spectator experience.

The true value of the game as a spectator sport competing for fans might only be realised if a punter can watch the game in a city square one week and on a beach the next.

Super Series Finals 2009

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Innovative coverage being forged at the 'Wharf

Great to see intelligent questions being put to the players in the videos being put out on the Canary Wharf website and YouTube.

Deepening the coverage of a current event via prompt video postings can enrich a tournament - especially for those squash fans who cannot attend ...

Videoing players is not in itself new or innovative (though there is certainly room for innovation where filming play is concerned): getting material out and up on the web quickly while retaining a level of quality is the key, and YouTube has certainly helped here.

Above: Alan Thatcher interviewing Tom Richards after his loss to Palmer. Richards' biggest stage to date? We've followed his career on squashblog for a while now ...

Too many video interviews to feature here - click here to see 'em all.

Canary Wharf Classic 2009

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Monday, 23 March 2009

Men in Docklands for second London showcase

Canary Wharf Classic 2009The London sojourn for the men's tour reaches a climax this week with the Canary Wharf Classic (23-27 March).

Now in its 6th year, the docklands event is loved by players and spectators alike for its infectious atmosphere and East Wintergarden location.

Following the launch of '21st Century Squash' at last week's Super Series Finals (report to follow very soon!), what can we expect from the Eventis team ...?

Like the Super Series event last week at Queen's Club, Canary Wharf is being pitched as an Olympic showcase before October's vote for which sports should be included in the 2016 Games. The Super Series was filmed for promotional reasons: let's hope Canary Wharf receives the same treatment.

The Super Series was seen by many in the squash community as a 're-launch' of the men's tour as a product. It will be interesting to compare these well-ran events - always held very close to each other - to try and establish what should be the new benchmark standards for putting on professional squash tournaments.

As part of the event, schoolchildren from Mayflower Primary School have been invited to the Tuesday session after attending a training session with Peter Nicol (see the link for an encouraging comment from London Mayor Boris Johnson).

James Willstop will be looking to put down an early market in the tournament in an event that he has almost made his own (he has won it three times). He faces Alister Walker in the first round, who scored the best win of his career here last year, beating Gaultier at the same stage.

The recent form of Nick Matthew (not at Queen's) means that he will be fresh to challenge top seed Amr Shabana. The former World Champion has never won a major tournament here.

Maybe as the only one of the top-three Egyptians playing here he's out to prove a point this time ...

Canary Wharf Classic 2009

Canary Wharf Classic 2008
Canary Wharf Classic 2007

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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Swimming against the tide

Luton Dunstable Squash ClubWe’ve often commented on court closures and other negative stories associated with squash at a regional/local level, but recently we’ve been contacted by Paul Main, Chairman of Luton Dunstable Squash Club, which is attempting to swim against the tide and promote participation in squash …

Plus: Win the change to play Peter Nicol!


Paul writes:

"A few years ago Dunstable Leisure Centre had four courts and a vibrant club attached to it, but when the council handed the running of the centre over to private leisure centre management company, a decision was taken to close two, turning them into gym style studios – familiar story?

The club took the radical decision to relocate its playing base to a nearby facility run by Riley’s called Club Snooker and Squash in Luton which had a sorely underused seven courts. Once the initial bedding-in period had been completed under the sterling work of long standing Secretary Paul White, the Committee looked at its playing base and saw problems ahead. With what little junior coaching being delivered in admirable fashion by the lone Level 2 coach David Merrell - who was approaching retirement age - and the average age of active players being in excess of 40, it was clear that without action the club would be extinct in the not too distant future.

Two main objectives were identified just over a year ago

1. To increase junior participation
2. To increase adult membership.

The Committee agreed that it needed new coaches, and in December 2008 two members gained their Level 1 coaching qualification and now help David out on junior coaching nights that have seen an increase in the numbers attending as word has slowly spread.

The Committee set about working with the local county sports partnership and has just been given the green light to take Mini-Squash into local schools starting in the autumn term.

As far as increasing adult membership, the Committee sought to become a partner, again with the local sports partnership, in their very popular “Get Back Into” programme - a government funded scheme aimed at getting adults back into sport. Once again, the sport of squash was accepted, with Dunstable Squash Club being asked to deliver a seven-week programme.

The club also recently created a website to establish its first web presence. As part of that decision, the name and narrative for the site deliberately incorporated Luton so that the reality of the club was better reflected and a brand adopted.

Working with England Squash, the club last week achieved Silver Clubmark status - thus acknowledging their efforts - but also increasing funding opportunities for the future.

The final piece in the jigsaw in terms of promotion was the decision to organise a flagship event. That has been achieved with Peter Nicol agreeing to come along and play the winner of an open competition (click here for more details).”

Encouraging to see a club working hard to both promote itself and the sport; we wish them well in their efforts.

In our second year round-up we promised to look more at the efforts of national governing bodies in 2009, so anyone out there who has any good stories about efforts made by individuals clubs and/or their experience in working with regional or national bodies, please send them on.

Luton Dunstable Squash Club,

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

'21st Century Squash' to be unveiled at Super Series

ATCO Super Series Finals 2009The marketing engine for this weekend's start of the ATCO Super Series Finals 2009 is in top gear, with effectively a new era for the men's tour being launched.

The Finals this year are taking place at Queen's Club, Chelsea, in London, having moved from their Broadgate home. But what do the respondents to our poll think about the upcoming event (14-17 March)?

We asked visitors to the site whether they thought that the move to Queen's Club would be a good thing for the tournament. Results (below) show a positive, but guarded, welcome for the move, with the conclusion to be drawn that we'll have to "wait and see".

Poll resultsOf course, it's not just about the change of venue. Much has been made in the squash press of the changes at the top of the PSA and the involvement of ATCO President Ziad Al-Turki in the re-organisation of the Super Series and the future of the men's tour.

The press release that this week claims that we are entering the era of '21st Century Squash'. Sounds like good news as elements of tournament organisation are in need of modernisation, and there are great opportunities for creative minds to update the spectator experience of professional squash. The press release goes on to explain:

"It will also be the first major event since the appointment of branding agency Greenspace to make the sport even more appealing to a younger, wider audience. The agency has promised to overhaul almost every aspect of the sport, including court design and player uniforms."

It is also great to see that the event is "poised to set new records for ticket sales" - an indication that ticket sales for the event have been pushed harder than ever before (we look forward to seeing the size of the crowd).

The organisers are making big claims - it will be a step forward for the game as a spectator sport in the UK if they can live up to the hype. Can the Super Series challenge Canary Wharf as the best live squash experience in this country?

We'll find out next week ...

ATCO Super Series Finals 2009 - buy tickets

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Friday, 6 March 2009

Foxy rebrand for English Squash (& Racketball)

New England Squash and Racketball logoMore fruits of England Squash's decision to invest in marketing its product are beginning to emerge, with the rebranding of the organisation and the unveiling of a new logo ...

ES have commissioned professional help from an agency, Fudge Studios, as part of the process. With squash historically pretty dire at marketing itself, this seems like a worthwhile investment.

The decision to market squash together with racketball is explained by ES in their unveiling to the press:

"Our vision is to increase the popularity and profile of both sports, continue to raise levels of success at international level and to run the sports according to the highest standards of governance, management and ethics. In order to achieve this we felt that the organisation needed a new identity, one that truly represented our aspirations to be modern, vibrant, and professional."

First impressions are always strong when an organisation revels a new logo (remember this?). The WSF has also had a go in recent times.

ES also explain the thinking behind the design of their badge (and forthcoming website):

"Both the logo and website have been designed to convey the sports of squash and racketball as vibrant, dynamic, modern and professional, and to persuade more people to get on court to try our great sports."

Interesting to see that a governing body has taken the step of removing a recognisable squash ball from their branding (though now that racketball comes as part of the package this may have been a deciding factor). The squash ball naturally lends itself to becoming a logo for the sport, and most websites (we hold our hands up!) incorporate it. It seems a small point, but moving away from this is a step in the right direction.

We can't help see a certain well-known web browser in those reddy-brown swirls, but I doubt that will be the first thought of many. It certainly carries the hallmark of being thought about in detail - rather than some we could mention.

It is somewhat unfair to judge logos decontextualised - we'll have to wait to see England Squash & Racketball (do we now have to write that every time .. seems a bit of a mouthful)'s new website and other marketing materials to see how it beds down into the wider campaign. Signs and their meaning change over time, don't cha know?

The real success behind the rebrand, of course, will be a greater interest in squash and racketball in England. I want to see ES (or ES&R) on the walls of my leisure centre. So let's leave the final words to them as they describe how they'll do this:

"Over the coming months and years we will be working closely with clubs, leisure centres, universities and workplaces to help introduce thousands of new players, coaches, and volunteers to the sports, and key to this is creating a vibrant club scene.

Squash will continue to be at the heart of our activity but we feel strongly that racketball will help bring new people to squash courts. Squash facilities that have embraced both sports are going from strength to strength, with busy courts and increased membership numbers. Our aim is to help all clubs achieve this success."

England Squash and Racketball

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Nick and Jenny in the mirror

We unfortunately couldn't make the recent British Nationals to see Jenny Duncalf and Nick Matthew take the titles for the second time each. Looking over the recent success of both players away from domestic competition - and reviewing their careers to date - it struck me that they share a symmetry ...

Both had assumed a solid berth around 5/6 in the world, before falling back slightly in 2007. Both have taken two National titles, maybe slightly later than one might have predicated. Both are in or approaching their late-20s. Both have made advances over the past year that imply that greater things are to come.

Nick's recent narrow five-game loss to World Champion Ramy Ashour in the Davenport North American Open shows that he fears no-one (great pics here btw). If his body continues to hold up he can get amongst the Egyptians in the two big London events later this month.

Duncalf's win over - again! - Rachael Grinham in December's Sharm El Sheikh Open again underlines that she may be approaching her peak years. Of all the players behind Nicol David and the Grinham sisters, who have occupied the top three ranking places for a good while now, it is Jenny whom appears to be on the steepest upwards curve.

Duncalf has been the elder Grinham's bete noir in recent years, most notably losing to her at last year's British Open in Liverpool - one of the English player's best wins to date.

Jenny is at present competing for the current Kuala Lumpur title (at the quarter final stage as I write). If she were to win, Nick will be hoping that the symmetry of their careers rubs off at least to the end of March, as he attempts to continue his strong run at Canary Wharf and Queen's Club.

Nick Matthew

Born: 25 July 1980
Age: 28
Joined PSA: 1997
Current World Ranking: 5 (March 2009)
Highest World Ranking: 5 (October 2004)
Current National Ranking: 2
Highest National Ranking: 1 (January 2007)

Jenny Duncalf


Born: 10 November 1982
Age: 26
Joined WISPA: 1998
Current World Ranking: 5 (March 2009)
Highest World Ranking: 5 (August 2008)
Current National Ranking: 3
Highest National Ranking: 2 (July 2007)

Review the action from the 2009 British Nationals here.

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Friday, 27 February 2009

1.2 Big Macs (with cheese) or 10 glasses of wine

On hour of playing squash can burn off over 800 caloriesA table in todays's Sport magazine compares indoor sports by the calories they burn off in an hour.

Like the Forbes study from a few years back, squash comes out on top, but it's food/drink equivalency stats that catch the eye ...

Squash is the top indoor sport for burning calories, with 816 burned per hour (assuming a body weight of 150 lbs) - the stats are actually taken from the health/exercise website http://caloriecount.about.com .

Most fun is comparing the calories burned against items of food or drink. The table below is for an hour of squash:


Below: A comparison of indoor sports showing calories burned per hour


http://caloriecount.about.com
Sport magazine

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Nicol v Power: Super Series Final 2003

The Super Series finals move to their new home of Queen's Club next month (a good idea? Vote over to the right!).

As a preview to the event, enjoy this fine rally between those great rivals Nicol and Power at Broadgate in 2003.

Is that Jonathon speaking French I hear ? ;)

Power eventually took the title 15-11, 10-15, 13-15, 15-4, 15-14.

Super Series history

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Monday, 23 February 2009

Telegraph campaign seeks to save courts

the Telegraph campaign is launchedWe've been reporting the alarming rate at which public squash courts are disappearing in the UK for a couple of years now - click on provision, above.

So it's encouraging to see that the Daily Telegraph have taken up the baton to try and bring national coverage to this decline, as part of its rejuvenated squash coverage.

It has launched a campaign to save our sports facilities - with backing from some high-profile public figures ...

Its new campaign to save community sporting facilities in the UK is supported by Gordon Kerr, board director of England Squash. Kerr has started his own 'threats database' after being concerned at the number of clubs diminishing in north London alone (which has been followed closely here on squashblog).

The campaign is also backed by Tim Lamb, chief executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR), the independent voice for governing and representative bodies in sport, and Hugh Robertson, Shadow Minister for Sport.

At the root of the campaign is the aim of putting pressure on the UK Government to act on its PPG17 planning law. This states that:

"local authorities should ensure that provision is made for local sports and recreation facilities (either through an increase in the number of facilities or through improvements to existing facilities) where planning provision is granted for new developments (especially housing)."

Campaigners fear that this provision is being ignored, leading to open spaces, sports and recreation being threatened by diminishing built sports facilities. Squashblog has particularly followed the redevelopment plans for the Sobell and Finsbury leisure centres in Islington, which are under threat.

England number one James Willstrop has also added his voice to the Telegraph's campaign:

"It is pathetic. It is all money-driven and unfortunately sports facilities are not as viable as a block of flats."

Sign the Telegraph petition

squashblog coverage of squash provision

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Willstrop on Beachill

I'm going to post my own article on Lee Beachill's retirement very soon.

But in the meantime, read his coach Malcolm Willstrop's excellent review of Lee's fine career:

Willstrop on Beachill

Right: Did any player hold the ball better?

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Monday, 9 February 2009

squashblog poll: Do you agree with the change of Super Series venue?

Please vote!Next month the Super Series finals are to move to a new home at the Queen's Club in West London.

The Finals have mostly been held in recent years at Broadgate Arena behind Liverpool Street station in the City. Since the arrival of ATCO boss Ziad Al-Turki as the Chairman of the PSA board, the men's tour has been looking for increasingly prestigious venues to boost its profile.

The Queen's Club is probably best know as the venue for the Stella Artois Tennis Championships which traditionally provide a grass court warm-up before Wimbledon.

A good thing? Broadgate may have attracted passing City workers, but was it too small, too hidden away? Will Queen's Club bring better facilities for players and spectators and greater media attention to the event? Or might it suggest that squash is still the preserve of the private members' club?

See the poll over here!You decide. Have your say by voting in the poll to the right of the page ...

Read more ...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Top spot in sight as Matthew looks to carry form into Nationals

Nick MatthewWith recent success as runner-up in the Tournament of Champions in New York - and heavily fancied for the British Nationals next week - it's fair to say that Nick Matthew is the hottest Brit on the tour right now.

For a player who has struggled with injury in recent times, 2009 could be the year that the Yorkshireman finally gets the recognition his commitment deserves ...

It is testament to Matthew's strength that he has been able to hold a position in and around the top ten while sustaining injuries. With Lee Beachill apparently set to retire at the Nationals, the number of English players who are set to challenge Egyptian dominance at the top of the rankings this season will diminish, and when at the top of his game, few are better equipped than Matthew to lead the charge.

Approaching the peak physical age for a squash players, there is a possibility - if he can keep fit and impose his own tempo on his opponents - that Nick may be able to enjoy a spell as the pre-eminent English player. His quarter final win over higher-ranked England teammate James Willstrop in New York will have been a psychological boost (as will have beating Ramy Ashour) prior to the Nationals, where the two Englishmen are seeded to meet in the semis.

They have a warm-up tomorrow night, where they have drawn each other in the latter stages of the Swedish Open.

Squashblog will not be in Manchester, but looks forward to watching Matthew in the final stages of the Canary Wharf Classic and Super Series finals in March.

Nick's journey back from injury

Matthew beats Willstrop: US Open 2007
Matthew rocks the Guardian

Read more ...