The United States Open rocked New York. Again. Literally. Twenty years ago, Tom and Hazel Jones hosted the Open at the Palladium, a night club on 14th Street. Now the Open was back in Gotham, kicking it live at the Roseland Ballroom.
Roseland Ballroom is a classic rock-and-roll venue, up on 52nd Street, just off Broadway and a few blinking blocks above Times Square. Originally built as an ice-skating rink in 1922, Rosalind was converted in 1956 into a ballroom. In the cavernous lobby, you can see a list in bronze of the hundreds of married couples who first met at a Roseland dance. Christopher Walken starred in a 1977 Merchant & Ivory film set there. But it also has been the site of some serious rock and roll: the B52s were playing there a few weeks after the Open.
Roseland is a battered, funky hulk of a place. Ben Collier, one of the official photographers for the Open, and I wandered behind the glass court and found a lot of long, ghostly corridors leading nowhere. One bartender who had worked there for seventeen years told me about all the parties and shows; his best tip was a $100 one at a Nirvana show. Just like with the Palladium, it was pretty cool to see the word “squash” up in the marquee.
The 2007 Open had a rough-hewn, if hip feel. The Printing House, the West Village boxing-gym-cum-squash-club hosted the early rounds, with construction on a fifth Gordie Anderson court going on during matches next door. (They should have put the glass court on the Printing House’s amazing rooftop.) The players boarded at a hotel in the Lower East Side. The hotel was owned by an Egyptian but his extra care did not help, as two Pommies, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew bounced out Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour in the sold-out semis. Matthew took the final. Makes you want to dance.
Whip It, Farmer
My old friend and avid reader of this column, Gaetano P. Cipriano, just opened the first hardball doubles office court in the country. The Whippanong Club, using a commonly-used Ramapo Indian word, is in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, just off the confluence of Interstates 80 and 287. In 1963 Cipriano’s father Peter bought a rice farm (believe it or not) there and converted it into an enormous office park. One building, put up in 1970 and added onto six years later, housed a medical supplies warehouse. Last year, the warehouse emptied and Cipriano took the opportunity to raise the roof and drop in a doubles court. It is a beautiful Anderson court, though Cipriano forgot to figure out a way to reach it from his offices on the other side of the building and he’s go to go outside and around.
Still, it was pretty cool to see the facility on its opening night. There was some mean firepower on the court (Briggs, Clothier, Anderson, White and Cipriano’s son, the reigning intercollegiate doubles champ Peter) and great conversation off court. I talked with Don Tansey, a Yalie who played on both the tennis and squash teams for all four years of college in the early 1970s and yet his coach for both sports, the legendary John Skillman, still didn’t know his name. It was, as for everyone else, “Farmer.”
I missed Cipriano hosting a dinner after the Whippanong Club opening, as I flew down the Turnpike to North Philly to go to the SquashSmarts celebration opening the new Lenfest Center. I had been there a few weeks before, but to see the startling, glass and steel building, 52,000 square feet, $10 million, eight squash courts lit up at night was pretty spectacular. Everything was oversized: the ceiling in the basketball court, the sunflowers on each table, the video screen on the wall, the Moroccan chicken with pomegranate emulsion and the crowd—hundreds and hundreds of supporters of the country’s second urban squash program to get its own clubhouse. With StreetSquash’s coming on line in Harlem in ten months, we’ll have three and this idea is not even a dozen years old.
Media Watch III—New Yorker and Wall Street Journal
John Cassidy did a major profile of Victor Niederhoffer in the New Yorker last month. Accompanied by a very purple, full-page portrait of Niederhoffer, the piece ran through the usual, now famous litany of his eclectic collections in his Wilton, Conn. home (folk art paintings) and goofy habits (shoeless in the home, not reading newspapers). It also had the oft-told stories of Niederhoffer’s start with squash at Harvard and had a rare photo of a pasty Vic holding what looks like the old Mass SRA state singles trophy (which he won in 1963 and 1964). Cassidy evidently had read my squash book but he also dug out a lot from old issues of Sports Illustrated and the New York Times Magazine, as well as correspondence with executives at SI and Time (there were hints of suits being filed).
What Cassidy did not probably see is an article that was exactly the same as this one that I wrote in 1998 for Icon Thoughtstyle magazine, a short-lived New York rag started by a Princeton ‘94. They contracted with me to pay $3,000 for a profile of Niederhoffer (and ended never paying and then going under a year after it ran). Like Cassidy, I ran through Vic’s eccentricities and his squash career and ended with his latest (1997) flameout. The New Yorker piece coincided with news of another collapse. Niederhoffer has made and lost a half dozen fortunes. There is no doubt Vic will return.
Dan Ackman, a freelance journalist, has written another piece about squash in the Wall Street Journal. This time it was about all the Egyptians who have been lately dominating the men’s pro tour. It totally missed the fact that the reason Egypt has so many good players today is that it always has had good players (Amr Bey in the 1930s, Mahmoud el Karim in the 1940s, Abou Taleb in the 1960s and most obviously Ahmed Barrada in the 1990s). The first three won a total of thirteen British Opens and Barrada was an electrifying, shoe-tongue-adjusting, Great Pyramid-rocking superstar. Ackman says Egypt is “not known for its sporting traditions.” Well, in squash that just isn’t true.