2008 ToC

This was my tenth Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions. Every year when I head to my first match I think that this is the year when I will be blasé about it, when I will ho-hum and snigger and, with an apathetic wave of my hand, write it off as a been-there, done-that affair long past its sell-by date. 

No way. I’m the only journalist to cover all ten of ToCs since the tournament restarted in Grand Central in 1999; I think the only person besides myself who has donned the ToC media pass each of those years has been the black-clad photographer Steve Line . So it is my job to look for the new and scorn the old. Sure, the ToC is obviously on any serious squasher’s top ten Bucket List of things to see (I ask you: what is on your list?). But ten years in a row?

Absolutely. One thing that is stupendously unique about the ToC is the random passerby. No other tournament I have been to has its proximity to the real world. Most of the time, we are sequestered at a club, private or public; for the rare portable court tournaments, we are usually even more isolated, stuck in parking lots, soulless sports complexes, theatres, nightclubs, ice rinks or more squash clubs. It means that we are shut away from the ebb and flow of humanity. If you aren’t there for the squash, you aren’t there.

Only at the ToC do you get people walking by who don’t know about squash, let alone the tournament. Each day hundreds of thousands gaze at the forty-foot posters in the main hall and pass through Vanderbilt Hall on their way from 42nd Street to the main hall or vice-versa. And many of them stop and linger. I was courtside at 8am last week and a couple of people were staring at the court like it was a UFO and peering at the oversized drawsheet like it was Sanskrit poetry.

One night this year I was talking with Natalie Grainger in the midway and this kind-faced British man was walking through the station. He approached us and asked if this was a squash tournament. I said yes. He said, “Oh, my cousin runs pro tournaments in Europe.” Natalie asked who it was. He said, “oh, you probably haven’t heard of him—Andrew Shelley.”

We cracked up. Shelley, the director of WISPA , does more than run tournaments in Europe—WISPA is famous for its global reach and for playing on the northernmost and southernmost courts in the world (Norway and Argentina, wasn’t it?) and Natalie, as WISPA president, talks with him almost every day. Natalie said, “Oh, Andrew is right over there.” I thought to rush over to Andrew to warn him, so he could come up with an excuse for not telling his cousin that he was going to be in New York, but I hate to get in the middle of family.

The ToC also produces the non-random passerby, which makes for a disconcerting twist to the normal, head-down commuting pose. The ToC is the only tournament I know where there is no clear dividing line between the place where you will probably know no one and the place where you are sure to bump into someone familiar. At other tournaments, it is the parking lot or the front door to the gym. In New York, you normally never run into a friend. But, at ToC time, in swirling, hurly-burly of the subway or on Park Avenue, you serendipitously bump into a squash friend gliding past on his way to the matches.

One Response to “Serendipity”

  1. Guy Cipriano Says:
    In London when they used to run tournaments at Broadgate Oval it was a big open arena but they had the court screened off so random people couldn’t see play without paying. The PSA would probably have been wiser to let every passer-by watch , but from a distance, to promote interest.

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Nothing like a little sunshine with which to start the new year. A few weeks ago I sailed to Bermuda for the 2007 World Open. 

Bermuda had changed a lot from when I was last there in 1985. Tourists have stopped coming (Trimingham’s is gone from Front Street), with reinsurance minions taking their place. The black majority (descendants of slaves; emancipation came in 1834 but until the 1970s Bermuda was a segregated island) had gained power, in 1998. I took a ferry from Hamilton to one end of the island and the couple next to me were speaking Portuguese—they were a part of various twentieth-century migrations that brought families from the Azores and the Caribbean to Bermuda.

When not talking squash, the island was focusing on the 18 December general election . One spicy undercurrent was the ruling party’s undisguised hope of unilaterally declaring independence from Great Britain.

Besides the politics, it was fantastic to be back on the quaint, pink-beached, mossy-stoned island. I stayed with my fifth cousin once removed’s ex-wife (she was the only Zug in the BDA phone book) in her lovely old family place in Tucker’s Town. It was right on the third tee of the Mid-Ocean golf club and in the mornings when I would wheel my scooter down the gravel path, I’d see a couple of white dimpled balls glistening in the garden. The scooter was great. Top-speed was 35 mph, which was about as fast as you wanted to go on the curving, narrow lanes and by-ways.

The weather predictions in BDA are rather British (partly cloudy, chance of rain showers, patches of sunlight), and one afternoon coming through Flatts I ran into a serious squall. After plowing through the slanting rain for a few minutes, I pulled off, turned off the engine, parked, took off my helmet and put on my 2007 BIDS golf jacket. All this took a couple of harried minutes. I got on and drove about ten feet around a corner and there was my destination, the Bermuda SRA’s squash courts. I ducked inside. The only club in the country, the Devonshire four courts & bar offer more than shelter from the storm.

Bermuda squash is pretty good for having just sixty-odd thousand citizens and just a half dozen courts. Their national men’s team came in 26th out of 29 in the 2007 World Teams. They were anchored by a thirty-two year-old named Chase Toogood. A tennis player, Chase picked up squash his senior year at Trinity, playing #9 for the team; he then married a classmate, three-time All-American Carolyn Young. She is serious Bermudian. Both sides of her family go back to the 1630s and she was the first Young to marry a non-Bermudian in four centuries.

It was at the Devonshire courts that so many hardballing Americans encountered their first softball court. They came for the Bermuda Invitational, a hugely popular tourney jammed with legendary off-court antics and a fascinating list of winners. With the success of the World Open, perhaps they should revive it?

Bermuda Invitational Winners:

1969 Henri Salaun
1970 Colin Adair
1971 Anil Nayer
1972 Dinny Adams
1974 Colin Adair
1975 Peter Briggs
1976 Jug Walia
1977 Johan Stockenberg
1978 Jug Walia
1979 Ham Peterson
1980 Ron Beck
1981 Gordon Anderson
1982 John Frederick
1983 Alan Grant
1984 Gordon Anderson
1985 John MacRury
1986 John MacRury
1987 Satinder Bajwa
1988 Dominic Hughes
1989 Neil Stonewill
1991 Rich Sheppard

One Response to “Bermuda”

  1. David Powell Says:
    The other two courts are at the Coral Beach Club. Perfectly nice, but no air conditioning, and a little hard to keep the sand off the floors. The CBC, I understand, has just been purchased from the Wardman family, along with Horizons which they also owned, by a resort chain, so I wonder what the fate of those courts will be.