Live Pro Squash

Live on national television. Well, sort of.


The Tournament of Champions has always been at the forefront of media exposure. It was not the first squash tournament to be on TV (that was the 1959 U.S. Open in Pittsburgh) but it was at the ToC in 1991 when squash went national for the first time, when the Prime Network broadcast a ninety-minute edited show on the finals. (The ToC, at the Winter Garden in lower Manhattan, was also a $75,000 event that year, sponsored by Mutual Benefit.)

Five years ago the ToC was the first pro tournament in the world to be streamed live on the Internet.

This year, the ToC was not only streamed live, by the ever-better PSA SquashTV folks, but also at the same time by ESPN3—both last night’s semis and tonight’s finals. 

Streaming live on the Internet is no longer something new, but getting in lockstep with the world’s leading sports broadcaster is fantastic for squash. ESPN3 used to be ESPN360, the live broadband network they launched on the web in 2005. Many of us watched the World Cup last summer via ESPN3. More than a billion people now have access to ESPN3—in North America, South America, Europe and the Middle East and even a few flood-stricken Aussies down in Oz. And it is free, as opposed to the $6 a day or $80 a year for the PSA service.

It is a step in the right direction. How cool was it last night to toggle at ESPN3 between the Bryan bros. in the Australian Open and St. John’s v. Georgetown in basketball and Nick and Amr going at it in a spectacular overtime in the fifth tussle?  

For tonight’s match:

The Great Rematch

Went to the Yale v. Trinity match last week in Hartford. The Eli women crushed the Bantam women, 6-3 and very quickly. I was sitting with Yale coach Dave Talbott in the gallery, chatting away casually, and a match finished and Dave quietly said, well, that’s five. And this was just over an hour into the match.

In under two hours it was finished. An undefeated Yale, with its combo of players from the Main Line (two, including #1 and captain Logan Greer), Greenwich (four) and the U.K. (two), is looking very strong. Trinity has only one player from Yale’s three hotspots, but instead has players from Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Germany, Scotland, Mexico, Colombia, Malaysia and Canada.

That international flavor is more what you’d expect from the Trinity men and surprisingly, they actually seem riven with Americans at the moment. In the highly anticipated rematch of the controversial 2010 national championship bout with Yale, they won 7-2. Trinity started two Americans in their top nine. Both were Brunswick boys, Travis Judson, a senior, at #8 and Matt Mackin, a freshman at #9. It was the first time in over a decade that in a match against a top opponent Paul Assaiante fielded a team with more than one American.

Both Travis and Matt lost, but there is more to the story. Travis won the first game easily and then it got a lot harder against Johnny Roberts of Ireland. But in the fourth, Travis was down 8-9 and then at match point at 9-10 and went on to win the game 12-10 when Roberts tinned on two straight points. Travis lost in five but it was a good effort. 


Matt lost in four. It was, psychologically, almost a foregone conclusion. A freshman, this was his first big college match. Trinity was still on winter break, so the galleries were pretty packed (with Salisbury, New Haven Lawn Club and other juniors, as well as some Trinity winter sports teams and the usual gaggle of middle-aged men who avidly follow the Bantams) but it was not stuffed with supporters like most matches. More critically, he was playing Rob Berner. When Matt was a high school freshman and unable to make the varsity at Brunswick, Berner was a senior and a big stud on campus. Matt even paid Berner $30 a pop to give him lessons. So it was going to be pretty hard for the student to beat his teacher in his first attempt.

Trinity went on to win two more dual matches this past weekend, so the streak is now at 232. The only sour note came the morning after the Yale match, when the front page of the Hartford Courant’s sports page had a three-column photo of a fist-pumping Parth Sharma and a prone Kenny Chan. After what Kenny endured last time out, with Baset Ashfaq’s notorious explosion, it was unfortunate to see him portrayed that way.

By the way, Kenny was treated well by the Trinity fans, with no comments or hostility. That might have been in part because the CSA launched a roving referee system at this match, with two unaffiliated refs (coaches from nearby high schools) roaming the galleries and assisting the refereeing. They do this in college tennis, and it is a good sign of a maturing CSA that it is finally attacking the issues of crowd behavior, player sportsmanship and match marking that has been bedeviling college matches in the past few years.

ToC Flash Mob

It is Tournament of Champions time, the annual rendezvous in Grand Central—for many the greatest week of the squash year.

I’ve always loved coming into the station that first time for the tournament and hearing the thwap of a squash ball amid the din of commuter’s feet and chatter and to run into a friend—as one never seems to otherwise—in the main hall, out of sight of the court.

I’ve always wanted a squash flash mob there—you know, those videos about masses of people suddenly breaking into song and dance in a public space. The best one remains the Sound of Music in the Antwerp train station:

There has actually been one flash mob during the ToC—you can tell by the giant posters—although it was in that sub-category of public performance art called a freeze flash: sort of like that opponent who never clears from the T.

Speaking of annual January-in-New York activities, what we might be really waiting for is a no-pants day at the ToC?




The William White

For forty-nine years many squashers have devoted the first weekend in January to the William White tournament at Merion Cricket. The date was randomly a boon to this year’s event when a recent push to bring in younger players shifted into high gear.

A record two hundred and forty-six players entered the Whitey’s fifteen draws. Many were in college and still on their winter break. They filled out a seventeen-team U25 doubles draw as well as thirty-two slots in the men’s singles open and thirty in the women’s open. (Colleges represented included Cornell, Princeton, Penn, Brown, F&M, Rochester and Hobart.)

Indeed, the two people sitting on either side of me at dinner were Peter Sopher and Dave Letourneau. Both seniors at Princeton. Another way to identify them is as Chapter Three and Chapter Eight of our new book, Run to the Roar

In addition, Scott Brehman, Leo Pierce and the rest of the Whitey committee created an elite men’s draw for the crème de la crème, where Daryl Selby took out Gilly Lane in the finals. Historically, Philadelphia has had such an allergic reaction to pro squash singles (only one portable glass court event in the city’s history), so it was nice to see the area’s leading club encouraging pro squash (Selby is #10 in the world; Gilly #59)

Nowhere was the presence of so many younger people felt more than at the black-tie dinner dance. Normally, it is a lovely, crowded and slightly subdued affair: great conversation and plenty of room on the dance floor for such terpsichores like Dudy & Carter Fergusson. This year dress hemlines were drastically cut (what would Peach Farber, the magisterial leader of Merion’s dancing classes of old, thought?), bowties stubbornly remained untied and the floor was packed with swaying twenty-somethings moving to the relentlessly upbeat sound of CTO Fifth Avenue. Three hundred and forty-two people came to the dinner, a record not only for the Whitey but for Merion’s famous ballroom itself, which was supposed to max out at three hundred and twenty-five.

As usual, fascinating conversations. I talked to someone who had just gotten back from a couple of years in Beirut and someone else who went to a holiday party in Mexico that featured giraffes, rhinos and other animals of the African savanna and someone else who had been flashed by a braless woman at an intercollegiate match last season.

Two double-match point matches stuck out at the 2011 Whitey. In the quarterfinals of the men’s main draw, Noah Wimmer & Addison West saved a couple of match points after being down 2-0 to win 17-16 in the fifth over Dent Wilkins & Todd Ruth. In the finals of the men’s 40+, Rob Whitehouse & Geoff Kennedy were up 12-10 in the fifth against Eric Vlcek & Tom Harrity when a controversial call on an apparent winner made the score 12-11 rather than 13-10. Rob & Geoff squandered a couple of match points, and at 16-all Harrity put the ball away for a contentious victory.


Swiss, GQ and the End of the Tiebreaker

Slipped over to the Wilmington Country Club last weekend for the 17th annual U.S. Pro, the pro squash dubs tournament (>

I had been at the U.S. Pro a couple of times, most notably ten years ago when I stopped by on a Friday afternoon there and happened to catch one of the great upsets in the seventy—two year history of pro doubles (first pro tournament was in 1938 at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn), when Stoneburgh & Wahlstedt beat Waite & Mudge. It was a fantastic match. Stoney & Anders had to qualify and here in their quarterfinal match they faced a juggernaut: Waite & Mudge hadn’t lost in twelve previous tournaments and would go on to win twenty-four more in a row.

But in the chilly WCC courts, anything can happen and Stoney with masterly finesse and Anders with some Scandinavian calmness won in five.

There were no epoch-making upsets this weekend. Mudge & Ben Gould, the latest undefeated power couple, strolled to victory with the loss of just one game in three matches. The only five-gamer in the main draw came courtesy of Yvain Badan & Manek Mathur. The young Trinity alums—Swiss ’06 was a senior when Manek ’09 was a freshman—live together in Port Chester and work as pros at Apawamis. Like any good roommates, they squabble about whether to get a pet, but on court they are very much in simpatico. Down 2-1 against John Russell & Preston Quick, they pulled out a tight fourth game 15-13. In the fifth they were down 12-8 but got it to 13-11. Manek has a long, fluid southpaw swing, full of rapacious velocity and he unleashed another rocket down the line. Sadly, it tinned.

Then on match point, the ball broke. Balls broke a ton. Something is wrong with the batches, as both the Whitey and the U.S. Pro went through balls like they were road salt in a Buffalo retirement community in January (some matches used four or five a game). So they had to laboriously warm up the ball and then JR & Preston quickly won the point and the match was over.

Swiss & Manek are not up-and-coming: they are just up. They just started playing together this fall. In October they reached the final in St. Louis; in November in New York they lost to JR & Preston 15-14 in the fourth at NYAC and then won the challenger event in Buffalo. And they look good, as anyone who is nicknamed GQ like Manek would insist. They’ve got snazzy shirts that have their last names on the back and their country’s flags (Switzerland & India) adjoined. Poor Swiss, though. Last year he & Jonny Smith lost a simultaneous double match point in the finals of the U.S. Pro. Talk about some tough luck

Other cool names in Wilmington were seeing Gil Mateer, age fifty-five, in the qualies (losing with Todd Anderson, the son of Harry the Horse Anderson, to Swiss & Manek); and the brothers Imran & Asad Kahn, who qualified in.

If you look at the draw, you’ll see a lot of 15-13 and 15-14 game scores and might think that everyone was boldly calling no-set when the score reached 13-all or 14-all. Well, that wasn’t the case. The 2001 U.S. Pro was the first ISDA tournament to experiment with having no tiebreakers beyond no-set. James Hewitt, the ISDA executive director, explained to me that this idea originated in the Toronto squash doubles league (the world’s most vibrant) where matches were running long and dinners were waiting (Toronto’s leagues are also very social). After a couple of years with the amateurs, the idea trickled up to the pros. It tends to shorten some matches by ten or fifteen minutes, Hewitt said, in part because no only are there fewer points, but also there is less time for lets and posturing and lets and whispering consultations and more lets. The U.S. Pro’s main draw had eight games that could have gone into tiebreakers but with the new rule didn’t.

So farewell the old set three and set five, the epic 18-17 in the fifth scoreline. But don’t cry too hard. Remember: in that famous 2001 U.S. Pro match, not a single game was closer than 15-12.





Gorillas, Shooting the Moon and a Fire on the Veld

When I returned from the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, I opened our mailbox to a spilling, envelope flurry of cards from squash friends. One was from James D. Marver. Jim is a bi-coastal player (he hosted a strategic retreat for U.S. Squash at his home in the Hamptons four years ago) and USQ board member. It depicted his three kids in Uganda, with a couple of gorillas climbing around them.

An hour after opening up his card, I was reading the end-of-year double issue of the Economist and came upon a full-page ad for First Republic Bank. Most of the ad was a photograph of Jim standing in front of some bamboo stalks (which reminded me not Uganda but panda bears in China). He was smiling and looking fit—but sadly with no racquet in hand. (See more:

After New Year’s, I also received that curious artifact of the electronic age: the emailed holiday letter. One came from Ralph Howe, the many-time national champion and pro player in squash singles, squash doubles and court tennis doubles. “Shooting the surgical moon,” Ralph dutifully limned the latest medical issues (new knee in December 09, new hip in December 10 and arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder later this month). Instead of gloating about the nice winter weather in Florida, this year he noted that nearly forty years ago, the Ford Administration got blasted for having a $60 billion annual deficit. If only that was the problem today.

The other letter was something out of an old Nadine Gordimer story. It came from Peter Pearson, a South African squash player. Peter has a gorgeous plot of land in the Overberg mountains, a couple of hours inland from Cape Town. It’s named Houw Hoek (after the gorgeous mountain pass nearby) and is a farm, officially, though Peter doesn’t farm anything there and the house doesn’t have electricity. I’ve been lucky enough to spend Easter weekend there twice, in 1989 and 1994. It was a lot of lumbering hikes through the veld pulling up invasive trees and delicious naps after lunch and fascinating conversations with Peter’s parents (his father is still with-it at the age of ninety-four).

In January 2010 a fire swept through the Pearson farm, burning half of it and coming within two hundred yards of the little cottage. Five days later, another fire completed the job and burned the other half of the farm, but again, with Peter directing a firefighting team to backburn, the house was saved.

It was arson, both times.