Racquet Prep and Ramadan

I sat with Jack Wyant, the U.S. coach, during the finals of the world championship individuals up in Allston, Mass. After about four points, he murmured: “racquet preparation.” Both Nours are exceptional, for their age (El Sherbini is just fifteen) in this regard. A lot of it is the accumulation of hours. They’ve been playing forever. El Tayeb started playing tournaments more than a decade ago.

And they’ve been training under some serious coaches. Amir Wagih, the Egyptian national coach, told me after the Nours finished their final that this was his eighteenth world title as a coach, starting in 1999. Eighteen from men and women, adults and juniors, individual and teams. This all might change in the long run, in the post-Mubarek Egypt, but for now they know what they are doing.

And they are serious. I asked El Tayeb if she’d take a few weeks off when she got home, to socialize and see friends and just luxuriate in achieving her goal. She said, well, no. because the day they land in Cairo is the first day of Ramadan, so a month of fasting will be upon her. 


The death of George Wadsworth last month has led some to ponder the future of the Copa Wadsworth. The annual squash match between the U.S. and Mexico was started in 1990 and has become a wonderful fixture on the calendar, helping cement ties between the two nations and sending players all around North America. Anything that gets the U.S. ambassador to come and present trophies is a good thing.

George presided over the Copa as a gentle spirit, not as someone who managed every last detail. The tournament began as the brainchild of some Mexican squash players, including three ex-presidents of the Mexican squash association. Purdy Jordan, who played in the first Copa in 1990, helps greatly from behind the scenes and, stateside, Ken Stillman, who first got involved when he was the president of the USSRA, and Alan Fox, who has played in it since 1993, keep an eye on all things Copa.

This year’s was in Louisville, keeping to the general plan of moving the U.S. match to small, but vibrant squash locales (Atlantic City in 1991, Colorado Springs in 2001, Santa Fe in 1993 and 2003)—though it is often in the big city too. Next year it is in Mexico City.

With the demise of hardball singles and the increasing globalization of squash, the Copa is even more important to the health of the U.S. game, quite literally as important as its sister, the Lapham-Grant. And with a couple of doubles courts in Mexico City and one in Tijuana, it is also the route for expanding doubles to other countries besides the U.S. and Canada.



Your Mother Smells of Elderberries

A friend recently mentioned seeing something in the Economist that would interest the many readers of RacquetSphere. I thought it might be “squash head” a new kind of high explosive munition.


I couldn’t find anything in particular, though I did locate perhaps the best-titled piece of the year: “Your Mother Smells of Elderberries.” 


This piece discusses the taunts fans can now source from Facebook pages of players. Someday this social-media sharing will come back to haunt you.



Red Carpet

Speaking of Hal Baker, another discussion point was the legendary story of Anil Nayar’s arrival at Harvard, about how coach Jack Barnaby did not know that the world’s #1 junior had applied and been accepted at Harvard, let alone arrived on campus in the fall of 1965. (The story appears on p.133 of my squash book—“I don’t have the red carpet here today, but I’ll have it tomorrow.”

It was the ultimate recruiting job, at least at Harvard: do nothing and you shall receive.

This story has been questioned by one person, since it seems so crazy. How was it possible that the coach didn’t know that such a great player was coming? But not only did both Jack and Anil corroborate the story with me, but it appeared in the Boston Globe in the 1970s.

After all this time, it was Hal Baker who supplied the motive. Hal said that Barnaby found out that his friends over in admissions kept Anil’s application secret, to play a joke on him. For the ebullient Barnaby, he must have roared with laughter when he got the admissions people on the phone.