Fan’s eye view of a top-class tournament
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Correspondent
Squash enthusiast James Roberts has worked tirelessly to promote World Squash Day in the past two years. Here he writes about a day trip to London to begin work on WSD 2016 with a trip to the Canary Wharf Classic top of the agenda.
I got to know World Squash Day founder Alan Thatcher in 2012, when the WSD Back The Bid 2020 campaign caught my imagination and since when I have got myself and my Club in Lichfield, Staffordshire extensively involved in a variety of events to promote our great sport each Autumn.
So, when he invited me down to Canary Wharf last Wednesday to meet him, along with Andrew Shelley of the World Squash Federation and WSF Media Director Howard Harding, to discuss emerging plans for World Squash Day 2016, I jumped at the chance.
Add to this the added bonus of being able to witness the quarter finals of the Canary Wharf Classic Squash Tournament, which would be the first time I have had opportunity to attend this tournament, I did not have to think long about booking a day’s leave from work to make this happen.
After a three-hour drive, I arrived at what has been described to me by a local friend as one of the only free car parks in London, (whose location shall remain a secret as it only has a few spaces), and it was then just a case of a short tube ride along the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf.
On arriving at the East Wintergarden, I had some time to wander around the amazing setting for the tournament, sitting as it does neatly between two of the Wharf’s towers on the waterfront.
The magnificent blue-walled all-glass court sat proudly resplendent in the main hall, looking as if the tall, arched-roofed structure of the Wintergarden had actually been designed just to house it as a permanent fixture.
I must admit I wished at this stage that I had come dressed to go on court with my racket bag in tow, and the urge to grab one of the Harrow rackets and balls off their exhibition stand to grab a cheeky hit on the glass court was overpowering.
Putting this to the back of my mind, I then admired the winner’s trophy with its illustrious list of names, wondering whose would be added to it come Friday night.
A very productive meeting ensued, with a theme of the social side to squash emerging, probably based on some form of team format as this is probably the aspect of the game which promotes the most social interaction.
On to the squash, I won’t give any detailed analysis of the action as Alan has already done an admirable job doing just that in his reports, so will offer some of my impressions of the tournament from my perspective of a first time attendee.
I watched the action close-up, with a front row seat along the left hand side wall towards the front of the court.
As a huge squash fan, I have of course been to quite a few professional squash tournaments, but had always bought tickets for the seats offering the traditional back wall view of the action, as this is the vantage point from which we are most used to watching squash.
It has to be said that the side view offers a completely different perspective of the action.
You really do get more of sense of the distances the players have to travel to retrieve shots and how low they have to lunge to achieve just this.
You also better appreciate the blistering pace of the rallies and how fast that ball moves around the court. You certainly have to exercise those neck muscles a lot more watching from this angle.
British squash crowds are renowned for their overall high level of respectfulness, but which often translates into somewhat of a ‘flat’ atmosphere. However, from what I witnessed, the Canary Wharf crowd is one that likes to get a little more involved, with cries of ‘C’mon Daryl’ and ‘C’mon James’ punctuating the general enthusiastic hubbub and applause between the rallies.
Sometimes, these cries were perhaps a bit over enthusiastic, but coming from the direction of the hospitality area perhaps this was not so surprising, and it was good to see that at no time was a tennis style ‘Quiet please’ required from the referee.
In fact, the players seemed to thrive off it, particularly the home grown ones, with Daryl Selby I am sure using it to his advantage at crucial moments of his epic five-setter against Omar Mosaad.
Mathieu Castagnet also benefitted from clusters of his compatriots in the audience, with a particularly enthusiastic bunch sat right behind me and it may be the case that all the ‘Allez Mathieu’ encouragements played a small part in the eventual outcome?
Perhaps we as a nation should learn from this Canary Wharf experience and not be so shy in more vocally backing our players at tournaments?
In a game of such fine margins, anything can make a huge difference, and I have often heard it said that the players like to see it (and hear it).
As for the actual matches, it was apparent to me how much each player really wanted to do well in this tournament, putting in super-human efforts to stay in and kill off the rallies.
That said, it was a shame that the retirement of Simon Roesner against Cameron Pilley curtailed what promised to be one of the tastiest encounters between two giants of the game, both in terms of stature and hitting power.
The Golan-Dessouky match that preceded it was less of a good advert for the game if I am honest, being frequently punctuated by decisions and questioning of decisions, but nonetheless ended in a very gentlemanly fashion demonstrating the total respect these players have for each other.
The Mosaad-Selby match announced itself in style with a monster first rally and as mentioned, failed to disappoint with its ebb and flow.
It was also a shame that James Willstrop, another giant of the game and who has often risen to the occasion at Canary Wharf, seemed a little off colour, losing his way around the mid-point of each of the three games, but credit to Castagnet for taming who he called ‘The Genius’.
Although disappointed at the result as an English squash fan, my admiration for Castagnet’s tenacity and overall ability only went up a further notch and I did wonder then whether his name would eventually be added to that illustrious list on the trophy.
I even enthusiastically joined the small queue of well-wishers at the end wanting to say well played, get merchandise signed or even have a selfie taken with him.
Even though he masters our language, as an enthusiastic student of the French language, I exchanged a few words with him in his native French and also got the tournament shirt that I had purchased during one of the breaks signed.
Nice to know that I now have the winner’s signature, so rather than now wear this, I can see it appearing in a forthcoming World Squash Day Auction!
Overall, this was a memorable day and will ensure that I once again make the trek down to London for the Canary Wharf Squash Classic in 2017.
While as a nation we already have the prestige and history of the British Open, as the biggest and most popular squash tournament outside of the Open and the most important one to be held in our capital city, the Canary Wharf Classic has undoubtedly become ‘our Tournament of Champions’.
In the eyes of many of the players, they certainly hold it in such high regard. As such, it would be nice to see it added to the list of World Series events?
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com)