Battle On The Rock to headline Malta Squash Festival in 2017
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
World champion Gregory Gaultier and Australian power-hitter Cameron Pilley delighted a packed gallery at the Cynergi Club in Malta in a rematch of their recent PSA World Series Final clash.
Gaultier repeated his 3-1 victory in Dubai to win the Cynergi Battle On The Rock World Challenge trophy.
Gaultier triumphed 13-11, 6-11, 15-13, 16-14 to hold aloft the recently commissioned trophy.
His win in Dubai 10 days earlier was the first time he had ventured on court without an ankle brace after suffering a serious injury in New York in January.
He told the crowd: “I tore some ligaments in my ankle during a freak accident on court. I trod on my opponent’s foot and my ankle rolled over with my whole body weight on it.
“Two months earlier I had become world champion for the first time after losing in four finals before that. I have a good team around me and they helped me to get my fitness back.
“I was trying hard not to push too soon and risk further damage, and it was a huge relief to play in Dubai without the ankle support.
“To come here to the beautiful island of Malta, and join the squash community here, is all part of the recovery process.
“It is my second time here in Malta and the whole trip has been very enjoyable, with special thanks to the InterContinental Hotel and all the sponsors who made this event possible. I look forward to coming back again next year.”
Gaultier and Pilley held several coaching clinics for local players and the tall Australian added: “It looks like you have some very good junior players coming through in Malta and that’s always good to see.
“It’s always nice to visit different parts of the world and see some dedicated people promoting the game so well.”
Pilley holds the world speed record in squash, striking the ball at a blistering 177 miles per hour. He and Gaultier took part in a fun challenge at the Cynergi Club and both players recorded some impressive speeds on the Squash Mad radar gun. The Frenchman Gaultier reached 156 mph and Pilley almost matched his world record by hitting 170 mph.
“My shoulder wasn’t quite up to it tonight,” he quipped. “I’ll get some more practice in and try again when we come back next year.”
Plans are already under way to create a major international tournament in 2017 for many of the world’s leading professionals competing in the Battle On The Rock alongside the Maltese Squash Championships and a festival involving club teams from all over Europe.
Organisers are checking venues with room to house an all-glass showcourt surrounded by up to 1,000 seats.
Pilley added: “Count me in. That sounds a great idea. I know that squash fans would love the combination of playing in their own tournament, enjoying the beautiful sunshine in Malta, and watching the professionals in the evenings.
“It has all the ingredients needed to become a brilliant annual event.
“An event like that can only help to grow squash in Malta.”
As well as thanking the InterContinental Hotel and the Cynergi Club, Gaultier and Pilley praised fellow sponsors Scott’s Supermarket and Dean Gera Hair Care.
As the players concluded their post-match interviews, the glass-backed court was flooded with junior players trying their hand at the radar gun.
It was a joyous scene that captured the spirit of the occasion, and one that underlined the enormous potential for squash in Malta.
Squash is rated the best sport in the world for both fun and fitness, and a new wave of junior players signed up to a local coaching programme in Malta after joining Gaultier and Pilley on court.
Simon De Cesare, Director of Operations for Eden Leisure, owners of the InterContinental Hotel and the Cynergi Club, said: “We are delighted to have had such a successful event at our club.
“At Cynergi we continue to invest in our product, including a major investment in equipment taking place this year.
“Squash is an integral part of our offering to our members and to our non-members and we will continue to invest in and develop the interest within the club’s membership and without.
“We are working on creating squash packages for all ages and walks of life using the great and varied facilities that InterContinental has to offer all in the same place.
“Our long-term goal one day is for Cynergi and InterContinental Malta to become renowned for being on the Professional International Squash circuit and also on the Junior Circuit.
“Today we feel we have the right personnel, the right ingredients, now it is just a matter of getting the recipe right.”
A statement from Malta Squash confirmed: “It was a unique experience for the local squash enthusiasts to watch two of the top squash players in the world playing each other in Malta.
“The icing of the cake was to see some of our juniors with them on court and then we had the juniors there in the front seats watching them play against each other. We would like to congratulate Bradley Hindle for organising such a great event.”
Pictures by ROB SULTANA and NIGEL DUNKERLEY