Sunday, May 26, 2024

James Willstrop column: An Englishman’s view of America

Log fires, nibbles and chandeliers…yep, squash is different in the US

Willstrop byline

James Willstrop keeps it tight down the right-hand wall

THE Windy City Open was the latest stop on this season’s men’s and women’s world squash tours. It’s an event that has been operating for some time, held in Chicago of course, and has had many editions at different levels.

It was perhaps four or five years since the event held World Series status. The tournament has stepped up again this year, making room for a women’s event for the first time.

The governing body of US squash now has a solid relationship with the professional authorities.

Four World Series men’s events will be held in the USA in 2014 and the US tour has a Squash is really thriving on the east coast of America, but other regions are forming strong pockets of squash activity.

As well as Chicago, San Francisco in California and Richmond in Virginia both own big events again this year, proving that the rest of the country is catching on to squash.

This is despite the fact that when explaining what squash is to an American who doesn’t know, we often resort to the indignity of stating that it is ‘like racquetball’.

Why they would know racquetball more, I don’t know.

These tournaments are only as good as the people behind them running the party, and the Windy City Open has seen a committed effort from a number of people, John Flanigan and Mark Heather to name two, who just love the sport.

Such people have vision and enthusiasm, which they translate in to a world-class event that can then inspire people.

This has a very positive knock-on effect but it cannot happen without great drive and commitment from a select group of people.

The entire event, played last week during an intense period of desperately chilly weather, was held at the affluent and opulent University Athletic Club in Chicago’s downtown area.

It’s a pleasure to spend time in such a club during the week. There are 12 floors in the building, with hotel rooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, a secluded and peaceful library, fitness facilities and squash courts.

Get this: the changing rooms, or locker rooms, have log fires and serve nibbles. The club is frequented by the suited and booted business type and is perhaps a touch male dominated.

You would have to be fairly rich to have a membership for the place, but it manages not to be snooty. The University Athletic Club is a very distinct type of club which is much rarer now.

But this kind of club does still exist in London – at the RAC and Lansdowne clubs – as well as in the bigger American cities.

In New York these establishments exist under the banner of top universities like Yale and Princeton, and are often used by former alumni.

They are quite exclusive, which is not always ideal for introducing the game to the masses, but having said that they rarely seem to be anything less than inviting to all.

The all-glass court was fixed on floor nine of the building, the imposing Cathedral Hall.

It’s a small space with a central overhanging chandelier and is surrounded by stained-glass windows.

At the time of printing, I had lost to Ramy Ashour in the quarter-finals, who then beat Nick Matthew in the semis. Sadly, injury restricted Ramy in the final and he lost 3-0 to Greg Gaultier.

Source: Yorkshire Evening Post; Pictures by Marian Kraus

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