Canary Wharf is the place to dispel any myths about squash deserving an Olympic place
SQUASH MAD COMMENT By FRED NATHAN – Guest columnist from The Sun
If any doubts remain about the popularity of elite squash in the UK, a trip to the Canary Wharf Classic will surely lay them to rest.
Now in its 12th year, it is still going strong, attracting some of the world’s best players and perhaps more importantly, making squash accessible to a UK audience.
Two worlds seem to collide in the Docklands during this special week. The finest financial brains on the planet walk side by side with some of the world’s fittest, elite athletes.
The magnificent dome of the Winter Garden, illuminated by the flickering lights of the surrounding skyscrapers, houses a stunning glass court shipped in from the continent. Surrounding are 650 seats, sold out pre-Christmas before you could spell ‘Mohamed Elshorbagy’.
Immediately upon entering the main concourse, the hubbub of anticipation and appreciation of men at the peak of their profession was palpable. The presence of a VIP dining area, bars and food outlets all serve to counter the criticism that squash is not a spectator-friendly sport.
It can be enjoyed as a social occasion or work night out, but however much chatter there was, every spectator packed into the East Wintergarden could not help but be in awe of some of the strokes on Tuesday night, especially by the masterful James Willstrop in his ruthless dispatching of Omar Abdel Meguid.
In doing so, Willstrop, on return from injury, produced a rare 11-0 opening game, even wowing the crowd with a near-double fake. Willstrop also showed that his long absence did not distinguish the fire in his belly, arguing with the umpire against some of Meguid’s tactics in an occasionally tetchy affair between two phenomenal athletes both 6ft 4in tall.
Whether the Egyptian was playing foul seemed to split the watching audience down the middle. The audible humdrum of debate showed that squash is as much a game of opinions and talking points as any of its more ‘fashionable’ rivals.
Meanwhile, despite three of the four matches finishing 3-0, the quality of the squash was outstanding. In the blink of an eye, slow and controlled passage of play could race through the gears and be transformed by an intense, high-octane piece of brilliance.
Squash is not a difficult game to understand. Yet even if the fineries are not clear, one cannot help but be taken aback by the level of competitiveness and speed when watching the sport live. Not to mention that it is possible to learn tips to improve your own game by studying the footwork and racket movement of the professionals.
Squash in the UK received a major boost in the new year with the news that BT Sport are now the home of the PSA Tour. As more and more people turn to a BT subscription after sweeping the football TV rights board recently, the casual armchair viewer will hopefully see the animal that is Nick Matthew, or the refinery of Simon Rosner and have their interest peaked.
The Canary Wharf Classic is being televised live on BT Sport on Thursday and Friday this week, with highlights over the weekend. It is not unfeasible that tens of thousands more viewers will appreciate the fast-paced sport from their settees, and who knows, they might be inspired to take up the sport and keep the passion alive and kicking.
As a sport that conjures up such fervour and thrill, it is baffling as to why squash is still not an Olympic sport, which for the players on show at Canary Wharf, would be their pinnacle.
Yet sports such as tennis and football, with stars who earn millions just by doing a fragrance advert, deny squash its rightful place on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
An invite should be extended to the IOC, to come down to the Docklands and watch the sport for themselves. They should experience the excitement it gives a live audience, not to mention an increasing television viewership.
And they should appreciate the players whose technique, fitness and movement are truly awe-inspiring.
If anywhere is to change perceptions of squash, Canary Wharf is surely the best place to begin.
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) and PATRICK LAUSON