Nantes: A new ‘Modus Operandi’ for Squash?
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Reporter
Squash took centre stage last week quite literally with the ‘4th Opus’, as the organisers dubbed it, of the Open International de Squash de Nantes, which took place at the magnificent 18th Century Théâtre Graslin.
Judging from the positive reactions of the players who took part, the organising team, the watching public and the Squash TV crew there to broadcast it to the world, the event was a huge success. Some, like Joey Barrington, the ever-present and popular Squash TV commentator, even called it ‘quite possibly the best squash event I have ever experienced’, whereas James Willstrop, after his semi-final victory said in his best French ‘j’adore ce tournoi, c’est magnifique!’
However, that has not stopped some criticism being levelled at the event by certain sections of the squash fan base, who picked apart the viewing experience from the general perspective of what they are used to when they visit professional squash tournaments. It has to be said that such criticism came in the main from people who did not actually attend the tournament in person.
Most of such criticism was about the actual ‘viewability’ of the squash, and in particular the angle of view from the seats on the ground floor level, as well as the distance to the court from the seats higher up in the balconies. Of course, also being on a relatively narrow theatre stage, there was a lack of the usual side court or front wall seats you often see at professional squash tournaments.
Whilst it is true that the angles of view from some seats were perhaps not ideal from a squash purists’ point of view, I think you have to set aside such considerations when judging this tournament. The Open de Nantes has to be the most innovative of all the tournaments in the PSA calendar and it has important wider objectives beyond just showcasing world-class squash.
Firstly it is about fusing culture and sport, which it accomplished extremely well this time with the operatic introductions to each match and its light shows and ghosting routines on the court. Secondly, it is also about promoting the city of Nantes, which is why the venue changes each year and why we see non-traditional venues in use. The organisers are not trying to say that this type of venue should be used all the time for squash. It is about taking the sport into places where it does not normally venture, so as to expose it to a wider public and also showcase iconic locations in the city.
It is pointless therefore comparing it to other squash venues – it’s a different way to watch the game, and hopefully brings a different experience each time that it is held. Last year for instance, at Les Machines de L’Isle, they constructed scaffolding standing areas all around the court, which provided us with some innovative new angles from which to appreciate the action.
In my view, the organisers should be commended for their boldness in trying new things, for bringing a fresh perspective to the game and for thereby introducing it to a wider public who hopefully will now be hungry for more.
To me, the Open de Nantes is the ‘French Canary Wharf’ – you could even say it is its ‘tournoi jumelé’ (‘twin tournament’), as even though the latter does not move venues each year, it like Nantes brings something different as a squash tournament in a non-traditional venue, and as a result produces a special atmosphere. I can only see this event growing in stature each year, eventually becoming the de facto ‘French Open’ and a potential World Series event.
Tournaments like Nantes are in my view pointing the way forward in terms of staging squash and it is perhaps very timely that the Paris 2024 Olympics has the chance to consider some new sports and what they could bring to their Olympics. Just think of all the iconic locations in Paris that could be showcased by an Olympic squash tournament staged like in Nantes. They would have a problem selecting which one to use!
We need more tournaments like Nantes to showcase squash and bring it to the attention of a wider audience. Chapeau, Nantes – vive la différence, vive l’innovation!
Pictures by: Nantes: MIKPHOTOS, Canary Wharf; Squash Mad