‘I was amazed to find a small slice of squash heaven in New York City’
By ALAN THATCHER, NATHAN LAKE and ROBERT GIBRALTER
Nathan Lake found a new stage on which to display his racket skills and iron determination as he won the first outdoor tournament to be held on the Maspeth steel court in the New York suburb of Queens.
Nathan pocketed the winner-takes-all first prize of five thousand dollars after beating Lyell Fuller in the final.
Left-hander Nathan wore sunglasses on the court as he and his opponent moved the ball around with apparent ease from the shaded right-hand wall to the sun-kissed opposite side.
The final followed the recent World Squash Day exhibition arranged by the PSA Foundation and featuring Egyptian superstar Mohamed ElShorbagy, India’s Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa, and New Zealander Joelle King.
The brains behind the court, Maspeth Steel owner Jeff Anschlowar and his friend Robert Gibralter, are already discussing similar installations in different locations, including a parkland setting in Chicago.
Jeff himself has a long and emotional connection with World Squash Day, having played in the very first edition at Lambs Club, featuring a London versus New York team match held alongside an eight-man professional invitation tournament, just three months after the tragedies of 9/11.
Jeff and Robert’s energies have propelled the conversation about outdoor squash to the foreground, providing a fitting metaphor addressing the need for squash to emerge into the sunshine after more than a century of being tucked away inside traditional indoor venues that have kept our wonderful game hidden from the wider public.
Nick Matthew, from the Steel City of Sheffield, and Joel Makin, who has succeeded Nick as the British No.1, have enjoyed hits on the court in recent weeks and spoken highly of the opportunities it presents.
Former US No.1 Tim Wyant, now heading up the Squash and Education Alliance, admitted he was sceptical at first, but was quickly won over as the reality dawned on him that cheaper outdoor courts could spark an urban explosion of the game in poorer, inner-city communities that SEA is committed to serving.
Currently, most people in America think squash is a vegetable. Those who have heard of the sport usually see it as an exclusive Ivy League preserve with very few affordable courts available to those on lower incomes.
The Maspeth steel court is helping to amplify a new narrative on this subject.
During lockdown, the court provided a welcome destination for players of all abilities. A pro-am tournament was a natural development and the first champion, Nathan Lake, shares his thoughts below.
‘I was greeted by a beautiful blue sky with planes flying over the court’
NATHAN LAKE writes:
I first came across outdoor squash at the start of 2020. I kept seeing posts about a Steel Court that had been build in Queens, not too far from where Haley Mendez (my fiancée) and her family are from.
I was intrigued and kept an eye on their social media posts and exchanged messages with Rob Gibralter, one of the brains behind the world’s first steel squash court.
After a while I wanted to know more. Was outdoor squash possible? Could it survive harsh weather? Was it fun?
After seeing several pro players and coaches using the court it looked like the answer was yes!
Rob was kind enough to talk to me on the phone and the call provided me with a much-needed shot in the arm of enthusiasm. When all seemed doom and gloom, and I was about to start my second bike session of the day in a dark garage, to hear of some good news and exciting developments within squash was fantastic.
Earlier this year the concept of an outdoor event started being whispered, and before I knew it Rob had organised a sponsor, a handicapped system and entries to an event were being collected.
The event stretched across five months, beginning in July and ending in November, featuring two very different temperatures. The competition attracted several top 100 players, local coaching pros and passionate amateur squash players from the New York area.
The most popular man in town was John Beaman. It was his job to make the matches as competitive as possible despite the difference in standard. He quite literally had the ability to sink or swim campaigns. Judging by the semi-final matches and final, which all went to four games or more, he did an excellent job!
This event was my first experience of outdoor squash and when I first arrived I was a little sceptical about how the court would play and, of course, the floor.
I was amazed at what I found, a small slice of squash heaven in New York City. I was greeted by a beautiful blue sky with planes flying over the court, I found the court to be true, and floors to be as good as most indoor courts I play on.
It’s hard to put into words just how nice it felt to be outdoors, especially in a city setting where everything is so built up, to be able to see the sky, feel fresh air and not feel like you’re within a concrete jungle, is something I enjoy immensely.
There are some exciting initiatives in the pipeline here in the US for more outdoor squash projects and I believe it’s a fantastic way to bring squash to a wider audience of potential players.
I can’t thank Rob and Jeff enough for allowing Haley and I to come and play on the court and be part of the inaugural Intsel Steel Outdoor Squash event. I can’t wait to get back on the court again soon.
ROBERT GIBRALTER writes:
The winner of the inaugural Intsel Steel Outdoor Squash pro am tournament on the steel court in Maspeth is Nathan Lake over Lyell Fuller 3-1.
Outdoor squash has brought us together in new, exciting, and surprising ways. We attracted an inaugural draw of 64 PSA World Tour pros and amateurs who reached out to play in this first of a kind outdoor tourney.
Players self-scheduled their fixtures and played handicapped three out of five game matches over the past five months in temperatures ranging from 100 to 50 degrees, with sunny, cloudy and humid weather, including a few rain delays, in our industrial backyard ‘field of squash dreams in Queens’.
We enjoyed the smell of coffee roasting in the air, with an industrial background symphony of metal working and construction, and step changes in skill levels on court until Nathan and Lyell performed at the highest level to win the cash prize ($5k to the winner) and original scrap metal art trophies.
Freddy Ramirez captured some outstanding images recording a new era in squash photography, with players wearing outdoor goggles, hitting the ball from light areas into shade, and moving shadows creating artistic patterns across the floors and walls.
There was plenty of artistic squash on display, too, as power and precision were welded with touch and timing.
Intsel Steel Outdoor Squash Tournament at Maspeth Steel, Queens, New York, USA.
Lyell Fuller beat Hayley Mendez 3-2
Nathan Lake beat Jaymie Haycocks 3-2
Nathan Lake beat Lyell Fuller 3-1
Pictures courtesy of Freddy Ramirez