Sunday, February 25, 2024

Professionals inspire the next generation in New York

Willstrop forehand

Willstrop: Why exhibitions should never be undervalued
By JAMES WILLSTROP – Article first published on the Yorkshire Evening Post website (14/01/14) 

We arrived in New York for the Tournament of Champions last Saturday. The East Coast of America is currently enjoying an explosion in squash growth and many of the professional players come out here early to play exhibitions.

Demand is high and some players love to spend extra time in New York. Taking in some matchplay can be the perfect way to prepare for an event, as well as promoting the game and helping to inspire squash enthusiasts.

We did three exhibitions last week in the New York area. First was a trip to Brooklyn to the Heights Casino (it is not a Casino) which is a well-known squash club in the USA, having hosted the major women’s tournament, the Carol Weymuller Open, for several years.

The club professional is Linda Elriani, former world number three from England, who with her assistants has built interest in Brooklyn. It is easy to tell if squash is thriving at a club when there are a gaggle of juniors at the front scrabbling for floor space to watch; in Brooklyn they were out in force. A young fellow, Nick, was given a chance on court.

At the end of the fourth game, when I was feeling the pinch and needed a break, he took my place to play Saurav Ghosal, and did famously under pressure.

On Tuesday night we headed for Choate school in New Haven, a two hour train ride from Manhattan.

It is a private institution whose fixtures in recent times have included ones against exclusive English schools such as Eton and Harrow. We received a warm welcome from those there who watched the squash before some questions with dinner in the plush school dining rooms.

Wednesday was local: a short journey to the Yale club in Manhattan, which has been our base for practice and training during the week. It is one of New York’s affluent members clubs, the kind Bertie Wooster might be proud to belong to, and the impeccably attired members turned out to watch us play their best player.

Barker and WillstropSaurav worked him hard for a game, then I twisted the knife to the point where our man had to excuse himself from the court to expel his lunch. Not nice for him, but all the same it gave an insight in to how hard squash really is when being dragged about the court by a player several levels up.

The first rounds began on Friday evening at Grand Central Terminal. At the time of going to press I find myself in the quarter-finals against England’s Peter Barker (pictured right).

My training partner and former Leeds resident Saurav lost in five brutal games to Simon Rosner of Germany on Saturday evening. Harrogate’s Chris Simpson and Jenny Duncalf have last 16 matches against Daryl Selby and Sarah-Jane Perry, in all-England stand-offs.

It has been a common theme here so far in that there have been many same-country match ups: four or five all-Egypt and all-England ties, and the young French pair managed to draw each other in the first round. It’s a long way to go to play your mate, someone said.

Our manager Mick has accompanied us through the exhibitions and of course the tournament, and for a Ponte’ lad he blends in surprisingly well with the affluent members’ culture which is prevalent in clubs here.

A party of Pontefract friends have come over for some squash/holiday time and I am always glad of their vocal support. Let’s hope I can give them something to shout about.

Source: Yorkshire Evening Post; Pictures by Michael Catling

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