‘I have never seen anything like this before – the louder the better, the drunker the better, it’s amazing,’ says Tesni Evans
EXCLUSIVE By JEROME ELHAIK (Squash Mad Correspondent in Nantes)
After a three-year break due to the pandemic, the Open de France is back in Nantes this week. Once again the event is living to its reputation, offering to the players as well as the crowd an experience like no other on the PSA World Tour.
Welsh No.1 Tesni Evans was full of praise for the tournament and the crowd after reaching the semi-finals.
She said: “It’s very motivating. This is why we play, we want this from the crowd. I’ve never seen anything like this. The louder the better, the drunker the better, it’s amazing.”
And we heard similar comments from men’s top seed Marwan ElShorbagy to master of ceremony Romain Suire, after his win on Wednesday night at the Hangar 24.
He said: “I’ve been on the tour for the last 10 years and to be honest, I have never seen anything like this before.”
Unlike his opponent Declan James – who has now featured in five of the six editions, winning in 2018 – the Egyptian had never come to Nantes before and discovered what is an undoubtedly a unique event on the PSA World Tour.
Where else would you see a painter depicting a player in action, as happened during the exhibition match on Monday night to honour the glittering career of the French General Grégory Gaultier?
Or a tattoo artist inking the words “Gang Of Squash” on to various body parts of spectators?
But most of all, it is unique because it’s played in a different location every year, the purpose of the organisers being to use the tournament as a platform to explore and promote some iconic sites of the city.
They were close to calling it a day after five fantastic events. From 2015 to 2019 they visited le Lieu Unique, la Cité des Congrès, les Machines de l’île with the famous elephant, l’opéra Graslin and finally le château des Ducs de Bretagne.
Luckily for all of us they decided to change their mind and reinvent themselves for what they call “Season Two”.
“We are constantly looking for places, we just need them to be big enough to set up a glass court in it,” smiles Romain Suire, one of the most committed people within an organising committee driven by François Le Jort, “the craziest of us all” as he fondly called him a few years ago.
“In the past, we went to some places that were all beautiful and the centre of the show in themselves, but for a new season we had to change our approach drastically.”
And they did: this year, the glass court is set up in a decommissioned warehouse within a brownfield site close to the River Loire, which was previously used to stock fruits.
The result is astonishing, probably as far removed as it gets from the atmosphere at the opera in 2018.
“We want people to feel like they are entering an underground arena, where they are coming to attend some fights between the players,” says Romain Suire. “We went even further with the Gang of Squash branding, the temporary tattoos, the outfits etc. I guess in some way we were inspired by the movie Fight Club …”
As always, the organisers want the Open de France to be a meeting point between sport and culture, and numerous artists are featuring throughout the week.
These include cultural association Pick Up Production, DJ ONE UP, a familiar face in the event, guitar player Victor Gonin, choreographer Gabriel UM with dancers Kevin Ferré, Fatima Camara and Elodie Chhor, as well as master of ceremonies Rodrigue LINO, who helps Romain Suire warm up the audience before the players burst into the scene.
Those who came before, such as Declan James, may not have been surprised by the level of noise reached during the matches, but it was the first time for upcoming French superstar Victor Crouin, who as far as squash goes picked up where he left off at the Qatar Classic last week.
“It’s a pleasure to play in France, and the stands are packed from the get go,” he said after his first round win.
“I was able to discover the venue the day before the tournament started and quickly realised it was going to be a unique atmosphere. Hats off to the organisers; going to a different place every year is a huge challenge and it seems like they manage to raise up to it every single time …”
Interestingly, Camille Serme was here in Nantes to discuss plans for a major new event in Paris next year close to the Eiffel Tower. She must have absorbed plenty of ideas.
Share your thoughts ….
Have you watched live in Nantes, or via SQUASHTV? Please let us know your thoughts about this unique venue. Readers can comment below.
Pictures courtesy of Lauranne Rochais, Nathalie Goossens, etienne.now and PSA World Tour