By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor) and DAVE WORSLEY in Tauranga
Squash icon Dame Susan Devoy, whose name is etched on the trophy eight times, has put her full support behind the New Zealand Squash Open, which is enjoying a successful renaissance in Tauranga this week.
Devoy, who lives in Tauranga, is right behind the event, which has returned as a dual men’s and women’s tournament for the first time since 1993.
As a former world No.1 and multiple big title winner, Devoy is interested in how pressure weighs on home favourites Paul Coll and Joelle King as fans flock to the tournament, which is being staged at the Trustpower Arena on a state-of-the-art glass court.
She said: “It’s fantastic that Paul and Joelle are home and even more fantastic that along with them they’ve brought some absolute top class players.
“To be honest, I was mesmerised seeing Mohamed ElShorbagy in action and watching a young Abdulla Al-Tamimi from Qatar, just phenomenal as well. In the women’s event, the standard is really high.
“There’s no guarantee Paul and Joelle will win or make the final, even though we want them to, but that makes for some great squash. It’s awesome.”
Al-Tamimi’s presence in the draw has led to another squash legend being at courtside, with Australia’s eight-times world champion Geoff Hunt coaching the Qatari.
Hunt, now 75, was the winner of the Bruce Brownlee Trophy (awarded for the men’s event) in 1978 and 1979. This year he’s back on court hitting with Al Tamimi as well as watching the action unfold on the glass court.
Devoy feels that playing at home has some pluses and minus for players, adding: “It’s twofold, isn’t it. The whole of the Coll whanau is here watching and Joelle has her entire family, mum, dad and grandma all watching at the same place properly for the first time since she was a junior.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It does put pressure on you being at home, but it does get you geed up by the partisan crowd. Joelle is certainly playing well, Paul might have some nerves to start with, but he’s coming into his own.”
Regarding the court at the Arena, Devoy is impressed with the atmosphere and how it fits in the PSA Tour calendar.
“That’s as good as anywhere in the world. It might not be the Pyramids or Grand Central in New York, it’s a bit more relaxed, but the technology around the court is amazing.”
Devoy is expecting the event to continue to draw big crowds from the squash community across New Zealand, who until this week had been confined to watching the game via TV or online streaming from SquashTV.
The very first women’s NZ Squash Open winner, Pam Davis (nee Buckingham) is working as a volunteer at the tournament.
She told Media Director Dave Worsley: “The trophy is quite heavy. The first event was played at the North Shore Club and I was from Remuera. To go to match point I hit a lob serve and it got a nick at the back.
“Things were certainly different back then. It’s great to have history remembered and to be around the game as a volunteer now.”
Dave said: “There were already people (maybe 50) in the crowd at that stage and I yelled out that she was the first winner and they applauded her.”
Andrew Shelley, from the World Squash Library, posted on Facebook: “The first New Zealand Open took place in 1976 at the North Shore Club in Auckland, won by Kiwis Bruce Brownlee and Pam Buckingham (pictured below).
“While the entry became more and more international in the 1980s, home stars Susan Devoy and Ross Norman won seven and three titles respectively.
“But the event was discontinued after 1993, excepting one women’s edition in 2009 before roaring back as a major tour stop this week.”
The 1976 finals results:
Women’s: Pam Buckingham beat Jenny Webster 9-7, 5-9, 3-9, 10-9, 10-8.
Men’s: Bruce Brownlee beat Howard Broun 5-9, 9-6, 9-4, 9-6.
The tournament continues until the finals on Sunday (November 13).
Pictures courtesy of Squash New Zealand, PSA World Tour and World Squash Library