Sunday, July 14, 2024

ToC observations: Spectacular squash in an iconic location

Miguel Angel Rodriguez dives across the court against Gregory Gaultier
Miguel Angel Rodriguez dives across the court against Gregory Gaultier

My Top Ten random observations from the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions: Colourful, spectacular squash from some truly phenomenal athletes
By DAX NAIR – Squash Mad Special Correspondent

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2015 was to catch a world-series squash tournament. Since I live in Toronto, the J. P. Morgan TOC, held at the Grand Central Terminal in New York City made the most logical sense. As I took in the overall experience, a few things caught my eye. Here they are.

Sponsors: As one of the highest profile squash tournaments held in one of the most unique venues in the world, TOC definitely has more room for sponsors.
It is understandable that other financial services companies may be reluctant to play second fiddle to J P Morgan. However, a vodka, or beer company may have been willing to pitch in for the exposure. A quick look at the 2015 US Open Tennis site shows that both Heineken and Grey Goose have signed up as sponsors.

The pop-up bar was a nice touch.
Watching a real-time squash match between two world-class players was great entertainment, despite the $8 beers. The replays of the points and yes let/no let challenges were easier to view on the TVs at the bar than from the sidewall seats which I had.


Watching from the side can be a pain in the neck, literally.
On a typical squash court, the best viewing seats are behind the back wall. In the case of the Grand Central venue, I chose front row seats on the right side of the court. Great for close-up views of players, not so great for following the back and forth movements of the players. The one-way viewing technology incorporated into the side walls of the court hampered viewers’ ability to take clear pictures of the players and the game.

The action gets under way inside the Vanderbilt Waiting Hall at Grand Central
The action gets under way inside the Vanderbilt Waiting Hall at Grand Central

The transparent front wall was a big draw.
In a high traffic venue like the Grand Central Terminal, it offered casual observers the chance to get a good feel for the game, and its intensity. In a sense, there is nothing preventing someone from watching the entire tournament free from behind the front wall, except tired legs.

Out of court serves and lobs were a rarity.
There is a reason PSA players play at their level. Over the course of the two days that I watched matches, I don’t recall a single point lost due to an out-of-court serve or lob. Pretty amazing, when you consider that some of the lobs were executed to get out of tight drops and surprise boasts.

Points were largely lost by players than won by their opponents.
Overly aggressive play resulting in a tin shot was the most common error. Situations, where one player squarely beat the other in a rally, were rare. This simply meant that long rallies appeared normal throughout the matches that I watched.

Players dominated the “T” from two or three feet behind it.
This strategy is certainly not for the average club player. The players seemed to be able to cover the court effortlessly from about two or three feet behind the actual “T”. While I could see the likes of six-foot tall Peter Barker doing it, players like Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Saurav Ghosal doing it was a surprise.

Open stance is the norm on the forehand.
Very few shots on the forehand side were played the conventional way. This was more pronounced when the players were digging balls out of the forehand corner of the court.

Colourful clothing: Alison Waters shapes up to play a forehand against Nicol David
Colourful clothing: Alison Waters shapes up to play a forehand against Nicol David

Miguel Angel Rodriguez is the epitome of the never-say-die player.
With an even split of skill and determination, Rodriguez seemed to get to shots that appeared impossible to retrieve. It was clear that he was thinking on his feet as he confused his opponent with the occasional change of pace and softer shots.

Colourful court shoes were the order the day.
Certainly squash shoes have gotten a lot more colourful than they used to be. However, unlike their tennis counterparts, the players seemed to pay less attention to coordinated sartorial perfection. A blue shirt, yellow shorts and red shoes seemed to do just fine!

To conclude, squash, at the PSA level, is a different sport.
Playing intense matches that last 90 minutes, over back to back days, take its toll. Mohamed Elshorbagy, winner of the J P Morgan TOC, pulling out of the Motor City Open during the first round is a good example. The skill, the tenacity, and endurance demonstrated by the players have to be seen to be appreciated.
So, if you haven’t seen a major professional squash tournament yet, add it to your bucket list!

Pictures courtesy of The Tournament of Champions and PSA 



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