Friday, June 21, 2024

Tournament Of Champions: Starting the New Year with a bang

Why the Tournament of Champions 2014 promises to be the greatest yet 
By SATYA SESHADRI – Squash Mad New York Correspondent 

In New York’s Grand Central Terminal, the stage is being set for one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. The last six years, I’ve had the privilege of attending and witnessing some of the best squash ever played.

Last year’s final between world number three, Ramy Ashour of Egypt, and world number two, Gregory Gaultier of France, was one of the most entertaining matches I’ve ever seen. Those who were there can attest to the rare quality of that match.

That was last years final. Ramy came back from two games down to beat an in-form Gaultier 3-2. It would be very hard to top such an exciting finale, but if it’s possible, the J.P.Morgan Tournament of Champions (ToC) is the place for it to happen.

The all glass court (pictured below) is located in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station. Thousands of commuters and tourists walk by the hall each day. Hosting the tournament here is no doubt one of the most significant achievements the sport can have giving unfamiliar passerbys the opportunity to see some of the finest displays of athleticism the world has to offer in the middle of the one of the busiest trains stations in the world.

The players, the fans, the media all love the location and vow to come back each year. NY:SQUASH with the help of US Squash plays a pivotal role in promoting the game for all New Yorkers and beyond.

NY:SQUASH hosts The Grand Open Tournament; an amateur event held in conjunction with the pro ToC. The Grand Open is a qualifying tournament for the U.S. Squash National Skill Levels and features 200+ players across draws of all skill levels, making it one of the largest amateur singles tournament in the world. It’s also a great value!

Participants will be treated to a weekend full of squash, with healthy draws (most have 16 or 32 players), complimentary tickets to the ToC in Grand Central Terminal, and a Saturday night party.

This year’s draw promises to be nothing short of the best yet with a majority of the top 16 players of the world competing for the $115,000 prize – the richest in the sport.

But while last year’s winner Ramy Ashour is seeded to meet Gregory Gaultier in a rematch of the 2013 final (pictured right), I see a lot of possible upsets along the way.

Nick Matthew, current world number one, is on the top half of the draw with Ramy Ashour, Amr Shabana and Peter Barker. The bottom half of the draw is no cakewalk: Gregory Gaultier will have to get through Karim Darwish, Mohammed Elshorbagy and James Willstrop.

If Ramy stays injury-free, it will be interesting to see if he is back in form and manages to defend his title. If you follow enough squash you know you are in for a treat. In recent years there has been another major addition to the ToC and that is the Women’s Draw.

It is a 16-person draw and has grown in prize money each year and managed to attract women’s world number one Nicol David of Malaysia. Nicol has been at the summit for over six years in a row now–a remarkable accomplishment.

Nicol will be accompanied by current world number two Laura Massaro and world number four Alison Waters of England and world number six Low Wee Wern of Malaysia. The women’s draw promises to have a lot of exciting matches as well, and will definitely serve as an inspiration to young aspiring players.

I used to be the Director of Squash Programs at StreetSquash, an after-school youth enrichment program that helps inner-city kids in Harlem, New York, from 2007-2009.

Thanks to the ToC, a number of these kids got the opportunity to play and interact with world class players in the all-glass court (pictured left). This was a dream come true for many of these future stars.

The ToC does a great job integrating Urban Squash programs CitySquash and StreetSquash from New York and providing part of their proceedings to these two non-profit organizations, a true act of generosity by the players and ToC Team.

Tournament Director John Nimick has played a pivotal role in making the ToC grow each year by partnering up with several local squash clubs, squash organisations and making sure that our sport gets the best media exposure.

Associate Tournament director Beth Raisin is another permanent fixture at the ToC year in and year out, and she makes sure the event runs smooth each year. There are many other people who play a crucial role in making this tournament successful, and without the support of the sponsors and J.P Morgan Chase none of this would be possible.

I will be at the ToC all week coaching and watching some of the best players in action. If you can’t be there in person, I hope you find the time to watch on Squash TV. Stay tuned for my updates all week from January 16 onwards…

Pictures courtesy of the Tournament of Champions website

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