Sunday, November 27, 2011

Squash Court Growth

2011 has been a year of highs and lows for squash players in the New York area. Earlier this year, we heard the news that the legendary Printing House would close just when rumors of a massive Chelsea Piers facility began to circulate. I know I was not alone in hoping that Chelsea Piers would add capacity at their Manhattan facility; however, October’s official announcement confirmed that 11 singles courts and one doubles court would be built in Stamford, CT.

The Chelsea Piers announcement was the latest in what appears to be a five-year suburban court construction boom. Anderson Squash Courts, who, along with ASB and McWill, comprise the area’s major court builders, have built a number of public and private courts in the last five years, nearly all in the suburbs. Town Sports International has added courts to their Stamford and White Plains New York Sports Clubs in recent years. Pyramid Squash opened in Tuckahoe in 2009.

Universities and schools are at the forefront of new court construction. Many of them, having long supported squash as a part of campus life, have noticed a renewed public interest in the sport and have thus renovated courts or added to existing facilities. German-based ASB reports having built 36 courts at academic institutions in CT and upstate NY in recent years. Additionally, as suburban communities continue to develop, those communities become their own metropolitan centers, and entities like Town Sports or Atlanta-based Lifetime Fitness see the opportunity to expand their presence in these burgeoning regions.

Given the relative small number of suburban squash facilities versus those in cities, one could argue that new court construction in the suburbs may be a better economic decision than building in urban areas.  Lifetime Fitness, which recently added eight courts in Florham Park and Berkeley Heights, NJ, is given sole credit for revitalizing the squash scene in Austin, TX, where Lifetime’s eight courts are the region’s only international courts. In total, Lifetime estimates that the nine clubs and 36 courts added nationwide in the last five years have resulted in more than 15,000 squash members.

The growth in membership not only brings an economic benefit, but also allows clubs to reach out to different groups within in the squash community. Daily Squash Report’s Rob Dinerman covered this in an excellent article on doubles court construction, which has also seen a recent growth spurt.  The four new courts at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club (“SHCC”) speak to this.

SHCC is a century-old club located in Scarborough, NY. As part of a series of capital improvements to the club’s many facilities, SHCC recently completed a new Indoor Fitness Center, which includes three ASB singles softball courts and one ASB doubles court. These courts are in addition to the two pre-existing singles hardball courts and one doubles court originally built over 70 years ago. Although SHCC members prefer to play doubles, the club acknowledges that parents want their children to have access to regulation-wide singles softball courts.

The club’s new fitness center and squash courts opened on November 26, 2011. SHCC plans to celebrate the opening of the new courts, as well as its centennial anniversary (1911 – 2011), with a men’s singles softball tournament for players ages 45+ to 80+. Said Tournament Chairman Mike Solin: “Each December for 37 years, SHCC had hosted a hardball squash tournament on our two hardball courts for men’s senior singles hardball players. With the building of the three new singles softball ASB courts as well as an ASB doubles court, the Club wanted to both continue that tradition and expand our reach within the squash community. In this spirit, we look forward to hosting a group of men’s senior singles softball players at our club next month.”

Sleepy Hollow Country Club Men’s Singles Softball Tournament
When: December 10-11, 2011
Where: Sleepy Hollow Country Club (located in Scarborough, NY—just 30 miles outside of Manhattan and a quick ride on the Metro North train)
Levels: Men’s 45+, 55+, 60+, 65+, 70+, 75+, 80+
Cost: $95 for US Squash members / $110 for non-members
Deadline: December 2, 2011

Click here for more information. To sign up, email Mike Solin

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A big, Howe Cup Thank You

Photo: NY Squash at the Baltimore Museum of Art

All the 200 women (especially the New York teams) and innumerable organizers deserve a huge Thank You. It was everyone coming together that really made for a wonderful weekend. Special thanks must also be given to a couple of special people this year. Without them, NY Squash would not have been able to run down Meadow Mill Club, with such overwhelming presence, in a good way of course.

First up, special thanks go out to David Hughes, our unrelenting and ever so insightful coach. Not only did he manage to keep a straight face amidst Tehani’s (oops! I was trying so hard not to disclose this, sorry T) shrieks of appeal, he watched every single match and was always ready to help each and every one of NY Squash’s players. Wondering how he made it through three days of being surrounded by 200 squash playing women? Go figure, we are still wondering how that was existentially possible.

Secondly, a lot of credit goes out to Sarah Odell, our fearless Howe Cup organizer. As a member of NY Squash board, she voluntarily toils through the days and nights, organizing events and gathering the masses to participate in such events. Through her vivacious and enthusiastic efforts, Sarah has successfully organized tournaments such as the inaugural NYC Citywide Spring women’s doubles league, the Under 30s National Doubles Championship in May, the DONAT (Doubles or Nothing At All, I kid you not) Southampton’s invitational in August, and now, the Howe Cup. How one finds such dedication and perseverance leaves people like me baffled and in awe. Thank you, Sarah, for reeling in the troops and creating such successful events for NY Squashers! Special thanks must also be made to Tracy Gates-- fellow Howe Cup organizer and Captain-in-crime. Though Tracy has only played squash for a couple of years, her game may fool you and tell you otherwise. Not only did Tracy help to ensure that all the logistics (T-shirt size, skirt size, shoe size... and others I shall not mention) were well planned out-- she was also an inspiration to all on court. She ran, oh she can really run, fought, and exemplified such great sportsmanship. Lastly, but certain not the least, special thanks to NY Squash for allowing this event to be possible. This year, NY Squash subsidized all entry fees for the NY Squash ladies who willingly participated in this event. In addition, they worked with Harrow to provide the team with team t-shirts, which of course, helped in intimidating our opponents.

It is also of great honor to share with you guys that our very own NY Squash President, Jessica Green, as well as the Chair of NY Squash’s women’s committee, Emily Stieff, were honored at the Howe Cup tournament party. Both of them were awarded the US Squash Achievement Bowl award. This award is given out to the women who have showed commendable sportsmanship and made significant contribution to the advancement of the game. Jessica and Emily were aptly chosen for the award-- for they grew women’s squash to where it is today through both their tenacity and some say, marketing prowess. Congratulations, Jessica and Emily!

Howe Cup 2011

How(e) did the New York Teams do at Howe Cup?

Baltimore’s Meadow Mill Athletic Club hosted the 3-day event, comprising 200 women representing 36 teams from all over the country. This was the impression left by the New York team. First: there were a lot of us, with five singles teams and 6 doubles teams. Second: we were organized. Not only did we manage to ensure that all our players showed up in time (even with just two hours of sleep the night before, I knew I had to take the 5 a.m. train down from NYC into Baltimore so as not to let my teammates down by being late. Now what happened during my match was a different matter...), but we also traveled with a coach. Last: We looked awesome. NY Squash sponsored our uniforms and we looked totally united with matching outfits. It was JUST like playing college squash all over again (except that the women ranged from ages 13 to 70).

As I look back a week later at the event, my heart still warms up with camaraderie and pride that we all felt during the event. The New York team stuck together for all our matches. We cheered fervently between points; gave evil glares for bad calls; took all of our meals together; and most importantly, we listened to our teammates. I think we were the only team that watched every match and gave advice to any team member during breaks. We didn’t win every game, but because we fought tenaciously for every point, we never really lost.

I think the best illustration of this was during a match by one of our A players. For an entire hour vs. Boston (grrr!), our player rallied point after point. She lunged, gasped for air, volleyed every shot she possibly could bring herself to. You know those moments deep in a point, when you know you have to “step up” to intercept the ball, and despite what your mind knows, you can’t will your body to do it? Well, those were the shots that she was stepping up to make. Her opponent was small, swift to the ball and had that ever so gentle touch that brings a hot squash ball into the nick. At one point, our player asked for a “let” as her opponent struck the ball about 2 inches away from her own body. “No let”, the referee declared. Silence ensued... until a shriek pierced into the air, “WHYYYYYYY NO LETTTTTTTTT?”

Now one can only imagine the frustration that a player feels when calls go against them. Especially in an 11 points PAR scoring system, each call is pivotal to the end result of a game. One can argue that, as long as you are a good and clean enough squash player (and I will argue that at the top level, women do push and shove each other, and playing “good” squash is never as clean as one imagines it to be), the calls should not affect the end result of a game. But in all honesty, there are several, if not many reasons why we are not professional, touring squash players. Let us just leave it at that.

The “Meadow-Mill-shattering” shriek made me realize something. New York squash players are strong. I do not know if it is the nature of us being seasoned New Yorkers, but each player that I have watched walk on that court had a spark of strength burning fiercely in their eyes. Everyone played the best squash that they possibly could. Sweat poured down their foreheads as they lunged as far as they could, and throughout it all, they did it with a smile at the end of the match. The tournament culminated in a night of fun and an endless flow of libation to celebrate the success of Howe Cup. We formed Conga lines, strutted around the Baltimore Museum of Art like models on Project Runway…well, some of us anyway. No names, but I won’t say who was more 'Runway' and who was more of a ‘Project’. We ate, sang, and danced. We befriended more female squash players over a weekend than we had in more than a year. It was glorious.

Now, on to Howe Cup 2012. NY Squash will undoubtedly show up with a vengeance, the kind that will scare the other teams away...obviously.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

3-Minute Rally! Semi-Final Conversations

Ramy Ashour

Rob White: You and your brother were in intense conversation there.

Ramy Ashour: Yeah. It was all good – we were giving each other impression of the match. Some days - days like today – when you do good work, you have to think about it and re-play it and hopefully it can sink in, be imprinted inside your head for the next time.

RW: A couple of days ago when I spoke to you, you said you were working towards being 100%. You feel like you’re getting closer after tonight’s match?

RA: Yeah, the last two months I’ve been trying to get back to 100%. I’m trying to. I think today was better than yesterday- everyday it gets better. It’s all about confidence, and being able to mentally take it out of my mind and move naturally - because the problem is that when you’re injured on court, you change a bit of your footwork and the way you move as well. So you try to get back out on the court and do the same things naturally as you’ve always done.

RW: Well, to my eye, you appeared to be moving quite freely. James, on the other hand, did not appear so. Did you get a sense that he wasn’t moving quite as well as he normally does?

RA: You know, I didn’t really feel a difference. James always moves so well. But you know, sometimes when we play, he has good days and bad days, sometimes I have good days and bad days. It comes down who’s taking that step forward into the court- so maybe I had a little bit more of a jump tonight.

RW: Do you feel like you’re peaking at the right time – the final tomorrow night?

RA: I’m trying to! (smiling)

Nick Matthew

Rob White: After Amr hit the service return smash nick on your match point at 10-9 in the 5th, what goes through your mind after that point – do you think the squash gods are against you or are you more

Nick Matthew: Well, it’s interesting, he (Shabana) sort of stood far up the court and I thought he’d take a step back once I served, so I fired in low and it went straight onto his racquet – it was like a feed, I couldn’t believe it! (laughter) I thought I was a bit naïve to fall for it more than anything. And I also felt like, if he was going to go for it, it’s such a fine margin, then maybe the odds were in my favor if he was going to go for it. Obviously, it was quite a heartbreaking moment especially since I had match ponts in the 4th game as well – just to see that go in as well. But fortunately, I managed to get it in the end. But yeah, it’s cliché, but you just got forget about it when it happens and focus on the next point. And we both had some times in the 4th where we weren’t happy with a couple of the referee’s decisions. But you have to re-focus really quick because the next point’s right there.

RW: Talk about the crowd tonight- you guys had them fired up!

NM: Yeah, they were great. But it’s a balance. You have to feed off of it, yet be in control. I read somewhere that Peter Nicol said that it took him like four or five years to adapt to that. You know, hopefully I’ll get it right- I’ve played here a lot of years now, so hopefully…

RW: I’ll let you get out here on this one because I know you’re wiped and want to get out of here…you’re the #1 player in the world and you’ve just come off the court - you’re exhausted, and there’s 30-40 kids lined up here to get your autograph. And I watched you patiently sign each and every one, patiently take a photo with them, talk with them. You take the responsibilities of being #1 pretty seriously, don’t you?

NM: (pause) It’s worth it. I get the most enjoyment seeing them enjoy it, so it’s a pleasure.

James Wilstrop

Rob White: James, it appeared to me that you didn’t seem to get into a groove tonight.

James Wilstrop: No, not really, no. (pause) I wasn’t that bad, but I wsn’t that good. Some of it was me, but a lot of it was down to Ramy’s exceptional play. And that happens sometimes- whoever you are. (pause) But you know, I’ve been playing squash at an intense level for the last six months or so now with very little rest, recuperation time, and I’ve kind of exceeded my expectations in reaching the finals and semis…so, some days it’s going to fall apart. Not saying it fell apart tonight, but it wasn’t great. It’s disappointing on such a big occasion – I gave everything I had.

RW: What’s next for you?

JW: We have the national championships - a big tournament back in England, so that’s the next thing.

RW: So, no rest?

JW: No.

RW: The New York fans love you – could you feel the support out there?

JW: Yes, I could. It’s a wonderful place, a wonderful crowd. I’m sad I couldn’t give them more to cheer about, but we had some wonderful rallies so I hope we gave them a good show.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

3-Minute Rally! A Conversation with Wael El Hindi

Rob White: Just spoke with Alister about his move to New York City. You made the move some time ago yourself.

Wael El Hindi: Well, as you can see, squash is growing here. It’s on the rise. That’s why a lot of pros have moved here. I think there’s a benefit economically to coming here. And hopefully we can continue to develop the juniors here – you know, the future looks good for American squash - we have Amanda Sobhy doing great, the first American to win a world championship. And the path is changing now- it’s not just about going to good colleges – they kids are thinking world championships and trying to take squash to the next level here in the States.

RW: You do a little coaching, right?

WEH: I coach a bit when I’m not on the tour. But I tell you, a couple of weeks ago, I was at the US Junior Open. 750 juniors – the biggest junior tournament in the world! This shows you how passionate squash has become and how big it’s going to be going forward. And I believe it’s important – if we truly want to get squash into the Olympics- that it continues to grow here in the States.

RW: What do you think of the crowd’s energy at the Tournament this year?

WEH: NYC has the best energy anywhere in the world! The crowd- the people- aaah! The audience here gives the player 25-30% more energy to play than what you have in any other place in the world! It’s just by them being so very into it – they stand up and roar – this is what makes the Tournament of Champions tournament so special and why everybody wants to come and play here!

RW: Back briefly to your move to the States - did you get grief from your fellow Egyptians after the move?

WEH: No grief, but some thought it’d be hard because there are fewer training partners here. We have Alister here now – unfortunately, we had to play each other the 2nd round and he won. But we’re still friends! (laughter) I’m very happy he made the move, and of course we’ll be training partners. And hopefully more players will make the move to come here as well!

RW: I assume the move will make travel easier in some respects.

WEH: Yes, it’s so easy to travel from New York City. Sometimes, at the beginning of the season starting in Hong Kong and Ausralia, it can be a little far. But as you can see now, the other players have to travel here, take a cab, stay in a hotel - I just take the subway! (laughter) And sleep in my own bed!

RW: It’s been a pleasure, Wael! Best of luck going forward!

WEH: Thanks, Rob!

3-Minute Rally! A Conversation with Ramy Ashour

I chatted briefly with Ramy Ashour, the former world #1 and top seed at this year's Tournament of Champions, following his match against David Palmer - a win in four games. We spoke about his health, his brother Hisham's play of late, and the brothers' squash academy.

Rob White: How are you doing physically? –

Ramy Ashour: I feel better, but not 100% for sure. It was a good match I think. David's giving it all, and I too. I'm very happy for the win. And I have confidence now to play in the semi-finals for sure.

RW: Congratulations on that, and to your brother, Hisham. He lost to Peter Barker last night, but how do you feel about his resurgence?

RA: I’m very happy for him! If he keeps going this way, he can reach the top 10 – easily! He just has to continue to train as hard as he’s been doing these days and stay disciplined with that. And you know, keep the confidence up.

RW: I know you’ve been asked this a thousand times, but what’s it like having a brother that’s a world class squash player like yourself?

RA: Yes, thank you. That’s why we don’t have coaches now. (laughter) We’re each other’s coach. We’re pushing each other, training together, doing drills together - we’re changing our squash. We both know a lot about squash from our experiences. We’ve seen a lot of it and been through a lot of things on the court. And back home, we have a supportive squash community and everyone just loves the game from a very young age, in all the clubs - squash is a national game, so that support makes you focus and appreciate the game of squash and want to give it your all. Me and my brother push each other out of love for each other and for the game.

RW: It’s obvious that you both love the game by your play on the court. But you’re showing your love for the game off the court as well - what’s going on with the Academy?

RA: Yes, thank you for mentioning that. It’s coming. We’re holding it back a little bit - now with the travel, it’s kind of hard. But there’s still work going on with it. Hopefully when we finish this period, we’ll be able to go back and start it up.

RW: Why is this important to you- an academy?

RA: Well, it’s a turning point in both of our lives. We have a big responsibility – it’s something we must do. We’ve been dreaming about this since we were kids, and if we succeed in doing this the way we want, it’ll be special. We want to teach younger kids – give them all of the tips and drills to be great squash players.

RW: Not a lot of athletes, in any sport, do this while in the middle of their careers -

RA: Well, it’s a personal thing. And squash is something my brother and I do very well, and it’s our way of giving back. Squash is all we know and have. We can’t work in anything else but squash! (laughter) I wasn’t very successful with my education, so…

RW: Come on! You’d work as a track star- there'd be no Usain Bolt, just Ramy!

RA: No way! (laughter)

RW: What would you be doing if you didn’t have squash?

RA: Man, I honestly don’t know. I’m thankful – so thankful to God for having squash and for being able to perform at this level. And to keep striving – man, I’m just very thankful for the game - not just for me, but everyone around me and associated with the game. Everyone that’s given me their time and effort and support – my parents, my manager, my brother - everyone! The promoters – John Nimick has done such an amazing good job here with this wonderful tournament – they’re trying to take the game to a new level. And, of course, my sponsor, Ziad Al-Turki - the guy is doing a huge effort trying to raise the game. Everyone’s trying to raise the game – I’m so thankful for it all!

RW: Talk a bit more about the future - any Egyptian superstar juniors in the pipeline?

RA: Man, we have a lot! We have bags of juniors! (laughter) No, really, bags of them! It’s amazing how kids just go on court and are doing tricks without learning them – they just come up with it naturally!

RW: Not naturally – they see you and your brother do what you do on the court!

RA: No, no, thank you - I don’t think so – I think it’s in the genes! (laughter)

RW: This has been a pleasure – best of luck going forward, Ramy!

RA: Thank you so much!

3-Minute Rally! A Conversation with Gilly Lane

I was able to track down Gilly Lane as he was dashing to the airport to head to Detroit for the Motor City Open PSA Tournament. Gilly was defeated in the qualifying draw at this year's Tournament of Champions by Chris Ryder. Gilly and I spoke about the loss, his mental approach to the game, and his development going forward.

Rob White: G-Lane!

Gilly Lane: Hey, how’s it going!

RW: Are you going to be able to get out with the snow?

GL: We got nothing here in Philly!

RW: Lucky you! Though I guess that’s something you have to deal with on the regular – delays and such.

GL: Yeah, its kind of one delay after another – inclement weather, broken down plane, just usual in the life of an athlete. It’s just one of the things you just learn to do – having been on the tour for four years now, you get kind of used to having these types of things being thrown your way. The first year you learn how to deal with them - you go through your routine and then something throws it off, and you learn to adjust. And over the years, you get used to it - weather delay, match delayed for whatever reason – you just have to be ready for anything and everything. All of the guys are used to spending so much time in airports, we’re used to dealing with it all at this point.

RW: We missed you at the TOC this year – what happened there?

GL: Well, you know, Chris (Ryder) played really well. You know, he’s been having a lot of good results lately- he's had some good wins lately. He just went five games with Razik and almost made the 2nd round this year. He’s a good player – I kept him on court for 54 minutes, so it was good. He played really well, and sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the guy and say he was much better on that day and well played, and you learn from it and move on.

RW: That’s a very mature attitude to have. That’s something we all should learn – sometimes the other guy is just better that day.

GL: Yeah, exactly. I’m pretty tough on myself- the hardest person on myself is me and sometimes that’s actually a negative in terms of moving forward. But you have to accept that on some days, guys are just going to be better and you can’t beat yourself up over it. It’s definitely one of the things I constantly work on because I consider myself a very competitive person. So, trying to take those losses and turn them into positives is important to me. And at these tournaments, especially the Tournament of Champions, you’re getting the best of the best. You’re playing the best players in the world, on the biggest stage in the world. Everybody’s coming to play – there are no easy matches. You learn from the loss and use it for future tournaments.

RW: Well said. You’re a Philly guy!


RW: UPENN – great school. Do you go back and visit the school, the squash program, and coaches?

GL: Yeah, I’m actually now part-time assistant and helping out with the squash program. So, I’m helping with the recruiting, and getting the players in the right frame of mind before they play - I’m at the matches when I’m around. Of course, playing is my number one objective; I’m still around the team and program quite a bit.

RW: That’s great. I spoke with Ramy about the Academy he and Hisham are starting back in Egypt and they have their own reasons for doing that. I think it’s a great thing- a selfless thing, especially when you guys are still in the prime of your squash lives- to give back in some way. It’s a great way to honor the game.

GL: Thank you. Absolutely. That’s very important to me. And for me, specifically, I had such a great experience in college at Penn. I love the place so much, and now I have an opportunity to give back and kind of maybe make a mark, or a difference, in the program. I’d like nothing more than for the guys to have the same experience I had at the school. I had a great four years – I loved every second of it! And being part of a college team is also great as well. I want everyone to have the same experience I had.

RW: How’s the training going- you’re recovering from an injury? And what do feel you have to do to break through to the next level?

GL: Well, I had an early taste of success. Broke into the top 50 early – had a career win against Peter Barker, who, at the time, was world #7. But that was just one match - I have to string a few more together. Lately, I’ve had the hamstring issue from September to December, so coming back from that. I was in Amsterdam and training five hours a day, five days a week and it’s given me my base for how I train now. Now I’m working with John White – he’s my new coach - and I’m trying to take knowledge from what he’s accomplished – and he’s done a lot, obviously – he got to World #1. So, trying to implement things he’s taught me into my game. And you know, sometimes you‘ve got to take a few steps backward to go forward –

RW: Tell me about it!

GL: (laughter) - and I think that’s kind of the process I’m in now. I’m ranked #59 now, and that’s not a negative thing. I'm looking forward to continue working with John and seeing where I’ll be six months from now. He’s been there and done that, and I'm just taking everything he has to say in and using it in my game.

RW: Where do you get this maturity and level-headedness from?

GL: Well, my parents brought me up well – I think they taught me well! (laughter)

RW: I think they’ve done a great job. I appreciate you taking the time before you head out to Detroit! Safe travels and best of luck there and down the road!

GL: Thanks a lot!

Tournament of Champions - Day 3 Photos