Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated does this after every Grand Slam tennis tournament: Fifty Parting Thoughts. Well, after the latest Tournament of Champions, here are one-tenth of that:
Five Parting Thoughts
- Crowds. It was neat to see the stands full early in the tournament. I was there at noon on the first Thursday, the exact start of play on the glass court and nearly every seat was filled. That is still the gold standard for squash tournaments. It is easy to fill the place for the semis or finals, but can you do it for the first-round on a Thursday afternoon?
- Good pub. During the ToC, on Saturday the 14th and then Monday the 16th, the New York Times featured big articles on squash players. Some of this was because of Richard Finn, a veteran New York writer and public relations guru, is now a part of the Event Engine team but also because squash is perhaps again seen as a rich source for story-telling. Finn also got the ToC a little blurb on the front-page of USA Today’s sports section. I picked up a copy at my hotel in the morning and, voila, there is squash.
- Hawk-Eye. Speaking of tennis, I asked Lee Beachill at the PSA about the new referee system: two refs, one doing the match, one doing video replay. The video ref can talk to the head ref about things he’s seeing to help adjudicate balls that are down. We got to talking about Hawk-Eye. Their technology has been used to help decide line calls for tennis for over a decade, cricket since 2009 and more recently soccer and badminton. What about squash? This would forever remove discussion about whether balls were out of court, tinned, etc. Lee said, “Not yet.” The cost of getting Hawk-Eye’s half-dozen triangulating cameras and half-dozen staff to each event is—at the moment— prohibitive for SquashTV.
- Cover. I wrote the feature story for the ToC’s program, but the best part of the program might have the brilliant cover. Carlos Williams at Studio DBC designed the cover, as well as the ToC poster, VIP tickets and folders and twentieth-anniversary logo. The cover featured nine past ToC winners, ranging from Sharif Khan in the 1970s, Jahangir Khan and Mark Talbott from the 1980s to last year’s winners. It was a neat way to visually encapsulate the ToC’s eighty-three year history.
- Interviews. Before the gala dinner at the ToC, I interviewed two dozen former ToC champions. I did it Sixty Minutes-style in a studio in a forty-ninth floor office at J.P. Morgan. Justin Willet manned the cameras, and I talked and listened for five straight hours. It was an incredible, first-hand crash-course in the last sixty years of squash. Ray Widelski, the 1960 ToC winner, came in first. He got $250 for winning. Now eighty-one, Ray’s been a teaching pro since 1958. Then came was Stu Goldstein talking about practicing with Vic Niederhoffer at 11pm; Mike Desaulniers mentioning the stress fracture in his right foot that made him miss a year of intercollegiate squash—he lost just one game of one match in the other three years; Jonathon Power describing a thirteen-day, thirteen-city exhibition tour he did with Amr Shabana in 2006 that prompted him to retire; Mohamed ElShorbagy remembering when he lost to Greg Gaultier and Greg was in tears as they hugged because the victory meant that Greg would finally becoming world No.1; and Nick Matthew recalling walking the streets of Manhattan at three in the morning because he couldn’t sleep because his legs were cramping badly after a 12-10 in the fifth win over Shabana in 2011.
- Bonus. The conversations made me realize what a historical continuum the ToC champions actually are. Only a few champions separate ElShorbagy from Jack Summers who won the first ToC in 1930. Mo has played against Shabs who played against Jansher who played against Jahangir who played against Clive Caldwell who played against Sharif who played against Al Chassard who played against Scotty Ramsay who played against Summers in 1930.