World Champs

In remembrance of Bill Lyon’s, the great sportswriter who died last weekend, here are some sudden thoughts & second thoughts on last weeks men’s World Championship:

  1. The soundtrack for the video reviews are fabulous, particularly the theme from the Pink Panther and Ghostbusters, rather than just some bass-beat pop music. Am I getting old?
  2. On semifinal night the camera mounted on the top of the front wall was not working. Thus, we didn’t get that brilliant aerial view of the court. It is now essential for video review decisions—did the ball pop out enough to that to be a stroke? The camera shows how accustomed we are to SquashTV’s technological strides—it is much harder for us armchair referees to lean over to our neighbor in the gallery and confidently predict the outcome of an appeal if there is no overhead view.
  3. The crowd at the final was predictably boisterous and loud and wildly in favor of the Egyptian player rather than the New Zealander. They chanted and cheered and gasped and clapped, even during points. As a fan, I found that it was wonderful—a real spectacle, a real entertainment.
  4. This was the first time, on my fourth visit to Doha, where the 2022 FIFA World Cup was noticeable: ads about it on the television on my flight; articles in the local newspapers, video running at the airport, games being played at the new stadiums.
  5. Geoff Hunt. He was on-site, helping coach Abdulla Al Tamimi, the Qatari star, who reached the third round and came within five points of beating the eventual champion Tarek Momen. It was Hunt’s last event as Al Tamimi’s coach, before he returned the day after the tournament to Gold Coast, Australia. As we watched Al Tamimi and Saurav Ghosal train on the afternoon of the finals—his last official coaching session—we laughed about how this would all be different in the States, that there would be enormous on-court fanfare at the U.S. Open for him. We did about two dozen on-court presentations during the Open; most events do just a couple or none beyond the trophy presentation after the finals. The American way.
  6. One on-court presentation in Qatar that no one else has done, I believe, is a laser light show. It came after the confetti cannons had blasted out and after Momen had hoisted the men’s trophy. The show, with massive audio and visual effects and even fog, was pretty exciting, especially for the younger spectators. It was also super-current as it included Tarek Momen’s name as world champion.
  7. There was a lot of talk backstage, because of some recent articles, about the famous 1996 Al Ahram at the Great Pyramids, the event that catalyzed the revival of Egyptian squash. A lot of people onsite in Doha had played in that historic tournament nearly a quarter century ago, including David Evans, Alex Gough, Paul Johnson, Derek Ryan and Amir Wagih (all lost in first round). But interestingly, Omar Mosaad told me that at age eight he was there that week and attended the finals where Jansher Khan topped Ahmed Barada. That match on 22 May, was a dud in a way (15-4, 15-11, 15-8) but it electrified Egypt. Front-page news. Hosni Mubarak driving up. Of course, only about three thousand people were there that evening; just like with Bobby Thomson and the “Shot Heard Round the World” and how so many many more people claimed they were at the Polo Grounds that day, I am sure there are many others who say they saw the Khan v. Barada final, the match that led to Egyptian squash hegemony today.
  8. James Willstrop made his eleventh World Championship quarterfinal. A remarkable record. He’ll be thirty-seven and a half at the next Worlds—can he make it an even dozen?
  9. There was also a lot of sympathy expressed at the tournament for the Egyptian squash giants Wael Farag and Omneya Abdel Kawy, both of whom lost their very young sons this month.
  10. The next World Championship is scheduled for February 2021 in Chicago—thus, a slight return to the old days when the women’s event was biennial and the men twice had gaps, including the 2000-01 interval, without an event. It means that both Nour El Sherbini and Tarek Momen get to use the moniker “current world champion” for sixteen months, something their sponsors will surely like.
  11. Speaking of timing, Redab Masoud, the media and communications manager for the tournament, had it down perfectly. The World Championships ended on Friday evening, and she gave birth to a baby girl on Sunday morning.

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