Another magical finish to the ToC last night in Grand Central.
Packed to the gills in the bleachers (defending U.S. national champions Julian and Natalie up in the cheap seats) and six deep behind the front wall. Everyone in their seats ten minutes before the men’s final. It really was sold freaking out.
A mob of media people. Richard Eaton was the UK journalist on site this time, here for just for his second ToC. Cameramen everywhere. I counted six photographers on court after the women’s final, although one was Natalie Grinham’s sister Rachael snapping a few shots for Mum back home—Rachael said to me that her mum gets so nervous that she can’t watch either of them play unless they are playing each other.
I had trouble extricating myself from the post-match chit-chat—some of it with Tim Garner about his regular back-page column in Squash Player that focuses on transportation mishaps that continually plague pro players—and got over to Penn Station forty minutes after my train was scheduled to depart. Oddly, it had been delayed for some reason and was in the last minute of boarding when I walked into the foyer, so I gladly jumped on to it. Sometimes it pays to be blow off your schedule.
In the midway that is Vanderbilt Hall during the 2012 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, a lot of talk happens and it all seemed medical this weekend:
—Gilly Lane is retiring. The twenty-six year-old Philadelphian has a serious back issue (something about C-4 and C-5 not being nice to each other) and is stepping back from the PSA tour. Gilly got to 48 in the world (in May 2010) which is the third highest in U.S. history. The first, second and fourth guys on the all-time list also went to college, so perhaps one lesson of Gilly’s career is that U.S. intercollegiate squash is not the horrible, mung-encrusted abyss from which no budding squash player can return.
—Frank Stella, world’s greatest squash player who is also not bad at art, has been recently grounded by two back surgeries, one hip surgery and double knee replacements. But all is well now, although he’s not back out on court yet.
—Will Carlin’s mother is a saint. Will retold me the story of his eye surgeries, the first coming more than twenty years ago when he was the number one player in the U.S. He had to lay in bed with an eye patch on and not move for ten days. Then a few years later he had to do it again, another ten days in the dark, with his mother helping him get food.
(When I told this to former world racquets champion Neil Smith, he responded with his own tale of thirty days laying on his side; both Carlin and Smith have had numerous eye surgeries which, having gone through one last month, I can attest are very much not fun.)
—I had a long chat with Jonathon Power up in the stands during the Lexington Partners Legends Showdown event on Thursday evening. I asked him if he trained much for these Legends events. He scoffed with a giant laugh. “Not at all. The last time I played squash was October. I’ve got only so many matches left in my body. I’m not going to waste them on training.”
That has got to be one of the classic squash quotations of all-time.
Last night Trinity lost. It was the first time since 22 February 1998 that the Trinity men’s team lost a dual match. Two hundred and fifty-two straight wins. Five thousand and seventy-eight days. Wow.
Yale beat them 5-4. The last match was between John Roberts of Yale and Johan Detter of Trinity, the younger brother of Gustav who played a central role in saving two previous 5-4 nailbiters.
The past two Januarys I have traveled to the Yale v. Trinity match because both times it looked like the Eli were poised to beat the Bantams. Both times Trinity won. So this winter I gave up trying to be present when the streak was broken.
I talked with Paul Assaiante this morning. Normally he gets a couple of hundred emails a day. By nine this morning he had already gotten over one thousand and had already done phone interviews with ESPN, the New York Times and NCAA.com. A huge story.
“Now we look to Harvard,” says Assaiante. “We lost a dual match, but this is like the NCAA basketball tournament—we are focusing on our next dual match and on the nationals. But congratulations for Yale and Dave Talbott.”
The golden anniversary of the William White was last weekend. Fifty amazing years and, because of the one-year hiatus due to Merion Cricket Club’s 1995 conversion from hardball to softball, fifty amazing events.
I did the tournament program this year. Because of a wealth of information and insightful interviews, it ballooned into an eighty-page booklet. I got to talk with doubles giants like John Hentz, Bill Danforth and Joyce Davenport. I got to talk with my first serious coach, Joe Coyle, for the first time in a quarter century. I got to talk with four of the five guys who played in the inaugural White’s singles draw in 1962, Ben Heckscher, Sam Howe, Diehl Mateer and Charlie Ufford.
Because of Whitney Thain and Tracy Greer, we were able to dig out and use a wealth of archival photographs for the booklet. Some were just classic shots, including one of Maurice Heckscher & Michael Pierce with the luggage that they received as winners of the doubles in 1977 (when I saw Pierce in the locker room at Cynwyd showering after his quarterfinal loss in at Merion this Saturday, he said he couldn’t remember where the suitcase is now).
The other great photograph was of a snowy porte cochere at Merion. The Whitey (as it has always been called in my family, since Bill White was always called Whitey) is known for its weather-related catastrophes: for example, the 1996 blizzard that dumped thirty inches on the club started during the Saturday dinner dance.
Well, this year it was sixty-three degrees on Saturday afternoon and not a cloud in the sky.