Right performance, wrong result

The National Squash Championships ended on Sunday evening at Sportcity in Manchester.

The finals were played out in front of a packed and willing audience in the main arena and it is always one of my favourite occasions in which to be involved.

So that being said I was glad I made it to finals day for another match against Nick Matthew.

He beat me 3-1 this time but the quality of squash was high; not too much to be disappointed with.

I have learnt lately to try and judge the performance over the result, and am disappointed not to win but always take pleasure if the quality of the output is high.

The first two games were particularly fierce and Nick was better in the third and fourth.

Alison Waters made it back-to-back titles in the women’s event with a win over first-time finalist Madeleine Perry from Northern Ireland.

Perry is based in Yorkshire and took a massive scalp by beating Laura Massaro, the world number two, in the semi-finals to give her her first final berth at the age of 37.

It is to her great credit that she is playing such a physically demanding sport to such a level at that age, as any retiree would attest.

In fact, I at 30 can attest it’s hard enough at that now let alone at 37!

It’s a fabulous event though, where the age group titles are played alongside the professional event players.

The centre is packed all week long and the atmosphere and buzz is exciting for the sport.

In fact, in the masters events this year Yorkshire registered their biggest title haul.

Former world number three Simon Parke led the way by winning the British men’s over-35 title and other Yorkshire winners included Claire Walker, Andrea Santa Maria and Adrian Wright.

Andrea and Julie Field, finalist in the women’s O55 category, are at Pontefract Squash Club on a regular basis, training at almost professional levels!

Their commitment is admirable and their results in masters squash show the effort and dedication they have given the sport.

Masters squash is as strong and therefore as tough as ever.

How incredible too that the O75 final was a 53 minute five-setter between Pat Kirton and Lance Kinder.

A total of 53 minutes is a mighty long time to be playing squash continuously; I hear forty year olds trying to tell me they are too old for the game!

The 2014 Nationals was another success and, as always, it was a pleasure to be involved again.

All in squash in Manchester and all at England Squash and Racketball are to be congratulated for building a top-notch event over the years.

Squash maestro with ability to turn sport into art form

The name Amr Shabana isn’t, I assume, one with which the readers of the YEP are too familiar, so this week is a good time to fill you in.

Racket sports require a very particular set of skills and Shabana is one of the subtlest and most individual racket players the game of squash has ever seen.

I would be pressed to put many ahead of him in terms of ability and watchability, in all racket sports throughout history. Not something to say lightly, especially as a fellow player.

He is the man on the PSA world tour who the other players would cite, if asked now, as a prime influence and inspiration. The comments from them speak for themselves. He is 34 now so for many of the tour’s younger members he will have been a hero, and his age means he has seniority. But even players of his own generation will, in their post match quotes against him, mention how much they have looked up to him in the past, and how good a squash player he continues to be. It is unusual for a figure to have such blanket admiration from peers or colleagues in the way he does.

Because of the manner he goes about his work, none of his contemporaries hesitate to shower the man they call The Maestro with such praise. Not only does he bedazzle with dexterous brilliance, but he is fair on court. Why is he so good? His racket work is in a league of its own. He does play incredible shots from unthinkable angles as Ramy Ashour does, and this is perhaps the obvious entertaining aspect of his play for the general squash public. For me though it’s the purity of his technique, clean ball striking and adroit rally building that is even more impressive. At times he displays pure mastery of the laws of geometry, and has an enviable knack of creating space from a position of deadlock, leaving opponents stranded in one area of the court.

There is a rare aesthetic element to what he does, when he makes world level sport look quite easy. Roger Federer definitely has this ability, and one of the great Pakistani squash players, Jansher Khan was all relaxation, rhythm and artistic style. Rally construction becomes an art form to such superstars.

Squash is one of the fastest games on earth, and at the top level you feel like you are being pulled from pillar to post. Mostly it shows in players’ movement or expressions, but Amr Shabana even seems able to make ‘making it look easy’ look easy.

And what’s more: he has achieved big things in the game playing this way, with four world titles to his name and lengthy spells at world number one. After last weekend he added another Tournament of Champions title to his collection.

Seeded seven, he beat Nick Matthew 3-2 in the quarters, myself in the semi-finals and then Gregory Gaultier in the final, a tournament win few saw coming.

Whilst his age is certainly no issue for him or the players having to deal with him, it is a big story for many in the public and media who have been expecting his power on the world stage to waver.

At least for now, any such thoughts of his regression have been decidedly squashed.

People keep saying things like ‘Shabana is back’ well, yes, it’s very dramatic and makes a good headline, but really, for those who know, he never went away.

For those who haven’t seen him, try YouTube or for plenty of snippets.

Like squash or not, no one can fail to at least admire and respect one of the racket sport greats.

Professionals provide inspiration for New York’s next generation

We arrived in New York for the Tournament of Champions last Saturday.

The East Coast of America is currently enjoying an explosion in squash growth and many of the professional players come out here early to play exhibitions.

Demand is high and some players love to spend extra time in New York. Taking in some matchplay can be the perfect way to prepare for an event, as well as promoting the game and helping to inspire squash enthusiasts.

We did three exhibitions last week in the New York area. First was a trip to Brooklyn to the Heights Casino (it is not a Casino) which is a well-known squash club in the USA, having hosted the major women’s tournament, the Carol Weymuller Open, for several years.

The club professional is Linda Elriani, former world number 3 from England, who with her assistants has built interest in Brooklyn. It is easy to tell if squash is thriving at a club when there are a gaggle of juniors at the front scrabbling for floor space to watch; in Brooklyn they were out in force. A young fellow, Nick, was given a chance on court.

At the end of the fourth game, when I was feeling the pinch and needed a break, he took my place to play Saurav Ghosal, and did famously under pressure!

On Tuesday night we headed for Choate school in New Haven, a two hour train ride from Manhattan.

It is a private institution whose fixtures in recent times have included ones against exclusive English schools such as Eton and Harrow. We received a warm welcome from those there who watched the squash before some questions with dinner in the plush school dining rooms.

Wednesday was local: a short journey to the Yale club in Manhattan, which has been our base for practice and training during the week. It is one of New York’s affluent members clubs, the kind Bertie Wooster might be proud to belong to, and the impeccably attired members turned out to watch us play their best player. Saurav worked him hard for a game, then I twisted the knife to the point where our man had to excuse himself from the court to expel his lunch. Not nice for him, but all the same it gave an insight in to how hard squash really is when being dragged about the court by a player several levels up.

The first rounds began on Friday evening at Grand Central Terminal. At the time of going to press I find myself in the quarter-finals against England’s Peter Barker.

My training partner and former Leeds resident Saurav lost in five brutal games to Simon Rosner of Germany on Saturday evening. Harrogate’s Chris Simpson and Jenny Duncalf have last 16 matches against Daryl Selby and Sarah-Jane Perry, in all-England stand-offs.

It has been a common theme here so far in that there have been many same-country match ups: four or five all-Egypt and all-England ties, and the young French pair managed to draw each other in the first round.

It’s a long way to go to play your mate, someone said.

Our manager Mick has accompanied us through the exhibitions and of course the tournament, and for a Ponte’ lad he blends in surprisingly well with the affluent members’ culture which is prevalent in clubs here.

A party of Pontefract friends have come over for some squash/holiday time and I am always glad of their vocal support.

Let’s hope I can give them something to shout about.

The Tournament of Champions is streamed live on from today until Friday.

Why is it that our most successful athletes are so fiercely criticised?

The fiercest critics have a tendency to come out of the woodwork with great swagger after a poor result.

As any readers may have heard me say before, it rankles that successful athletes who are excellent examples for us to enjoy are criticised with unreserved savageness when they do not perform, or lose.

How the England cricket team have been well and truly panned from every angle in the last week. Not only must they deal with the loss to the Australians, but they must endure the wrath of every armchair viewer and his dog. Most of the criticism comes from supporters of England! It is a warped scenario in which the very people who say they want you to win merely pile the pressure on in double measure with the weight of their criticism. If these people really wanted an England win, then wouldn’t they at least find a modicum of positivity?

I may actually be England’s sole espouser in all this, who is yet to find anyone else with any degree of perspective.

James Anderson was dumped on the doorstep to face the salivating press and received a near criminal interrogation from a haughty hack, rather than a questioning about a world-class game of cricket. Anderson handled it with media-savvy equability but as one of the game’s great bowlers it must have been hard to take.

Geoff Boycott, as is customary, nailed in to England, unnecessarily deriding England’s team for putting resources into a facet of the game which sits apart from the field of play. “England have an 82-page booklet on what to eat but one guy comes in and bowls at 90mph and they can’t cope,” says Geoff.

Whatever it was like in Geoff’s day when they were all big tough men who ate pies and cream teas without a second thought, he should be receptive enough to accept that nutrition is a considerable part of any sportsman’s routine nowadays.

He says the Australians would laugh at them for such studious and, as he sees it, irrelevant endeavours. Well, let them laugh. I couldn’t care less who laughed at me, if I was doing something that could help me play sport better.

Sportsmen should never be criticised for trying to gain small percentages.

The fact is that, whilst last week’s scoreline isn’t flattering for England, why is the general reaction after one match so adverse? We are seemingly unable to view a wider perspective. All commentators simply go with the flow and are score-orientated. The score or result usually dictates their oh so predictable opinions.

How soon they have forgotten that England won the Ashes in convincing fashion only a couple of months ago! Every GREAT athlete has had a humiliating or convincing defeat at one stage or another. The England target is to win or retain the Ashes, and losing one game just might have to be part of the process.

Coaches and players must have faith in what they are doing, and the challenge is to have faith off the back of the lows.

They often do. It is the public and the media and the boards and chairmen who often cannot grasp the nature of sport at the highest levels. A loss or two must never signal the world’s end.

I spoke to Tony Smith recently and he regaled to me the story of his first coaching job at Huddersfield, where they lost 13 games on the bounce to be relegated. Wisely, the powers at Huddersfield did not sack him and the team were promoted the following year. Tony went on to become one of the most successful coaches in Rugby League history.

There will be disappointments, they are unavoidable.

Turning those disappointments into successes is difficult but requires a level of solidarity and belief.

Injuries and unusual see-saw games dominate Qatar Classic

My hopes of success in Qatar last week were ended abruptly at the hands of my England team-mate Daryl Selby, who beat me 3-2 in the second round to send me home.

It was one of those games dominated by swings in momentum, such a determining feature of high level sport.

He controlled the first two games and won both with plenty in hand.

His intensity seemed to drop at the same time mine rose and I won the third well.

The fourth was a scrap, which I just edged, and the shift was now in my favour.

Just as I began to entertain such thoughts I found myself 5-0 down in the decider, but battled hard to win the next eight points, an unusual and extreme reversal it has to be said.

Having got myself out of the woods Daryl persisted and took back his lead, eventually winning the match 13-11.

After the fight back and the unpredictability of the scorecard this was disappointing to say the least.

Mohamed El Shorbagy, the 22-year-old world number five from Alexandria, won the Qatar Classic for the first time.

And this also marked his first World Series win in the sport.

It’s a big milestone for a man who has been threatening for some time; to have achieved this will have fulfilled an early goal in his career.

He looks set to be a major player in squash over the next decade.

He has been utilised as an ambassador recently by squash governing bodies, especially with regard to the Olympic bid and it is not difficult to see why.

He has a free-flowing, offensive and breakneck game, is vivacious and puts himself about off court, always appealing to fans.

His win came after five games in the final with Nick Matthew, who had done well to back up what was a mentally exhausting world championship campaign the week before in Manchester.

His final opponent there, Greg Gaultier, lost in the quarter finals to Borja Golan of Spain, who achieved his first ever World Series semi final berth in Qatar.

Amr Shabana, the four times world champion, also retired injured against Matthew in the quarter-finals after one game, a knee problem putting paid to his Qatar efforts.

A strange mish-mash of a tournament then, in which both Ramy Ashour and Peter Barker, two of the world’s top eight, had pulled out with injuries prior, which saw top-seeded players lose early; at the end of it all, a new winner of a World Series event.

Some players now travel on to the unsettled backdrop of Cairo.

The rest return to their various bases and homes to pick up the pieces, nursing the aching bodies in preparation for the last major of the year in Hong Kong

And one big effort before a break.

The Hong Kong Open is for the men and women again, and is one of the best tournaments on the calendar.

It takes place from December 1-8, the first rounds at Hong Kong Squash Centre.

The semis and finals are staged at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre by the Hong Kong Harbourside, a dazzling squash atmosphere in which I have been lucky enough to play several times.

The Premier Squash League has two rounds to play over the next week, placed in concentrated order in between events so as to allow touring players to be available.

Pontefract travel to Coolhurst in London today, and Chapel Allerton take on Duffield at home.

Next Tuesday, November 26, it will be Yorkshire derby day, when Pontefract and Chapel Allerton go head to head at Pontefract.

Winner-takes-all culture forgets so many worthy runners-up

Some of the greatest achievements in sport are a result of so many variables coming together at one time and the difference between winning and losing is defined by very fine lines.

The spin offs from both eventualities tend to be wildly contrasting. The winner does seem to take it all: attention, publicity, congratulations, the trophy, the title.

In athletics, a slight anomaly, the athletes and the public are often more likely to deem an Olympic or World bronze or silver medal a success, but in any other context or sport there is little interest for those second placed.

When I held the world number one position there was a distinct difference between one and two: more interest, more publicity comes your way, and more people seem to watch your matches.

Nick Matthew became world champion last weekend in Manchester, and (especially because the tournament was held in Manchester) the attention that followed was remarkable both for him and the sport. Squash in England and of course Nick himself, can really thrive off the back of a victory like this. But those lines were fine; he beat Gregory Gaultier in a tight five-game match. The emails and messages will have no doubt been endless and this is a wonderful time for a winning athlete to stop and enjoy the plaudits and to absorb the victory with people close.

And to think all this came from the winning of one deciding game.

It would all have been very different had that game not gone the way it did.

So, imagine the Gaultier scenario. All those French journalists who had shown interest in the build up to the event will have found another story, there will have been few texts and messages because nobody knows what to say to someone who has lost, and he will have woken up – if he slept – to more Manchester drizzle to prepare for his flight home.

Anyone who did respond seemed to go straight for the jugular, touching upon the fact he had lost four world championship finals before. There is a habit of people, often from the media, to portray this as being some sort of failure. Even the commentary team talked about the best players who have not won major championships in various sports whilst referring to Greg. They mentioned Colin Montgomery and Chris Dittmar, both big achievers who happened not to win the finest tournamentsin their sports.

Let’s be honest, Greg’s record at World Championships is outstanding; a success story that shouldn’t be portrayed otherwise by those who don’t understand the levels he has reached here. Montgomery was a brilliant Ryder Cup player, but for some reason people prefer to pick out the fact that he didn’t win one of the four majors, dwelling on the negatives. Greg Norman was another golfer at whom people seemed to want to take a snipe, for simply coming second in more than one major.

We don’t have to look back very far to remember how the public reacted to Andy Murray before he won a major title. He had already been dubbed a nearly man which makes his victories all the more incredible. He managed to work those fine lines to his favour under severe pressure.

It is curious that some are quick to criticise teams or players in sport for coming second at the highest world level. If in any other area, say IT or law, someone achieves top ten status in the world, I assume they would be rather happy.

The lines are so fine, the margins between the top athletes minimal, and those who prevail under the intense circumstances should quite rightly get all the plaudits. But we shouldn’t make the runner’s up losers either. Their achievements are often very special too.


World Championship week one to remember

MY First match in the World Championships in Manchester at the National Squash Centre and Vanessa (Atkinson) shows no signs of giving birth (she’s nearly a week overdue).

It’s not every Monday you wake up to be faced with two gargantuan life experiences directly ahead. World Championships in England don’t come around every year, and neither does the birth of a child. Both could happen this week. I decide to play my matches and hope the new arrival comes during the gaps. I play Joel Hinds in my first match and win 3-0, before hot-footing it home.

Tuesday, Oct 28

The press are interested in the baby, a welcome diversion for me and I am happy to talk about it. Few of the questions they ask regarding plans are answerable until the proverbial bridge is crossed. I beat Englishman Tom Richards to reach the third round.

wednesday, Oct 29

The daily routine is coming together. After practising each morning at Chapel Allerton, I eat lunch and head off to Manchester. The M62 has been kind so far, seeing as though I have been on it all week.

The car journeys have been easy, and with the various and multitudinous podcast and audiobook options available nowadays, they have twice the appeal they once did.

I have to perform well tonight and I beat Borja Golan in three games.

Friday, Nov 1

I wake and routinely ask Vanessa if there have been rumblings, to which she responds negatively. I decide to take the morning easy, figuring I might need all the energy I can muster to win three world-class matches in three days.

I arrange a practice for 1.30pm at Manchester Central, the venue for the final rounds. Setting off at 11.40am, I receive a call from Vanessa and it appears I have jinxed the M62 saying it had been kind.

“The motorway is closed. You need to find another route,” she says.

So I explore the A58 for the first time, and absorb swathes of scenic Calderdale detail as I am enveloped in gridlock. I stop in Sowerby Bridge for tea and cake, and eventually wind up in Manchester at gone four, podcasted up to the eyeballs.

Apparently it was a suicide attempt on Scammonden bridge, which I learn had been prevented.

I arrive at the venue at 5.30pm for physio treatment before my match with Mohamed El Shorbagy.

The travelling hasn’t been ideal but I am mentally ready for all the issues the week throws up. On arrival I don’t know where the entrance is and had only seen the court on television.

This is quite unusual for a big tournament but in fact in this situation it helps me to relax and play with freedom.

I walk on to the court, into the most incredible atmosphere, and enjoy the big occasion. I am happy with the squash until at 9-7 in the fourth I make two hideous errors to end my world championship hopes. Much credit to Mohamed. He is a quality player and we have enjoyed some good matches together.

Saturday, Nov 2

Finally, the pain for Vanessa begins at 7 am, and Vanessa gives birth to a little boy, Logan, 13 hours later. I almost feel embarrassed even thinking how shattered I am having just witnessed the ordeal to which she has been subjected.

Sunday, Nov 3

As we acquaint ourselves with the youngster, the World Championship final takes place in Manchester, and what a fitting match to conclude a quite brilliant event.

Nick Matthew wins his third world title 3-2 against Gregory Gaultier, giving him unquestionably enduring status in the history of professional squash. Gaultier himself has a remarkable record at world championships, having reached four finals, and should be very proud.

Everyone involved at the AJ Bell World Championships 2013 should be proud of this first-class tournament.

Some disappointments then, some unclassifiable thrills. A week to remember, undoubtedly. Time for a couple of boring days now I think.

Fight for equality still raging a hundred years after Derby death – Willstrop

One hundred years ago, Emily Davison ran on to Epsom racecourse during the Derby horse race, and was killed by the King’s horse.

In 1913 she was generally considered mad. It wasn’t until later that she became a feminist icon who paid the ultimate price in her quest for equal rights for women. There is a BBC documentary on the incident that is well worth watching.

Her sacrifice did not go unheeded and society in much of the world has come a long way in terms of gender equality, but the battle is not won and unfortunately within the sporting arena, the scenario is disquieting. In many sports, think of cricket, football and rugby to name but a few, the women’s version is virtually inconspicuous on the public radar.

Last week the US Open Squash Championships made a bold statement by dividing the prize money equally between the men and the women, something that has rarely been done in squash over the years. This attracted widespread commentary from players and fans alike and regrettably a number of people, some fellow male players even, seem to be unflinching on the matter, citing unfathomable, archaic and plain sexist views as explanations.

Some have made the point that every sporting event has a value in terms of what it can attract commercially, irrespective of whether men or women compete. This is correct and will always be true: as an example, tennis has a greater commercial value than squash. In the same way, presently men’s squash brings in more revenue than women’s. But the more money that is invested into something, the more interest it will generate. If promoters followed the example of the US Open, there is no reason why the women’s game couldn’t grow and thrive in the same way the men’s has.

That the women are no less exceptional at what they do is clear and last week’s event proved this beyond doubt.

The women’s game is as competitive as ever and they are just as fiercely dedicated to their sport as the men, if not more. Why then should they reap less?

Some argue that women’s squash is less entertaining. I have watched thousands of hours of squash in my time and sit there rapt when Nicol David plays a world championship final. She is anathlete at the height of her powers and I’m not put off because she hasn’t got the innate physical power of the top men. And for the people who say the women are less skilful: what many professional men, myself included, would give to execute a volley nick the way Raneem El Weleilly does.

Most, but not all sports are behind when it comes to this issue. Tennis authorities have struck the balance. It is virtually the only sport in which women stand parallel with men. Equally gratifying is that the Olympics have given female athletes such high profile.

In this country we are lucky to have role models like Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kelly Holmes and Rebecca Adlington, and they prove the public demand is just as high for women’s sport as it is for men.

When Kelly Holmes won her two gold medals in 2004, nobody belittled the achievement by pointing out that she didn’t run as fast as her male equivalents; to have done so would have been ridiculous.

US squash are to be congratulated for what they have done. The men’s association, PSA, have also been supportive, making efforts to televise the women’s game sometimes at their own cost, something many won’t realise.

It is important that the associations continue to endorse equality in sport and that together with the media, they keep building momentum towards a more balanced sporting landscape. No doubt Emily Davison would approve.

Manchester set for ‘exhilarating’ squash World Championships

Since squash’s 2020 Olympic bid failed so miserably in September the very highest achievement for a player remains the World Championships which looks set to be the most exciting event of 2013.

Exciting for me yes and the other English blokes because it will be held in Manchester, the home of the National Squash Centre, where we have over the years spent many long summer days and weeks training.

The AJ Bell World Men’s Squash Championships get underway in under two weeks time: the first rounds from October 28, at the National Centre and the quarter-finals onwards at Manchester Central, formerly the Gmex, known as a convention or conference centre.

Previously, the final rounds of major events in Manchester have been held in the large sports hall adjacent to the squash courts in the National Centre, so this is something of a departure.

The new venue looks to be a promising one to add to the list of iconic squash locations all over the world.

Time will tell if it proves to be as exhilarating a spectacle as Grand Central Station, Hong Kong Harbour, San Francisco Bay or the Pyramids at Giza.

But this is certainly a mouthwatering prospect for any squash enthusiast.

The City of Manchester has yet again given immense support to squash and to sport in general.

It appears that sport has simply become a byword for the city.

All the backers and promoters, and Manchester City Council have shown great faith in squash and they deserve to have a wonderful sporting event to showcase.

All the signs are that it should be ultra-competitive.

But perhaps that is stating the obvious.

Most World Championships tick that box automatically.

Ramy Ashour, lest anyone should forget, is going into the event unbeaten for 16 months and as the undisputed World Number 1.

But statistics state that there’s a chance he will be beaten sooner rather than later, and that’s what many of the chasing pack are presumably at least trying to think.

Or perhaps not.

Men’s squash is so competitive that any player, no matter how high their ranking, would be almost foolish for thinking too much about anything other than their first-round opponent.

In the US Open just now in Philadelphia I played Chris Simpson in the last 32; his ranking stands at 21, mine 3.

To the viewing audience this seems like a huge gap and to them the result seems a formality.

For the players on the court it is nothing of the sort.

For the World Championships things are ratcheted up another notch. Every player steps up again.

Look out for young English players Joe Lee and Adrian Waller who are both in good shape at the moment and are winning.

French player Mathieu Castagnet is improving all the time and has just upset Spain’s Borja Golan in Philadelphia.

Simpson is also in good form at the moment, having just beaten Saurav Ghosal and Karim Darwish in Malaysia.

A pulsating event ahead. Don’t miss it!

The AJ Bell World Squash Championships begin on October 28.

The quarter-finals onwards will be played at Manchester.Central.

For tickets go to

Autumn US Squash Tour Well Underway

Egypt’s world number 1 Ramy Ashour won the Netsuite Open in San Francisco last Tuesday evening beating France’s world number 2 Gregory Gaultier in five games.

I lost to Ashour in four games in the semi finals and Gaultier beat my England compatriot Daryl Selby in three games.

This tournament, run by John Nimick’s EventEngine team (John is responsible for the legendary Tournament of Champions in New York) is in its second year and already its breathtaking outdoor setting on the Embarcadero in San Francisco Bay is one of the iconic squash venues.
John’s speciality seems to be staging the sport against such spectacular backdrops and running marvellous events which expose the public to the sport. In holding the Tournament of Champions in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Terminal, he flaunts the world game in a way no other event or marketing strategy can.

The situation of the championship court in San Francisco is no less thrilling a site, though it may not quite be able to capture the attention of the sheer volume of people going about their routine that the New York Tournament does.

John and his team are to be congratulated on the foresight and energy that brings these unbelievable events to fruition.

Elsewhere, Nicol David won the WSA Carol Weymuller Open in New York, and Borja Golan won a 35k Open event in Montreal at the weekend.

I made a fleeting trip to San Diego, before heading to Philadelphia for the US Open, to play an exhibition match with Thierry Lincou, former world number one, and to meet up with many of the players on Urban squash programme, ‘Access Youth Academy’. The academy was set up to support children from deprived areas within the city. There are similar organisations based on the east coast of America: Squashbusters and StreetSquash to name two. In America, squash is only largely accessible to the wealthy who are able to pay high membership fees for entry in to affluent clubs, and so these developments and initiatives are crucial in attracting children of all ages and backgrounds to partake in a disciplined sport-based routine.

As with many charities, the funding comes from donations and events, and there are many people who should be congratulated on their support.

Our job as world players was hopefully to add to the momentum a little and to inspire one or two of the kids there. I hope we gave them a good match. We certainly had a happy stay.
The US Open begins in Philadelphia on Friday.

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