Pontefract’s own James Willstrop provides his insight into the world of squash.
As 2013 nears its close it would be apt to reflect on a full year of squash action.
The PSA World Series was for the first half dominated by Ramy Ashour in rip-roaring fashion. He continued his unbeaten match run to 53 matches since May 2012 by winning the Tournament of Champions, The North American Open, The Kuwait Open, and by securing his first British Open title in Hull and his first Netsuite Open title.
The end of the year turned on its head when Nick Matthew discontinued the Ashour dominance at the World Championships in November. Matthew beat Gregory Gaultier in the final there, before reaching the final in Qatar and winning in Hong Kong. His final appearance at the US Open in Philadelphia in October contributed to a points tally that will take him to the number one position on the January 2014 list.
Of course, as is predictable, Nick Matthew’s achievements this year: World Team Champion, World Individual Champion, Hong Kong Open Champion and World Number 1, were shunned by the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show.
His achievements in 2013 either equal or eclipse every athlete on the short list, yet still no nomination.
The PSA tour continues to bring its show to many spectacular locations all over the world. The Tournament of Champions in New York continues to amaze every year, Hong Kong Harbour is as glamourous a location as there is for squash. The East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf is pulsating and atmospheric and the second Netsuite Open was staged on the Embarcadero on San Francisco Bay this year. Add the Hull KC stadium, Manchester Central and Drexel University to the list of venues and the diversity of the tour venues is evident.
The patience of squash people was drained slightly in September after the befuddling Olympic renunciation, but that wasn’t enough to stop the forward momentum of the professional game and the athletes who represent it. The BBC televised the World Championships commendably in Manchester in November, showing that squash is a marvellous sport for the box after all.
The women’s association have had a more difficult time of it. The WSA had to forego a World Championships this year, a major disappointment, and are in need of some administrative leadership. There were positives though; the women’s US Open received the same prize money as the men’s equivalent for the first time in what is sadly an unusual scenario.
And after having her long- standing status as the women’s world number one player seriously threatened in the first half of 2013, Nicol David responded to reel off a string of wins. Amongst these were the US Open and incredibly she won her ninth Hong Kong Open title in December.
A major highlight for this region was the staging of the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’, the British Open, in Hull, at the KC stadium in May. We players have Dr Assem Allam to thank for that. His efforts for professional squash have had a significant impact; 2014 marks the third year of his patronage of this prestigious event.
Happily, England had their first women’s winner since the early nineties: Laura Massaro produced a measured performance to beat Nicol David 3-1. Although Massaro had beaten David several times before, challenging the great woman in the British Open or the World Championships is a different matter, and many saw this result as a considerable upset.
There will be a decent break over the Christmas period; both PSA and WSA tours will be underway again in late January.