Saturday, October 6, 2012

Squash Ghosts from the Winter Garden

Too fitting this time of year when ghouls and goblins and ghosts abound as the summer green leaves die in a glorious flourish of amazing colors, that two great squash players in their own right seemed to resurrect visions of squash ghostly presence from years back, some say the "golden age of squash".

I watched Hisham Ashour play my son in an exhibition at our club and after the match I talked to Hisham and spoke to him about Tristan Nancarrow. It wasn't coincidence. I watched this amazing player and great personality move about our club and later on the squash court, I thought as I watched him on the court that he is like watching Tristan Nancarrow circa 1991 at the Tournament of Champions in the World Financial Center Winter Gardens playing Mark Talbot. I was always enthralled by Mark Talbot and thought that his titanic battles on the hard ball court with Jahangir were something out of early Greek mythology. I can close my eyes and still see Tristan Nancarrow toy with Mr. Talbot with a dazzling array of shots and movement on the court as if he was Baryshnikov, who moves like that I thought, who hits the ball as if each shot was a beautifully constructed stanza of excellent verse. I had never seen anything like it in the 20 years since -- that is until this past week at our club when I watched Hisham play my son, I was refereeing the match and I kept having these flashbacks. Everyone at Hisham's level hits the ball well, moves well, is graceful...but there's something different, it's the intangible, it's the bravado that says he can do anything he wants to that small ball on that big spacious infinite angled court. He is a magician and like Tristan you are left with sense of awe...When Hisham said his hero and idol was Jansher, I of course had to ask him, his brother against Jansher, who wins. He was quick to answer as if he'd already spent hours in the past debating this: Jansher in 5. It was tantalizing, but I was thinking in my head, that it is Hisham I'd pay to watch play Jansher...I told him of a 10 minute clip of Tristan (which I later sent to him) nearing the end of his career playing Jansher, he pushed Jansher, he was close...what if I could have conjured that match and then I thought, what could possibly be better than Tristan and Hisham -- no doubt, Hisham in 5.

The next day, Gustav Detter, the great collegiate player from squash powerhouse Trinity college came to our club. He is the very player who is legendary for his astonishing comeback victory over Yasser El Haby, arguably the greatest collegiate squash player ever, a few years back to ensure that Yasser would not end his college career undefeated. In that match Gustav was down 0-2, 1 - 6 and came back to win --what's more the storied Trinity streak of consecutive team wins was on the line and Gustave preserved it, for at least a few more years.

Gustav is from Sweden and plays on the National team. He is quite amazing to watch, he is so quick, powerful, fit and graceful, a lefhander. His court presence reminded me of someone, his low sense of gravity, then a ghost appeared, that young Anders Wahlstadt, I was watching Anders move around the court, so fit, so strong playing Ditmar at the TOC in the Winter Garden, playing in Hynes Auditorium against perennial amateur US national champion Will Carlin. While Gustav played in the collegiate ranks, he has a professional game. While Anders reached number 17 in the world before he moved and settled in the US, Gustav, well we aren't sure if he had turned pro. The sky was the limit, I think.

Gustav and my son played, Gustav moved about the court like a young Anders, they had some long rallies and I've written about this before but I used to watch young Canadian Chris Stevens and Anders battle it out at Park Place. LA Fitness while not in the dark and dank basement like Park Place has an equal number of quirks, such as a "dead" floor and fast wall. But watching my son and Gustav play and thinking about those great years when Park Place was my second home, Anders was liked nothing we'd ever seen. And to those who managed to see Gustav at LA Fitness, which seems to be my primary home these days, he was certainly like nothing we'd seen before, well everyone but me.

The irony and beauty of this game, if you are in it for awhile, ghosts come and go, but you start connecting the dots and that connection forms a lineage, so to speak of players past and present. Yes, irony, when my son, who wasn't a baby at the height of Anders squash career, recently was on court with him and had a very spirited match. My son remarked, that Anders is an old player now, but he still has those great hands. Gustav, and Anders in his prime, sorry Gustav, as much as I admire your game, you would have had to have seen Anders, a vision of squash, like you, just at a different plane. But then in all fairness, if you were to turn pro and rank in the top 20 in the world, what a match, Anders, tie breaker in the fifth, both players pounding it out, punishing each other, Nordic warriors to the end...and Tristan against Gustav? Sorry Gustav, Tristan in 3.

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