I recently attended the NY stop at Sports Club/LA for the newly formed Prof Squash Tour (PST). One of my students, John Gross, provided me with a ticket and a first row seat for the finals between a very game Bradley Ball (Union Club squash pro) and Thierry Lincou, former world number 1 player. The evening also included a wonderful match (for third place) featuring Julian Ilingsworth (US top ranked player and world ranked top 30 and his opponent, former world top 10 player, an Egyptian wizard, Wael Hindi (City View resident pro).
What a show! Kudos to Joe McManus for bringing high level squash back to the squash clubs and providing a venu for rising stars like Ilingsworth and veteran stars like Hindi, Ball and Lincou as well as those other stand out players like Chris Gordon and Graham Basset. For those who remember, Jahangir Khan played pro matches at Park Place Squash and 86th Street! I had a front row seat in a 40 to 50 plus crowd setting and I was immediately struck by how different the game was on regular club courts. This level of play is usually on the glass courts in a large venue like Grand Central Tournament (Tournament of Champions -- TOC), so this was a real treat. The game is different, the ball slower, the players more aggressive and attacking on the ball. This was how the game was designed to be played. With the ball slower, the players more aggressive, the play was so exciting, the slashing and slicing to the ball combined for some great rallies and rally finishers. I looked at the small crowd and wondered why weren't there 5 times more people, fellow squash lovers, watching? I wouldn't have known about it except for my student who bought me a ticket.
The PST has received quite a bit of press about it's "no-let" rule, I wasn't sure what it's accomplished except the referee is a bit more involved in the match, maybe too much involved in the match. Players still argue and complain about the calls and sometimes exaggerate contact to emphasize interferance, the game speaks for itself and always has. There are still the same questionable calls and questionable referee decisions and the flow of the game seems the same to me, may be I chose just to ignore the referee's attempt to be humorous and share a bit of the spotlight with the players.
Ilingsworth might well be the poster player for the PST, he is as an exciting player as there is. I for one wasn't ever that impressed with him. I saw him look very back in last years TOC match with Mueller...but a magic wand seems to have touched him. He is the real deal, a complete player, his attacking style is relentless, his front court game devastating. He looks to cut everything off and attack. Very exciting player. This young league should hang its proverbial hat on this guy because he is only going to get better. Dare say, the first American player to break top tenIt seems he goes a bit to the front too much, but once he starts feeling more comfortable with his style he will be a force to reckon with. He is so close to getting in the top 20 group with the likes of Anjema and the older Ashour.
I would have liked to have seen Graham Basset and Chris Gordon play in their matches and some of the other qualifiers, the marquees players are great, but so too are these eager young squash warriors.
McManus has delivered what his poster says: "America meet Squash" now he just needs to get the word out to America that squash is in town and would like to meet you.