Al Pacino on a Squash Court

Well, more precisely, Al Pacino in the role of Aldo Gucci, chairman of the Italian luxury fashion house in a scene from the recent film “House of Gucci”. Or, even more precisely, Al Pacino etc. being arrested by US Department of the Treasury agents on a New York squash court on suspicion of tax evasion.

Still, what’s not to like if you, like me, are more than happy to see squash culturally referenced in TV programmes, films, plays and, oh I don’t know, operas? You never know.

Truth be told, the entire sequence showing Pacino in squash kit takes up less than ten seconds of screen time, most of which shows the Feds marching up to the court then marching away with their Gucci of interest in custody. On the other hand, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had from the rest of the ‘House of Gucci’ not least the jaw-dropping over-acting and the, er, uneven English-language script delivered with comedy Italian accents by the principal cast members, Pacino, Lady Gaga, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek and Adam Driver included.

Which begs the question, why don’t we get to see Lady Gaga on a squash court? In terms of Twitter followers alone, that really might have been something that could help raise the profile of the game. Just a suggestion.

Sources

Thanks to The English Times and the BBC.

Blue Iranian Squash

Readers of The Squash Life Blog will be familiar with the development of squash in Iran, particularly the inclusion of women in the sport at both national and international level. Now, here’s Masoud Ghareh Ziaeddini – the head coach of the country’s national squash team – to describe a new initiative to attract more people to the sport. Three-wall squash uses a scaled-down, open-air court to give children and adults alike a racket game experience as close as possible to the four-wall, indoor version. Costing US$700-800 to build, the bright courts can be blue placed in locations where people are already gathering for recreation and, equally as important, watch others playing and enjoying themselves.

With a population of over 85 million, a young demographic distribution and a border with squash-cultured Pakistan, Iran is well placed to develop a ‘feeder’ network of the three-walled courts to attract the players of tomorrow. So far, 100 courts have been built in just 3 months with a first-year target of 300 well within reach. Next month, with the involvement of the Iranian Squash Federation, a national three-wall squash championship will be held in Zahedan, a south-eastern city with a population of 500,000.

With squash lovers keen to attract others to the sport, the Iranian initiative is both imaginative and low-cost. Most importantly, it also looks fun to play which, as squash emerges from its enforced pandemic hiatus, is perhaps its most promising feature of all.

Sources

YouTube, the World Population Review and the Iranian Squash Federation.

Squash (2008) – Openvideo Project

Who says squash and art don’t go together?

Here’s a short video by German film maker and visual artist Matthias Fritsch combining on-court movement with music and narrative. Fritsch’s work involves creating moving images and running workshops for video artists amongst others.

His art reflects everyday activities including, in this example, squash as well as global issues such as environmental protection. His recent research has focussed on ‘circles of matter’ and biological processes which could almost describe the dance movement of players chasing a soft rubber ball around a squash court.

Credits

‘Squash’ is a 2008 project by Matthias Fritsch filmed on location at Bard College in Berlin. Music is by C.Thomas and the players are Jacob Nabel and Brent Lewis. The accompanying German-language narrative to the video is uncredited.

Sources                                    

Thanks to YouTube and TechnoViking.

I, Robot Squash Coach

A month ago, Scottish Squash confirmed that the game would return without Covid-19 restrictions, in all clubs and facilities in Scotland. Just the time, you might think, for committed players of all ages to refresh their squash skill-sets with a spot of one-to-one coaching.

Fast forward a few weeks and, conveniently, the UK’s National Robotarium presented the world’s first robot squash coach. The robot, developed in collaboration with industry partner RacketWare for on-court use, utilises motion tracking sensors and interfacing technology to collect data from players practising a variety of shots. The data is then analysed in real time and interpreted by the robot in order to communicate with players.

To date, communication strategies have been developed for twelve coaching exercises by observing one-to-one sessions between qualified squash coaches and players. Artificial intelligence software then enables the robot to give instructions about what each solo player should practice next, using hints, tips and positive reinforcement encouragements. Research has shown that solo practice, typically used by professional players and committed amateurs, increases the skill and motivation levels of players of all abilities.

Promisingly, a new National Robotarium facility is due to open in Edinburgh in 2022 housing three distinct research and development areas, including Robotics & Autonomous Systems (RAS), Human & Robotics Interaction (HRI) and High Precision Manufacturing.

In my opinion, the sooner the next generation of squash coach robots can help me perfect a backhand cross-court volley nick off the serve the better.

Sources Thanks to The Engineer, Heriot Watt University, the National Robotarium, YouTube and the BBC.

If it’s 2022, it must be…er…

What a year, eh? No sooner have the 2020 European Football Championships finished than we’re almost halfway through the 2020 Olympic Games. And we’re only halfway through 2020. Er…I mean 2021.

In these uncertain times, it’s difficult enough for squash lovers to keep up to date with what tournaments are scheduled, are being re-scheduled, are ongoing or are being cancelled. So spare a thought for those players, officials, organisers and, increasingly, spectators who are eager to share any live squash experience, whatever the level.

Tournament scheduling continues to be challenging worldwide but, in the UK, three major 2021 tournaments are due to take place in August; the British National Championships, the Manchester Open and the Allam British Open. In contrast, two other August 2021-scheduled tournaments – the re-scheduled 2020 World Masters Squash Championships in Wroclaw and the 2021 World Junior Squash Championships in Cairo – won’t now take place although the latter may yet be re-scheduled to later in 2021.

Amid all this uncertainty comes the timely reminder that the start of the 2022 Commonwealth Games Squash tournament in Birmingham (UK, that is) is now only 12 months away.

Time to believe, perhaps, that when it’s 2022, it really, certainly will be Birmingham.

Sources

Thanks to Birmingham 2022, YouTube and World Squash.

What Squash Leadership Looks Like (2021) – Student Project Video

So, as a squash lover, what the heck have you been doing during the last eighteen months?

Well, here’s at least one thing young squash enthusiast Kiyaan Khalfan has been doing. Kiyaan, a student at the Aga Khan Academy in Nairobi, Kenya, has put together a video exploring the game of squash as part of his studies. Including interviews and demonstrations, the video looks at squash skills, nutrition, fitness and careers. One interviewee, Khaaliqa Nimji, is a professional squash player whose resumé includes playing mixed doubles against Nicol David at the 2010 Commonwealth Games – at the age of 12!

On the leadership front, it’s not difficult to see where student projects such as Kiyaan’s can have a wide influence. Nairobi’s Aga Khan Academy is just one of 17 planned for Africa, The Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, all areas which could potentially benefit from an injection of squash leadership.

The Academy’s vision is to invest in “education of the highest quality that can prepare young people to lead and enact positive change in the world they inhabit.” The vision focuses on investment not only in teachers but also in “facilities that provide an environment conducive to the less tangible but equally important elements of an education: self-esteem, leadership, tolerance, ethical judgment and moral reasoning.”

And when it comes to inspiration, it’s not just teachers who can help lead the way.

Sources

Thanks to The Aga Khan Academies, Wikipedia, YouTube, World Squash and the BBC.

Brutality

When a former World Number 15 squash player suggests that you check out a video of a memorable PSA Gold tournament rally, you may not be fully aware of the context behind said player’s reason for doing so. Enter Australian PSA TV commentator Johnny Williams who, during a marathon semi-final between Mohamed El Shorbagy and Joel Makin at the recent El Gouna International tournament, drew viewers’ attention to a 2018 encounter between the same two players at the Channel VAS tounament in Surrey, England.

During the 155-stroke rally in question, Makin’s heart rate rose to 195 and stayed there for a considerable part of the 4 minutes and 8 seconds exchange. That El Shorbagy and Makin must have reached a level of fitness which would enable them to sustain such a rally is to state the obvious. But, during his career, Williams himself was a typical product of the famously tough Australian squash endurance training culture, once running 32 consecutive 400 metre circuits (separated by 45 second ‘rests’) with each circuit taking less than 75 seconds.

As always context is key. But one thing seems certain. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of on-court competition for many squash players doesn’t seem to have translated into a lack of endurance fitness. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect.

Sources

Thanks to PSA SquashTV, Wikipedia and YouTube.

The Real Squash Housewives of Beverly Hills

I may have a terrible memory but I’m pretty sure that no squash-themed sex story has ever appeared in the pages of The Hollywood Gossip blog. Yet that’s exactly what happened recently with the revelation that Barstool Sports CEO, Erika Nardini, had been having an affair with a ‘married squash coach’. Not only that, but Nardini’s investment banker husband had signed her up for lessons with said coach, Yvain ‘Swiss’ Badan, as a Christmas present.

By way of context, Barstool Sports is a digital media company that produces blog, video and podcast content focused on sports and pop-culture. In stark contrast, The Hollywood Gossip is a celebrity gossip blog with the latest entertainment news, scandals, fashion, hairstyles, pictures, and videos of ‘your favourite celebrities’; at the time of writing, its coverage focuses on such globally-popular reality TV series as ‘The Bachelor’, ‘Sister Wives’, ‘90 Day Fiancé’, ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’.

Yvain ‘Swiss’ Badan

Any doubts as to the veracity of the ‘married squash coach’ story would appear to have been put to rest by its appearance in Page Six, another US celebrity gossip, er, organ, and, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the well-known UK squash news sources The Daily Mail and The Sun. There is, as one would expect, enough detail in the coverage of the story to form the basis of a screenplay for a straight-to-video film or a teleplay for a squash-themed reality TV series, or both.

If that’s not an opportunity to insert squash into the global consciousness, I don’t know what is.

Note: On reflection, I think it’s possible that the The Hollywood Gossip may well have printed a squash-themed sex story in the past. I may not have recognised it at the time but, then again, I’ve got a terrible memory.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, The Hollywood Gossip, Page Six, Barstool Sports, The Daily Mail and The Sun.

Crowded House

I recently analysed England’s Sarah-Jane Perry’s dramatic 2020 Black Ball Open victory over Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy in the form of a series of shots into the tin at game- and match-ball. Apart from the squash, the match was notable for the socially-distanced Cairo crowd’s vociferous support for the home favourite. Perry’s vocal support was less vociferous due partly, I suspect, to an absence of English supporters who were not only confined to their homes under the terms of a pandemic lockdown but banned from leaving Blighty to boot.

In my analysis I contrasted the Cairo crowd’s involvement in the match to that of the non socially-distanced Doha crowd at the 2014 World Open Championship final.

In that 90-minute contest, Cairo’s Ramy Ashour, returning from a six-month injury lay-off, defeated Alexandria’s Mohammed El Shorbagy 14-12 in the fifth. The cacophony  generated by the spectators reflected divided Egyptian loyalties, the victory of a much-loved ambassador for the game over an up-and-coming star, and the sheer drama of the match as it unfolded. Let’s hope we’ll all hear something similar again.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, PSA SquashTV and Youtube.

Squash In A Safe Zone

Around this time of year the attention of squash followers hailing from one of the 6000 islands of the British Isles has traditionally turned to the National Squash Championships. In 2020, the Championships took place in Nottingham but, this year, were replaced by a stripped-down England Squash Championship held at the National Squash Centre in a traditionally cold and wet Manchester.

The four-day event was restricted to senior men’s and women’s tournaments, participation in which was limited to players on the basis of their individual need to comply with the Covid-19 guidelines of the national jurisdictions of their places of residence. The Championships were also re-structured, each tournament consisting of group matches followed by semi-finals, fifth / six and third / fourth place play-offs and a final.

The men’s tournament was won by Declan James who overcame George Parker 3-1 in 64 minutes. In the women’s tournament, current Black Ball Open champion Sarah-Jane Perry beat the unseeded Georgina Kennedy 3-0 in 23 minutes. Both beaten finalists were winners of the England Squash Challenge tournaments held at the same venue in November when, for the record, it was equally cold and wet.

After the Challenge and September’s Manchester Open, the Championships were the third Covid-safe and audience-free squash event held in Manchester in the last six months. Next month, it’s Cairo’s turn to stage a major event when the CIB Black Ball Open returns only three months after the completion of 2020’s delayed tournaments.

Whatever the Covid-safety arrangements, one thing’s for sure. It’ll be warm and dry outside.

Sources

Thanks to PSA SquashTV, Dailymotion, England Squash and SquashSite.