Squash and The Asian Games

During my visit to the Punjab Squash Complex in Lahore, I was reminded that the start of the 2018 Asian Games, including squash, was only a few weeks away. Held in Jakarta, the Games were to include players from 18 countries, the largest number ever to take part in the four competitions to be contested. Unlike the Commonwealth Games held earlier in the year on Australia’s Gold Coast, the Asian Games would not include doubles events in addition to men’s and women’s singles competitions. However, men’s and women’s team competitions would be included for a third time following their introduction in Guangzhou in 2010.

The first appearance of squash at the Asian Games took place in 1998 when Pakistan took gold and silver in the men’s singles, Zarak Jahan Khan beating Amjad Khan. Four years later, in Busan, Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman and Shahid Zaman took silver and bronze respectively, the gold going to Malaysia’s Ong Beng Hee. In Doha, in 2006, Pakistan’s men’s singles medal haul continued with Mansoor this time taking bronze along with, for the first time, an Indian player, the evergreen Saurav Ghosal. In 2010, in Guangzhou, Ghosal was to take bronze again with Pakistan’s Aamir Atlas Khan taking silver.

Dipika Pallikal and Nicol David in the 2018 Women’s Singles Semi-final

In one way, 2010 was to prove a turning point for squash in the sub-continent with the first medals for women players with India, including Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa, taking bronze in the team event. In the first ever men’s team competition, there was also to be success for the men with Pakistan taking gold and India, Saurav Ghosal included, taking bronze.

Four years later, Pallikal, Chinappa and Ghosal were again to appear amongst the medal winners in Incheon. India’s women took silver in the team event with its men’s team winning gold for the first time in any Games squash competition. Pallikal was to take bronze in the women’s singles, the first ever singles medal for a female player from the sub-continent.

Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Cinappa at the 2018 Asian Games

And so to 2018, with singles bronze medals for three Indian players, Saurav Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa. In the team competitions, India’s men failed to repeat their gold medal success of 2014, taking bronze after losing to eventual silver medallists Hong Kong in the semi-finals. Pakistan’s men also had to settle for bronze, losing to eventual gold medallists, Malaysia. In the women’s team competition, India went one better than the men, winning through to the final before succumbing to Hong Kong.

So where does that leave India and Pakistan in terms of the two countries’ all-time Asian Games medals haul? India have now won thirteen medals (one gold, three silver and nine bronze) and Pakistan eight (two gold, three silver and three bronze).

Nicol David after beating Subramaniam Sivasangari

But, after 2018’s Games, the largest hauls belong to Hong Kong with 17 medals and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Malaysia with 26. There are, after all, advantages in having 9-times medallist Nicol David in your squad.

Sources

Thanks to Squash Info, Malaysiakini, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Free Press Journal and Wikipedia.

Lahore Squash

After two weeks travelling along the Karakorum Highway, arriving in Lahore in late June can be quite a shock. With bustling streets, noisy traffic and pre-monsoon temperatures in the mid-40s, life in the city stands in stark contrast with that found along the cool mountain roads winding north towards the Chinese border.

Punjab Squash Complex

Posters stuck on telegraph poles opposite my hotel announced the Pakistan International Squash Circuit-II tournament being held at the city’s Punjab Squash Complex. Unfortunately, I’d missed the finals by one day but decided to visit the venue on Lower Mall Road where all three recently-renovated courts were in use. There, I met Khurram Shehzad whose coaching pedigree extends to Dubai and Malaysia.

Compared to the glory days of Gogi Alauddin, Hiddy Jahan, Qamar Zaman and the Khans, Pakistan’s international squash presence is now relatively low key. Its two highest ranked male players, Asim Khan and Tayyab Aslam (both from Lahore), currently occupy positions 88 and 95 respectively in the PSA world rankings. In the women’s rankings, Sialkot-born Faiza Zafar, currently resident in Lahore, is the country’s highest ranked player at 99. Both Aslam and Zafar featured in the Circuit-II finals, Aslam going down 3-2 to Peshawar’s Farhan Mehboob and Zafar 3-0 to her younger sister Madina.

Pakistan International Squash Circuit II Awards

But it’s the restricted access to visas, said Shehzad, that, together with limited funding, continues to limit the opportunities for home-grown players to develop through international competition.

In a recent exception Mehboob, Aslam, the Zafar sisters and Peshawar’s Farhan Zaman all featured in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, held on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Aslam and Zaman reached the last 16 of the men’s doubles with Aslam also reaching the last 16 of the mixed doubles with Madina Zafar. Zafar also reached the women’s singles plate semi-final, losing to the eventual winner, Barbados’s Meagan Best.

****

The day after my visit was the last I spent in Pakistan. It was also the first day of the monsoon.

Sources

Thanks to The Nation, the Khilari sports website, the Squash Info website and, as always, Wikipedia.

The Cannonball Run

Having written recently of the domination of Egyptian and, more specifically, Alexandrian players in the men’s and women’s games, I was, in retrospect, cruising for a bruising.

True, the appearance of Alexandria’s Mohamed El Shorbagy and Cairo’s Tarek Momen in the March final of The Canary Wharf Classic in London followed the pattern I’d written about, El Shorbagy winning in a five-game thriller. The final of the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich later in the month (see below) also featured an Alexandria / Cairo pairing with El Shorbagy taking on, and losing to, a revitalised Ramy Ashour.

Even the El Gouna International tournament in April went to form, Alexandrians Marwan El Shorbagy and Raneem El Welily taking the men’s and women’s titles defeating Cairo’s Ali Farag and Alexandrian Noor El Sherbini respectively.

No change there.

The pattern repeated in May where El Sherbini and El Welily met again, this time in the final of the Allam British Open in Hull. On this occasion, El Sherbini was to reverse the El Gouna result, beating  El Welily in three games.

And so to the men’s final.

If, from an Egyptian point of view, Simon Rosner had proved to be the party-pooper by winning January’s Tournament of Champions in New York, Colombia’s Miguel Ángel Rodríguez was to make a similar impact in Hull (see below). In another five-game epic, the “Colombian Cannonball” maintained his high-energy form over 100 minutes to upset two time winner Mohamed El Shorbagy.

Despite Rodriguez’s heroics, however, Egyptian players still took eleven out of the twelve finalist spots in the four world-ranking tournaments held from March to May.

After all, cannonballs don’t always show up on finals day.

Sources

Thanks to the PSA Squash TV Channel.

 

 

Women’s Squash And The House Of Saud

By any account, 2018 is shaping up to be a ground-breaking year for women, sport and road transport in Saudi Arabia. In early January women were, for the first time ever, allowed to attend (men’s) professional football matches albeit accompanied by their male chaperones and confined to segregated seating areas. This revolutionary relaxation of The Kingdom’s strict laws followed last year’s announcement that, from June 2018, women would, also for the first time, be allowed to drive cars thus raising the possibility of increased female car ownership, demand for driving lessons, congestion on Saudi roads, attendances at Saudi football matches and development of sports stadiums to cater for dedicated toilet and refreshment facilities for women.

Later in January, women spectators were similarly let loose in Riyadh’s Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University to watch the first PSA world series squash tournament for women to be held in Saudi Arabia. And that’s not all. Not only did the tournament attract many of the world’s best players but, in a symbolic move, a last-32 wildcard entry was granted to The Kingdom’s highest-ranked player, Nada Abo Al Naja, who thus became the first Saudi woman to play in a world series PSA event. Al Naja went out of the competition, losing to number 2 seed Camille Serme of France.

Saudi PSA Women’s Squash Masters Finalists 2018

The tournament, originally scheduled to take place in November 2017, was held with Saudi Arabia in the throes of internal reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman including the lifting of restrictions on the activities of women. With total prize money of US$165,000 up for grabs, the tournament was won by World number 1 Nour El Sherbini of Egypt who defeated her compatriot Raneem El Weleily 3-0.

Footnote

As a matter of interest (well, it is to me anyway) Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which I have a 100% record of squash success having played and won two matches there. The matches were both played on a court at the Intercontinental hotel in Riyadh (where I was staying) against fellow hotel guests, both of whom were travelling with their racquets in the hope of bumming a match with anyone they could find.

So, the next time you’re visiting Riyadh…

Sources

Thanks to Arab News, The Times of Saudia and TheSports.org.

 

The Alexandria Quartet

Following, as I do, the progress of PSA tournaments, one can’t help but notice certain patterns. One such pattern, namely the appearance of Egyptian players in world ranking tournament finals, hardly needs mention. But the background of those players also lends itself to some interesting statistics.

Not surprisingly, most of Egypt’s top players originate mainly from the capital, Cairo, and the country’s second largest city, Alexandria. So, how have world ranked players from the two cities fared over recent months?

I decided to find out and looked at the results from 10 world ranking tournament finals (5 men’s and 5 women’s) over the last 4 months, namely:

The Tournament of Champions (January 2018)

The Saudi Women’s Masters (January 2018)

The World Championships (December 2017)

The Hong Kong Open (November 2017)

The Qatar Classic (October 2017)

The US Open (October 2017)

Of the 20 finalist places, 19 were filled by Egyptian players and just one by a non-Egyptian, Germany’s Simon Rosner, Winner of the Tournament of Champions in New York. Of the 19 places occupied by Egyptians, 6 were taken by 3 players from Cairo with 13 being taken by 4 players hailing from Alexandria. The ‘Alexandria quartet’ won 7 tournaments and was runner up in 6 while the ‘Cairo trio’ won 2 and was runner-up in 4.

The Alexandria quartet, as you may have guessed, comprises: current women’s world Nos.1 and 2, Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Welily respectively; and current men’s world No. 2 Mohamed El Shorbagy together with his older brother (and world No.4), Marwan. Of the four, only Marwan El Shorbagy has failed to win at least one tournament, his defeat in the final of The World Championships (at the hands of his brother) being his only contribution to the quartet’s finalist haul (see below.)

The Cairo trio comprises: current women’s world No.3, Nour El Tayeb, men’s world No.3, Ali Farag, and world No.7, Tarek Momen. At the US Open, El Tayeb and Farag had the distinction of becoming the first married couple to win their tournaments  at the same world-ranked event.

As I write, the Windy City Open in Chicago has reached the semi-final stage. Three of the Alexandria quartet, the El Shorbagy brothers and Raneem El Welily, are still in contention, the latter having beaten the fourth member, Nour El Sherbini, in their quarter-final match (see below.) All three of the Cairo trio are also through.

I make that 6 semi-finalists out of 8.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that history has a 75% chance of repeating itself. But then, statistics has never been my strong point.

Sources

Thanks to PSA World Tour.

From The Bubble To The Opera

A lot of water has flowed under the proverbial since I last wrote about the end of year World Series Finals. At that time (January 2011) the finals had the unique distinction of being held in a (temporary) inflatable venue in the grounds of The Queen’s Club in London, a location best known as the home of a grass court tennis tournament held a fortnight before Wimbledon.

The Finals that year were also unique in a different way in that they terminated, unexpectedly, at the semi-final stage. This was due to the unfortunate manifestation of gale-force winds over and, sadly, through the tournament venue causing it irreparable damage.

As I remember, the colour schemes for both the show-court and the night-time illumination of the outside of the bubble-shaped venue both incorporated pink. For this year’s tournament (held in Dubai in June) I’m glad to see that the former colour scheme, at least, has been retained.

However, with regard to the outside of the venue (the state of the art Dubai Opera), I suspect that pink may have proved to be a step too far.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV.

London Squash: The Claridge Courts

Although the game of squash was invented in Britain, the first squash governing body in the world was founded, in 1904, in the United States. In fact, it was not until 1928 that an equivalent organisation, the Squash Racquets Association (SRA), was formed to agree standards for the game in Britain, including those for court size.

By that time, however, many squash courts had already been constructed which did not meet the new standard. Two of them were built in London during the period 1919 – 1921 to the same specification as the squash court on The Titanic which had sunk in 1912. The courts, known as The Claridge Courts, formed part of the premises of a service club in London’s Piccadilly.

They were to remain in use for almost a hundred years.

RAF Club, Piccadilly

The RAF Club

The Claridge Courts were seventeen inches narrower than the 1928 SRA standard. During their post-1928 lifetime, this feature was to add what has been described as “a certain measure of eccentricity” to the games played on them.

RAF Squash

The courts were located on the premises of the RAF Club, established in late 1918 for the use of members of the Royal Air Force. The RAF itself had been founded only on April 1st of the same year and was the first such national force in the world to become independent of army or navy control. The RAF Club’s buildings, still in use today, were acquired by the middle of 1919, their Piccadilly frontage being originally that of the Ladies Lyceum Club.

The RAF Club was officially opened by HRH The Duke of York in February 1922 and was visited the following month by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. This association with the Royal Family continues to this day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being the Club’s Patron.

The Bath Cup

The Claridge Courts were amongst the first in London to host matches in the Bath Cup, the oldest squash league in the world. Established in 1922, the Cup was named after its founders, the Bath & Racquets Club, and is still one of the most prestigious squash competitions in Britain. The Cup is contested annually by the oldest clubs in London including: Queens, RAC, Hurlingham, Lansdowne, Roehampton, Oxford & Cambridge, MCC, Cumberland and Lloyd’s of London. The RAF Club has been represented in the competition since its inception, pausing temporarily in the early 1940s whilst its players were otherwise occupied in the Second World War.

Over the years the Claridge Courts have also been used for internal competition between Club members and their guests, as well as for inter-service competition with representatives of Britain’s other armed forces. The Club also has a long tradition of friendly competition with other London-based clubs such as Jesters, Escorts, Swans, Wine Traders, John Lewis, Old Wellingtonians and Civil Service, all of which have been able to experience the “eccentricity” of playing on The Claridge Courts.

The End Of An Era

Sadly, in 2016, a decision was taken to renovate the interior of the RAF Club in response to increasing demand for additional accommodation. One of the consequences of the decision was the removal of The Claridge Courts, marking the demise of two of the oldest squash courts in the world.

One of those campaigning to save the courts, Squadron Leader Philip Tilstone, a member for 30 years, said: “Whilst I understand the commercial reasons for the decision to close the courts I find it extremely disappointing that no other arrangements have been proposed.

“By representing the club in the prestigious Bath Cup league as well as in many friendly matches during the season, players have been able to educate many of our opponents on the way the military works and become better informed about the challenges faced by those in the commercial world.”

Sources

Thanks to the RAF Club, the Royal Air Force, Wikipedia, The Times, West End Extra and The London Evening Standard.

Desert Places (à la Evelyn Waugh) – Part Three

N.B. The first two parts of ‘Desert Places’ were published here and here on this blog.

Mrs. Stitch sipped from her cup of breakfast tea and gazed out of the dining room window. Opposite her, blocking the light, her husband sat hidden behind his morning newspaper. She felt sure that she had been meaning to ask him something for several days but couldn’t quite put her finger on whatever it was. Suddenly, she remembered.

‘What’s happening in the Arabian peninsula?’ said Mrs. Stitch.

Algernon Stitch grunted and lowered his newspaper.

‘Nothing as far as I know.’

He took a sip of tea and looked at his watch.

‘Is that the time? I’d better get a move on.’

Stitch placed his napkin on the table and stood. Mrs. Stitch returned her cup to its saucer and remained seated.

‘You said that there was a potential crisis in Al Mussab or somewhere like that.’

‘Did I? When?’

‘A few weeks ago. Something to do with oil and foreign powers.’

‘I don’t remember that. There was a bit of a situation in El Mahreb last month but it all blew over. The ruler’s brother wanted a bigger palace and some more wives, made a bit of a fuss and got them. A few shots fired, a few camels injured, that sort of thing. I suspect the Russians put him up to it. Anyway, El Mahreb’s in Africa not Arabia. At least I think it is. I’ll check when I get to the office.’

Mrs. Stitch was momentarily confused. Perhaps she ought to ask John Boot whether she had advised him to go to El Mahreb or Al Mussab. She also had a feeling that she may have mentioned El Mahreb to someone else.

By the time she had finished her breakfast, Mrs. Stitch had quite forgotten that she had mentioned anything to anyone at all.

****

In the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, William and Corker were indulging in afternoon tea.

“Let me get this right,” said Corker. “You say that Crown Prince Hassan has agreed to keep you informed of developments in Al Mussab’s foreign affairs provided that you set up and run a national squash ladder.”

“Well, up to a point,” said William, reaching for a second cucumber sandwich. “He’ll keep me up to date with family gossip about foreign affairs. There must be a lot of it though. Apparently, all of Al Mussab’s government ministers are related. That’s a coincidence, isn’t it?”

“And he’s happy for you to report this…er…gossip…” said Corker.

“A version of this gossip,” interposed William.

“…a version of this gossip,” echoed Corker, “to The Beast?”

“Definitely,” said William, spotting a macaroon on the third tier of the cake-stand.

“Oh, and to The Unnatural.” he added. “After all, we are supposed to be co-operating.”

Corker sipped at his Darjeeling which had gone cold.

“I was thinking,” continued William, pouring himself a third cup of Earl Grey. “I’m hopeless at all that reporting stuff. I don’t suppose you could file both our reports, could you?”

Corker sensed that things were hotting up. He raised his eyebrows and made an awkward attempt at a nod of agreement.

“Besides,” continued William, “from what Hassan says, I’m going to be jolly busy working on the squash ladder. There are lots of people he thinks will be interested; family members, foreign diplomats, oil magnates, business tycoons and so on.”

Corker imagined himself and William at the centre of an international network of important news sources.

“Oh, and I expect I’ll have to spend a lot of time listening to all of the gossip,” added William, having briefly forgotten why he was in Al Mussab in the first place.

Corker had visions of promotion at Universal News.

“I don’t suppose he let you in on any gossip last night, did he?”

“Well only something about a Soviet delegation arriving tomorrow,” said William, pouring more hot water into his teapot. “His father believes it’s a cover for espionage.”

Corker felt a story coming on.

****

It was late afternoon in London. Secretaries were carrying tea to the more leisured departments. In Mr. Salter’s office there was activity and excitement.

“Russians, spies, oil. This is dynamite,” said the Managing Editor sorting through a sheaf of telegrams. “Has anyone else seen this?”

“Not so far,” said Mr. Salter. “I thought I’d see what you thought before I go to the chief.”

“And you say it came from this Boot chap?” said the First Leader Writer. “What woke him up?”

“Perhaps it was that chap Corker from Universal News,” said Mr. Salter. “The Foreign Editor did say he had a way with words.”

“Well, the Foreign Office still isn’t saying anything about Al Mussab,” said the Managing Editor. “Do you think it’s genuine? After all, this Boot’s done nothing but report on the weather and camels since he got there.”

“Yes,” said the First Leader Writer, “but our competitors are still splashing the story. Maybe they know something we don’t.”

An hour later, Mr. Salter surveyed the front page of the evening edition of The Beast.

“SOVIET SPIES PLAN ARABIAN COUP”

After a brief telephone call, his counterpart at Universal News agreed to lead with:

“RUSSIANS IN DESERT ESPIONAGE PLOT”

It didn’t pay, thought Mr. Salter, to slavishly follow the competition.

****

In the Al Mussab desert, William and Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Rashid Al Nahmi sat cross-legged beside their camp fire in the Arabian night. Their camels and those of Abdullah’s bodyguards sat hobbled and grumbling somewhere in the darkness.

“I think that the squash ladder will be very exciting,” said Abdullah, selecting a fig from the fruit platter. “Very few visitors have come to Al Mussab up to now and even fewer have used the squash court. Perhaps now that there are more…”

William, whose thoughts were currently directed towards the Al Mussab desert and its wildlife, nodded.

“How many people did you say have joined so far?” said Abdullah.

“Thirty-seven,” answered William who had discovered that his ability to persuade squash players to participate in competitions was transferrable to foreign countries.

“No, thirty-eight,” he corrected himself, “but there must be at least three more in the Soviet delegation. I saw their racquet handles sticking out of their luggage when they arrived at the Intercontinental.”

Abdullah marvelled quietly at William’s dynamism.

“Which animals do you think we’ll be able to spot?” asked William.

“We are sure to see jackals,” said Abdullah. “They will be attracted by our fire and the smell of food. Just before dawn we may see a sand cat or a fox. Then tomorrow, oryx, ibex, gazelles perhaps.”

William pinched himself. He really was on safari in the Al Mussab desert with the son of Al Mussab’s Minister for the Environment. What could be more exciting?

“Mr. William?” said Abdullah, suddenly. “Did you know that my father is a great admirer of your writing?”

“I beg your pardon?” said William.

“Oh, yes,” continued Abdullah. “He reads your weekly column in The Beast. He told me it reminds him very much of the time he spent in the English countryside while he was a student at Oxford.”

“Are you sure?” asked William.

“Definitely,” replied Abdullah. “In fact, he asked me if you would consider writing something for him.”

****

In Fleet Street, Mr. Salter was ushered into Lord Copper’s office.

“Ah, Salter,” said Lord Copper. “I see that Boot has really got to grips with the situation in…”

“Al Mussab, Lord Copper?” suggested Mr. Salter helpfully.

“Precisely,” said Lord Copper. “I always knew he was the right man for the job.”

Mr. Salter nodded in agreement. A few weeks ago, he had thought that the Chief was losing his grip. But now, Boot’s reports were dynamite: Soviet plots, desert manoeuvres, secret meetings, vital British interests. The Chief had known best all along. How on earth had he spotted Boot?

“I don’t suppose we’ve got a photograph of him, have we?” asked Lord Copper.

“Up to a point, Lord Copper,” said Mr. Salter.

“Ring up his relatives,” said Lord Copper, “See if he’s got a girl. Someone must have a photograph of him.”

“I think they took one for his visa,” said Mr. Salter, “but I’m afraid it was a very poor likeness.”

“Pity,” said Lord Copper.

****

In Boot Magna, William’s mother, his sister, his Aunt Josephine and his three uncles were sitting around the table in the dining room. They had finished eating and had remained seated, as they often did for an hour or so, doing nothing at all. William’s grandmother had retired to her armchair in the sitting room to sleep.

“Did anybody open that telegram?” said William’s mother.

“Which telegram?” asked Uncle Roderick.

“The one that arrived yesterday.”

Nobody admitted to knowing about a telegram. After a search, Uncle Theodore found it behind the chest next to the coat rack in the hall where William’s mother had dropped it. He returned to the dining room and opened it.

“It’s from William.”

“STAYING AL MUSSAB ORGANISE INTERNATIONAL SQUASH LADDER WRITE DESERT PLACES COLUMN MINISTER ENVIRONMENT WILLIAM”

“What does it mean?” asked William’s mother.

“I think he’s staying in Al Mussab to organise an international squash ladder and write a column called Desert Places for the Minister of the Environment,” said Uncle Bernard.

William’s mother and sister burst into tears and were comforted by Uncle Roderick.

“Do you think it will be in The Beast?” asked Uncle Theodore.

“I should hope so,” said Uncle Bernard. “There hasn’t been anything interesting in it since William left.”

****

In the English countryside, where he had been hiding for some months from the American girl, John Boot found, amongst his forwarded bills, an official letter which read:

“I am instructed by the Prime Minister to inform you that your name has been forwarded to H.M. the King with the recommendation for your inclusion in the Order of Knights Commanders of the Bath.”

“Gosh,” said Boot, “it must be Julia.”

Despite it being barely eleven o’clock, he telephoned her at her house near St. James’s Palace.

“What do you think, Julia? They’re making me a Knight.”

“Who are?”

“The King and the Prime Minister, I expect. Was it anything to do with you?”

“Well…I may have played a small part,” replied Mrs. Stitch who knew nothing about it. “Are you pleased?”

“Very pleased,” replied Boot. “But what on earth is it for?”

“I expect it’s for writing books about all those adventures of yours,” said Mrs. Stitch who had never read any of them. “I suppose you’ll be able to go wherever you want now.”

She thought it wise not to mention the Al Mussab affair or the American girl.

Either way, John Boot was too grateful to care.

Sources

Evelyn Waugh‘s book ‘Scoop‘ was published in 1938. It is the supreme novel of the 20th-century English newspaper world, fast, light, entertaining and lethal. Remarkably, it’s a satire revered among successive generations of British hacks, the breed so mercilessly skewered in the book by Waugh, a one-time special correspondent for the Daily Mail.

London Squash: The In & Out

Dating from 1927, the oldest private squash court in London has a remarkable history. Situated on the top floor of a mews building attached to No.4 St. James’s Square, the court was built by The Army and Navy Club which had outgrown its premises on the corner of Pall Mall and George Street. After 3 years of development the new mews building provided chambers, bed-sitting-rooms, bedrooms, a ladies’ drawing-room, a dining-room and ground floor shop premises in addition to the squash court.

The Army and Navy Club

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

The Army and Navy Club had been founded in 1837, the year Queen Victoria acceded to the Throne. It had been formed to meet the needs of the many army officers wanting to join a Service Club, most of which were already full. Its first president was Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, who accepted the post on condition that membership was also open to officers of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.

The In & Out

By 1862, London boasted three Service Clubs: the United Service Club, the Junior United Service Club and The Army and Navy Club, all of which were at full capacity. To meet demand, a fourth club, The Naval and Military Club, was founded in March 1862 by a party of officers who at that time were quartered at the Tower of London.

94 Piccadilly

After several changes of premises, The Naval and Military Club moved, in 1866, to 94 Piccadilly, also known as Cambridge House. There, it came to be known as “The In & Out” from the prominent signs on the building’s separate vehicle entrance and exit gates. In 1996, having failed to agree terms for a new lease in Piccadilly, the club purchased the freehold of 4 St. James’s Square and finally moved into its new home on 1st February, 1999.

The Squash Court

In And Out Squash Court

As part of its freehold, The In & Out gained access to the squash court formerly used by The Army and Navy Club. Now in its 90th year of use, access to the court is a key part of the club’s fitness and leisure programme.

Evidence of the historical use of the court can be seen in the form of an honours board in the clubhouse where the winners of a Squash Challenge Cup for the years 1936-56 are listed. The competition was not contested for the years 1939-47.

Squash Honours Board

The Naval and Military Club is now advertised as a St James’s private members club for ladies and gentlemen, and officers of the Armed Forces.

4 St. James’s Square History

4 St. James’s Square was built in 1726–28 during the reigns of George I and George II. Amongst its distinguished occupants were Waldorf and Nancy Astor who made it their London residence from 1912-42. American-born Nancy Astor was the first woman to sit as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament in 1919, later becoming Viscountess Astor.

In 1942, the house was requisitioned by the government and was used as the London headquarters of the Free French Forces led by General Charles de Gaulle.

In April 1984, St. James’s Square became the centre of world attention as the setting for the 11-day long Libyan Embassy siege triggered by the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. The Libyan Embassy occupied 5 St. James’s Square.

Sources

The websites of The Army and Navy Club, The Naval and Military Club and British History Online. Thanks to Wikipedia as always.

An Open And Closed Case

This year’s Women’s final at the British Open Squash Championship in Hull was the first in twenty-six years to feature two English players, namely Laura Massaro – from Manchester via Great Yarmouth – and Sarah-Jane Perry from Birmingham. Coincidentally, the match was a re-run of the British National Championships final held in Manchester earlier in the year with the same outcome, namely Massaro beating Perry to take the title.

Open

But what of the 1991 final and its participants? Where are they now and what are they doing?

Lisa Opie

Held at the Wembley Conference Centre in London, Guernsey’s Lisa Opie beat Kent’s Sue Wright to take her first and only British Open title. She was the first British woman to win the title for thirty years and it wasn’t through want of trying. Opie had previously reached four finals in five years (in ’82, ’83, ’84 and ’86*), all of which she had lost to Antipodean opponents, Australia’s Vicky Cardwell winning the first two and New Zealand’s Susan Devoy the last two.

*Footage from the 1986 final between Lisa Opie and Susan Devoy is shown below.

Lisa Opie was never to reach the final again.

Nine years later, however, Sue Wright did reach the final again, losing to New Zealand’s Leilani Joyce. This time, it was to be her final appearance.

Closed

Sue Wright with 1998 National trophy

During her career, Lisa Opie also won three British National Championships (‘81, ’86 and ’87). After retiring from the sport, she was awarded an MBE in 1995 for services to squash and now works as an osteopath in West London specialising in sports injury rehabilitation.

Sue Wright also gained success in the British National Championships winning four titles (in ’92, ’97, ’98* and 2001). The latter stages of her career were plagued by viral pneumonia, which left her with ear problems preventing her from flying to tournaments held outside the United Kingdom.

*Footage from the 1998 final against Cassie Jackman is shown below.

After retiring from squash, Wright founded the Sue Wright Squash Academy establishing a National Squash League Team purely from Academy players, the first time this had been done anywhere in the UK. Amongst other commitments, she’s now a presenter, commentator and interviewer at squash tournaments for the BBC and Sky, as well as being an ambassador for the London 2012 Olympics legacy programme ‘Sport Makers’.

Serendipity

A few months ago, I got to chatting with a dance partner at a local milonga. She told me that she’d recently been having treatment for back pain from a female osteopath specialising in sports injuries.

“She used to be a squash player,” she said. “Didn’t you say you were interested in squash?”

“Yes,” I said. “What’s her name?”

“Lisa,” she said. “Lisa Opie.”

Sources

Wikipedia, YouTube and the LinkedIn profiles of Lisa Opie and Sue Wright.