U.S. Open wraps up, as Olympic bid increases momentum

The 2012 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships came to a conclusion on Friday in front of a sellout crowd of almost a thousand fans who had the thrilling experience of witnessing two world champions, Nicol David and Ramy Ashour, play their hearts out to win the prestigious women’s and men’s U.S. Open title.

12 US Open Day 9d 224.JPGDespite extremely successful individual careers, including both previously having won the World Open, the highest level of professional competition – for both it was their first time winning the title of U.S. Open champion.  For Nicol, it was the only major title missing from her trophy cabinet…she had won every other professional title possible in squash.

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During their acceptance speeches, both players said that a chance at an Olympic medal would overshadow all the successes they have achieved in their careers so far.  Nicol vowed that if the current Olympic bid is successful and squash does get voted into the 2020 Olympics, she’ll be there – “even if I have to bring my walking stick!” she chuckled.

Ramy added:  “I’d swap all the trophies and all the successful things I’ve done in my life with one gold Olympic medal.  It’s the pinnacle for every athlete in the world.  I might be a little bit old, but hopefully I can make it in 2020.”

12 US Open Day 8e 450.JPG With World Squash Day coming up this week, a further global push to profile squash and the pursuit to secure a place at the 2020 Olympics, the U.S. Open was certainly an excellent lead up to highlight why our magnificent sport deserves to be there.  The U.S. Open brought together every great aspect of our sport – from the top level elite professionals, to community and grassroots participants; from fanatical followers watching the event onscreen via SquashTV, to local Philadelphian supporters joining the crowds to watch the gripping battles live from the stands; from squash enthusiasts tweeting about their favorite player’s success in the tournament from the other side of the world, to schoolchildren staring in wide-eyed, inspired wonder as they actually got to meet their squash idol in person at the event.

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Throughout the week thousands of fans from near and far walked through the doors of the host venue at Drexel University’s Daskalakis Athletic Center to experience the enthralling display of elite squash, and by all accounts it was an exceptional event.

“It’s so good to win such a big, big title – it means a lot to me,” said Ramy, “It has been a great week.  Everything has been so well organized.  Everyone has been doing their job here more than perfectly,” he added.

World #1 James Willstrop echoed the sentiments, both via Twitter during the event, as well as in an article he later penned for UK’s Yorkshire Post entitled ‘Squash is on the up in the US’.

12 US Open Day 8c 031.JPGLocal media showed significant interest in the event, with television coverage from NBC10, PHL-17 and 6abc, the Philadelphia Inquirer providing daily updates on results and matches, and feature articles by the Philadelphia Business Journal, Daily Pennsylvanian, Drexel Triangle, Daily Princetonian, The Journal News and more.  Further from home, international press coverage stretched from England, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Egypt, Mexico and Africa.  Along with excellent ongoing coverage streamed live worldwide by PSA SquashTV throughout the event, the finals were also aired live and free to viewers on ESPN3.

12 US Open Day 3c 403.JPGIn a highlight win for the United States, national wildcard Chris Gordon, world ranked #72, beat world #15 Hisham Ashour in the first round of the event.  A huge win in his career, and a significant achievement for any player to beat an opponent over fifty places ahead in world rankings, the win will go down in the books as a special moment for squash in the United States.

“I’d like to say a huge thank you to U.S. SQUASH.  I wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t for them. They gave me huge confidence by giving me a wildcard and helped me in my dream,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. Open championships, many other events occurred throughout the week in Philadelphia alongside the main tournament.

12 US Open Day 2 035.JPG The U.S. SQUASH Annual Assembly was held, bringing together members from across the country to discuss all aspects squash in the United States, as well as the Olympic bid.  The keynote presentation was made by Mike Lee OBE, who is leading the World Squash Federation’s campaign for squash’s inclusion in the Olympics.

“We have been setting out a campaign to show the way the sport has modernized, improved and innovated. We have engaged the players in presenting to the IOC, and the key thing now is maintaining momentum all the way till they take the final vote,” said Mr. Lee.

12 US Open Day 7d 057.JPG The U.S. SQUASH Hall of Fame inductees were announced in a ceremony at the U.S. Open, and Class of 2011 inductees Bob Callahan and Joyce Davenport were both formally inducted during on-court presentation.

Bob joked about why he had been given such a special honor. “I finally figured it out!  It’s because I’ve been around so long, I have dirt on every single person in squash – somebody had to come up with the award before I wrote my first book,” he laughed.

12 US Open Day 5a 356.JPG SquashSmarts facilitated a Kids’ Day, where hundreds of kids from local schools across Philadelphia got to attend the U.S. Open and meet some of their favorite players.  Additionally, an elite urban squash squad brought together 28 young players from urban programs across the nation who travelled from cities as far as San Diego, Denver, Detroit, Boston, New York, Baltimore and New Haven for the opportunity to immerse themselves in their favorite sport for the weekend.  They participated in a squash development training squad at SquashSmarts, and also received a visit and coaching from women’s world #1 Nicol David, a trip to the U.S. Open to watch some their favorite stars in action, and even a go on the U.S. Open center court.

13 year old Kevin Price was the one participant chosen to come from Detroit to represent Detroit’s Racket Up program. He had never traveled on a plane before the weekend, and along with that new thrill he also got to meet his idols Nick Matthew and Amr Shabana, and had the opportunity to play on the U.S. Open’s all-glass showcase court.

Tim Wyant, Executive Director of NUSEA, said the whole experience has been wonderful for the players.

12 US Open Day 7b 441.JPG “For us to be a part of this weekend, probably the biggest weekend in the year for squash, and for us to have the support of U.S. SQUASH and people like Nicol David is really special,” said Wyant. “This is an amazing experience for everyone involved.”

Just over 300 players participated in a Junior Championship Tour tournament at Penn University on the first weekend of the U.S. Open, allowing the nation’s most highly skilled players under 19 years old to compete with each other, and in close vicinity to the worlds best professionals in Philadelphia.  The players were able to visit the U.S. Open between their matches, to be inspired by the elite professionals who were competing nearby.

The Intercollegiate Doubles was also held at the nearby in Philadelphia during the first weekend of the U.S. Open, a national championship doubles event which included collegiate teams from across the country in men’s, women’s and mixed divisions.

12 US Open Day 8e 219.JPG Hundreds of scholar athletes, who were selected to receive the U.S. SQUASH Scholar Athlete Award for gaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher during the past school year as well as competing in a number of squash tournaments, received recognition for their achievements in front of the crowds during an on-court presentation.

Local clubs hosted qualifier matches of the U.S. Open, and groups of members then also came along together the main event together for specially catered local club nights.

All in all, the extent of participation and support for the U.S. Open was overwhelming, and the event was a success thanks to the cooperation of the hundreds and thousands involved.  In Tim Wyant’s words, it certainly was ‘squash’s biggest weekend of the year’, and everyone is already speaking with enthusiasm about the next one.

In the meantime, the Olympic bid will continue its momentum, to finally be officially announced just before next year’s U.S. Open.

A momentous global awareness activity will occur on October 20, World Squash Day, when thousands of squash clubs across the world will participate in the ‘2020 Challenge’ – holding simultaneous tournaments with 20 players a side in an attempt to create ‘the biggest squash match in history’. Tens of thousands of passionate players have signed up to be involved in the event, which is hoped to provoke extensive worldwide media coverage and heightened awareness.  If you aren’t already involved, contact your local club to find out more.

12 US Open Day 9b 193.JPG Hosting an event like the U.S. Open raises the awareness of squash both internally and externally, and brings together local, national and international supporters of our sport – from local clubs and communities, urban squash players and volunteers, and grassroots participants, to international pro competitors, worldwide fans, and global stakeholders. It provided an excellent opportunity to reflect on everything we strive to achieve – and it really did inspire a renewed appreciation and recognition of our sport and its dedicated community.  This year, it also gave us the chance to show the International Olympic Committee what its all about.

12 US Open Day 9d 026.JPG There’s no denying that Olympic efforts have been made right across the world to support the Squash 2020 bid.  Whatever the outcome, it is clear that this experience has brought out the best in our international community of over 25,000,000 dedicated squash players, hailing from 185 countries across the globe, who have banded together to support our Olympic pursuit. We have been deeply united through our passion for our beloved sport and our global quest to have it recognized on the world stage.

At best, not only have we intensified our relationships, developed an even more passionate and unified community, and generated broader awareness about our sport, but we will also have the joy and pride of witnessing our elite athletes compete beside the rest of the world’s best in 2020.