The Great White in Drexel

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It may not have been the result the crowd wanted, when Saurav Ghosal, the top seed in the qualifying competition, won his first round match last night.

That’s because the speedy Indian number one was playing Drexel’s own John White, the former world number one who retired from the tour a few years ago to take up coaching in the US, but thanks to his style, personality, and awesome hitting power – he still holds the squash ‘Speed Record’ at 172mph – is still one of the biggest draws around, whether it be in Legends tournaments or his occasional PSA forays like yesterday.

Now 38, White spent four years as head coach of Franklin and Marshall College before taking up the position at Drexel on 1st July this year.

“I arrived at a great time, just as the University were completing a deal with US Squash to host the US Open for three years,” he explained.

“So I’ve been involved with this tournament from the day I started, with US Squash, the Faculty, the Volunteers, the local community, making sure that everyone is on board, knows what it’s all about, and geared up to make it a big success.

“As soon as the event’s over the College Squash season begins, and this will be Drexel’s first year at Varsity level. Coming here was a great opportunity for me to build a program from scratch, rather than stepping into someone else’s boots.

“It’s going to be a learning season – when I first came it was a case of asking around if anyone had played squash before, and if they said yes they were on the team!

“We’ll be starting at the bottom with the Boys ranked #40 and the Girls at #36, so we can’t put expectations high, the only aim is to get a season under our belts and hopefully get some “W”s recorded but that’s not the important thing.

“In season #2 we’ll be running a full schedule and may be looking at recruiting once we’ve established ourselves as a squash-playing College.”

Naturally many of the team were out as “Great White” supporters last night, and responsible for the frequent “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” calls – although they did forget to add the “oi, oi, oi” at the end.

“We made sure all the team members, boys and girls, we on the volunteer list for the US Open,” added White. “They didn’t take any persuasion and hopefully they’ll learn a lot just from being around the world’s best players over the next week.”

It’s a pity they won’t have John himself to support on court, but his off court presence will definitely be a big factor in this tournament.

Don’t try this at home

One thing, kids – don’t try to emulate one of the things the master did last night on court – in the middle of the second game Saurav hit a ball wide of White’s racket. John followed the ball, and facing the back wall shaped up to deliver one of his fearsome strikes.

Everyone in the audience shrunk into their seats, while Saurav did his best to curl up into a ball, a look of horror on his face. WHAAAAAAAAACK, came the sound as John hammered the ball with full 172mph venom.

“I thought I was dead,” said Saurav afterwards.

And so he would have been had the ball hit him, But by the time Saurav turned round, John had caught the ball, which he had smacked directly into the side wall, perfectly safely, and in a gentle, enquiring voice, said “Let, please?”.

Cue relief and laughter, but, like we say, don’t try it at home, please, there’s only one person who can get away with that … the Great White.