If you’ve passed through Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall recently, you may have noticed a gorgeous glass box that closely resembles the Fifth Avenue Apple store on a much smaller scale. But instead of electronics, the state-of-the-art glass structure houses a squash court that will be home to the the annual J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions (ToC).
The tournament, which has become a major event on the competitive squash calendar, runs from January 16 through 23 and will attract more than 200,000 spectators, making it the largest squash spectator event in the world.
“While the beautiful Beaux Arts architecture, symmetrical nature of the room and lighting offers a breathtaking environment, the location allows the ToC to present a full arena venue,” explains John Nimick, ToC’s founder and director.
This year’s tournament will showcase familiar faces and top talent like Egypt’s Mohamed El Shorbagy, the number one ranked men’s player in the world, and Nicol David, the number one Malaysian player in the Women’s World Tour for the past eight years.
Why is squash such a great sport for professionals and enthusiasts alike? Nimick explains: “Players appreciate the combination of athleticism and cerebral cunning that the game requires, along with the fact that it is the best workout that you can get in 45 minutes.”
In the U.S., squash is about 1/20th the size of tennis, which is mostly due to limited access to courts. But there is growth and momentum in cities around the globe. Ashley Bernhard, director of the Women’s Squash Association board and former professional player, sees the greatest growth in the junior squash division: “Junior participation in squash is exploding, up 400 percent in the last five years,” she explains. Nimick concurs, “At events like the ToC, we are working on making squash relevant to the young demographic, stressing its health benefits, mental challenges and social nature.”
David is also excited about the increase of women in the sport. “It has been incredibly encouraging to see more young women become involved. It is especially meaningful to me that in Malaysia, my home country, the majority of new squash juniors are girls.”
But who will the pros be watching? For Nimick, the joy of the tournament is in the discovery of who’s next. “The Egyptians have brought such an attacking style and athletic flair to the game in the last 15 years that you cannot help but want to see what they’ll do next,” he says.
Bernhard is always excited to see David play. “It is always an incredible treat to watch Nicol David but I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the younger players who are nipping at her heels, like her fellow Malaysian countrywoman Low Wee Wern.”
Who does David, who’s playing against Rachael Grinham in her first round match, have her eye on? “There are some young players from Egypt coming up the ranks and we may even see some of them coming through the qualifying rounds.”
Stay tuned to see who squashes the competition this year.
Photographs by SquashPics.com