December 9-10, 2016
It had been 18 months since the DAC last hosted professional squash players. As a squash pro myself, I still get goosebumps when I watch the world’s top players in live action and I am fortunate enough to be able to get to do so 2-3 times a year. Most of the DAC members are not as lucky and many in fact have never seen a level of squash higher than that of our own club champions. So it was a genuine treat for us to be able to bring a small sampling of world class professional squash to our courts.
|Vicky Lust and Nikki Todd|
For the first time - at least since I have been at the DAC - we also invited professional women to perform for us. The female squash community is growing, we are now running a women’s only ladder with 25 players with another 5 or 6 to be added in January, and what better way to inspire that population than bring in the experts. The bar of women’s professional squash in the past couple of years has been raised significantly, as proven by the couple of players that were so kind to join us.
Nikki Todd is Canadian, lives in Toronto, and is currently world number 56. She has a permanent smile on her face and could not be a more pleasant person to be in company with. We matched her up against our 2014 and 2015 Club Champion Jed Elley on Friday for a ‘friendly’ best of 3 exhibition match just to ‘test’ out how good she really is. Understandably, Jed was nervous. The big crowd wasn’t sure what to expect, but the smiling professional woman standing on the other side of the court had it all under control. With a giggle here, a titter here, a chuckle and a chortle, Nikki demonstrated what a professional technique should look like, and systemically ran Jed around, waited patiently for his errors - and took the 2 games, never seeming to have be breathe heavily at any point which is just as well because it may have caused her to lose her grin.
Victoria (Vicky) Lust is a Brit and lives in Victoria, BC (Canada) and is currently ranked number 16 in the world. Another lass that couldn’t have a more delightful personality, but clearly a very competitive character (and fit!) as she recently came off winning a big tour event in Monte Carlo, winning 3 of those 4 matches in 5 games! We decided to match her up against Vikram Chopra - our current club champion. Once again, Vicky showed us the quality of women’s professional squash, and the class of why she is a top 20 player in the world. She took the first game and for the second, it was like, at times, a cat playing with a mouse. She kept her nose in front, let Vikram catch up, then would creep ahead again before deciding enough was enough, and swatted him away!
|Campbell Grayson (far left) and Nikki Todd (far right) with the RUD kids|
Our first men’s match was one for the ages. Diego Elias is two time world junior champion, a very rare feat that puts him on the same level as Ramy Ashour, Mohamed El Shorbagy and Marwan El Shorbagy (all of whom are in the world’s top 10). A Peruvian, Diego is currently ranked 23 in the world, but is touted be a top 10 (if not 5) sooner rather than later. In other words, he is a legend in the making. John White is already a legend, an Aussie (that represented Scotland) a former world #1, one of the hardest hitters of a squash in the history of the game, and, as he shows us this weekend, a pure comedian and entertainer. Remarkably, his racquet skills have not diminished, although his fitness levels have over the years - he is now 42. Diego and John put on a show. And they should take this show to Vegas. In fact, I told John he should do exhibition squash full time around the country. He had our audience in stitches from the first rally. Diego, at just 20 years old, complemented the performance perfectly. He played along with John’s antics like they had done this hundreds of times before, feeding off each other like an Abbot and Costello routine. But, intermixed with the amusements, the squash was also outstanding. Incredible power, retrievals, touch, and angles that our members had utterly no idea how they were executed. Diego took the match 3-1, to a standing ovation.
The second men’s match treated us to another legend of squash - David Palmer. The Australian was also former world number 1, two World titles, four British Open titles, his list of achievements go on and on. At the sprite young age of 40, he is still in phenomenal shape, and like John, his skills have hardly waned. His opponent was New Zealander, 30 year old Campbell Grayson, ranked 40 in the world. Campbell has racked up numerous tournament wins in the world tour since 2003, most recently winning in Chicago this past October. Quietly spoken, Campbell goes about his business, his squash is rock solid. It was a battle and a half between the two, a more serious tone to the match than the previous one but it still was interspersed with moments of exhibitionistic creativity. Never have I seen so many corkscrews, back-wall boasts, lob-drops in one afternoon. I am dreading my next week’s coaching schedule as I am not looking forward to being asked, “I would like to learn how to hit the ball as hard as that White fellow…”, or, “that return of serve backhand volley into the nick at 1000 miles per hour would help my game…” Oh boy. By the 5th game, Campbell was just looking like he was warming up. David was a little worse for wear, and he even though he struggled with the running, his racquet was still working just fine. But it wasn’t enough, Campbell proved too strong in the end.
|David Palmer and John White|
Our first day was complete, our member’s picking up their jaws off the floor, and we made our way to the cocktail party to let the afternoon of astonishment sink in. Many a cocktail was inhaled.
If Fridays’ matches didn’t stupefy the crowd enough, then Saturday’s matches did. The day kicked off with the White v Palmer special. Another repeat of yesterday’s production, the player’s picked up where they left off. They must have been hurting physically from the day before, but once again the standard of squash was remarkable and the quality of amusement left everybody cracking up with laughter. We could not have asked for anything more - David won the match 2-1, but I don’t think anymore was watching the score board too closely.
Next up was the women’s exhibition between Nikki and Vicky. On paper, looking at the ranking difference, one would think Vicky had this relatively comfortably. But Nikki stepped up in a big way and played some fantastic squash. Beautiful exchanges between the 2, many of our members after the match mentioned to me that they prefer watching the women to the men. The reason is simple. And no offense to the men here, but they play too fast. The average club member watch the men, are entirely blown away at what they are seeing, but can’t quite understand what they are seeing. Whereas with the women, it is a lot easier to track the footwork, the racquet work, and a lot more relatable. Not that they can do it, but they can understand it better. The men are so quick and hit it so hard, it’s impossible for most to know what on earth just happened. The ladies covered the court extremely smoothly. Vicky is awfully quick and has terrific direction-change strength. Nikki was placing the ball softly into the corners with some sublime drops and lobs, often finding the nick. A nail biter all through to the 5th game, Vicky was the one who scraped it out 12-10. Extraordinary stuff.
|John Dunwoody, Campbell, Diego, and Dave Devine|
The grand finale was all what it promised to be. Diego and Campbell went hard. It was sensational quality, at times I wasn’t sure if the two remembered that is was an exhibition. But these guys are professionals, and as we all know, squash players play for the love of the game - not money - and for pride. Campbell is incredibly steady, and that was what made the difference in a couple of the games. Diego was a little off now and then, a tiny mistake at this level is dealt with severely, punishing winners will flow if your accuracy is not up to scratch. After the first 3 games, it was Campbell up 2-1, and he did look as if it would be his day. Diego was showing a trace of frustration, he would need to dig deep if he were to take the next two. And he did. You don’t win 2 world championships without grit. Was it easy? Ha! No. We got what we wanted which was a 5th game after a brutal 4th, and the brutality continued. From here on in, I will just let you all imagine the level of squash we witnessed, as I have my thesaurus open in front of me and can’t find enough superlatives to describe the rallies. Diego’s retrieval abilities have to be witnessed rather than be described, the final shot of the match had him sprinting flat out into the back forehand corner, everyone wondering if he would even reach it, let alone hit it, but reach it he did, and then cracked a straight kill shot, a millimeter above the tin, leaving all of us - and Campbell - wondering if the laws of physics were just broken. Diego won the match 3-2. Wow. Just wow.
The weekend could not have gone better. If you missed the matches, you need to kick yourself. The success of the event could not have been achieved with help though. Our sponsors are vital, without them, we wouldn’t have this event at all:
• Greg Rivard - Detroit Etching Company
• Jeff Gembis and Nathan Marsden - Merrill Lynch
• Sean Moran -
• Brien and Greg Baker - Baker Group
• Bob Garvey
• Rami Fahkoury - Fahkoury Global
• Patrick Petz - Petz Creative
• Mike Lotito - Lotito & Innes
• Mike LoVasco - Lovasco
• DJ Boyd - Edwards Jones
• Glen Milligan -
• Jim Jenkins - Jenkins & Co
• Tom Shafer – Chemical Bank
• Ryan MacVoy – DWM Holdings
• Andy Housey
• Dave Devine
• John Dunwoody
• Shall Arora
• Julie Vande Vusse
• Jay Poplawski
• Alan Howard
• Tom MacFarlane
• Bob Burton
• Mike Counsman
• JC Tibbitts
• Tom Pierce
|Campbell Grayson, Greg Rivard (Detroit Etching), David Palmer, Nathan Marsden (Merrill Lynch), John White, Jeff Gembis (Merrill Lynch), Victoria Lust, Nikki Todd, Diego Elias|
A special shout-out to Dave Devine. His help was invaluable on this project. A terrific job emceeing for the matches, airport transportation for the players earning him the lovable nickname from John White of “Mr. Uber”, and working very diligently with help in raising the money. Thank you, sir!