Every year in the first couple of weeks in January, in case I had ever forgotten, I am reminded how much I love what I do for a living.
The venue at this time of year is Grand Central Terminal in the heart of New York City. The event is The Tournament of Champions. It is perhaps the one time each year that squash players feel like rock stars, or perhaps more appropriately, broadway stars on stage.
The Tournament of Champions is played to packed out, vociferous crowds every night and backed by the financial might of JP Morgan, no less. Proof that squash, for at least one week per year, is hitting the high notes at last.
This year this financial support enabled the prize money in the women’s event to be on par with the men’s, a first for this event.
US Squash crowds were rewarded by the somewhat surprising run of world number eight and US number one Amanda Sobhy in reaching the final of the Women’s event. In doing so, she became the first ever American player to make it further than the quarter-finals. She was certainly the first squash player making the headlines on NBC news AND the New York Times in the same week!
Signs are encouraging for the growth of the sport in the US, with major tournaments taking place in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco as well as New York.
Urban programmes, which introduce squash alongside education to underprivileged kids are commonplace nationwide, and popular now and squash is now a big sport at High School and College level, especially on the East Coast. Needless to say, if squash ever truly catches on in the States, then the ramifications for our Olympic prospects are huge.
Talking of losing finalists, I was one of them myself, falling to a 3-2 defeat against Egypt’s Mohamed Elshorbagy, but my time in New York brought about a welcome return to form after a few disappointing performances before Christmas. Maybe it was the bright lights that inspired me. It was my sixth time in the final but only on one occasion have I lifted the trophy. The fact that my first final appearance was way back in 2006 makes me proud of my longevity and gives me hope there are more titles to come.
Now I am looking forward to continuing my US road trip at the Motor City Open, which takes place in Detroit next week.