Can a guy from Melbourne have a fun day watching an international squash tournament in Hong Kong? I decided to find out.
I got a ticket to semi final day of the Hong Kong Squash Open 2017 – my first encounter with squash since I wandered past two guys having a hit at my brothers gym in 1993. I was underwhelmed then and when I saw the ‘tournament office’ in Hong Kong, history seemed certain to repeat. Then I heard one of the players warming up…
The main arena (admittedly a basketball court) looked impressive with the court lit up. Like an art installation. By the time the first game started, it was a full house, apart from the first 3 rows that had obviously been reserved for foreign dignitaries with a limited interest in International Squash.
World number one Nour El Sherbini and English woman Laura Massaro came onto the court to warm up and immediately started rapidly volleying the ball against like a Rocky working a speedbag in the gym. It was impressive. One thing to note about watching a squash match though is there is a lot of warming up. Before the game, between sets, after your opponent changes a racquet… According to my brother in law, if it’s too cold, it doesn’t bounce properly, so they’re constantly working on ‘getting it up to temperature’. I didn’t mind though, I was awe struck just watching how hard they hit it the whole time.
When the game started the women revealed their full repetoire of shots. The down the line shot that stays so close to the edge of the glass you can’t get a swing at it. The shot that lands in the back corner and leaves you totally disorientated. The sneaky drop shot that makes you scramble forward. Playing El Sherbini or Massaro wouldn’t be much fun. If you didn’t end up with a broken ankle, you’d almost certainly end up with a broken racquet from swinging so close to the glass all the time.
And the spectators enjoy the same trappings of any other sports fan. Elite athletes performing at an incredibly high standard. There’s beer… Well we had to go down two flights of stairs to a kiosk to get it but on the way back I did bump into to world number 3 Raneem El Welily and wished her luck for her semi final match. You don’t get to do that at the Aus Open.
And you can boo the referee which surprisingly I found myself doing in the second match. The irony of someone with zero knowledge of a sport booing a fully accredited official wasn’t lost on me but somehow I couldn’t resist.
Squash needs more sponsors though. With four of the six semi finalists speaking to their coaches on the phone during their breaks, there’s clearly not enough money to fly the coaches to Hong Kong so they’re watching from home. And there’s not enough money for towels either it seems. Instead, squash players drag their hands down the glass to dry them off after a strenuous point. It looked like the women were re enacting Kate Winslet’s car sex scene with Leo from Titanic. I feel for the window cleaner at the Hong Kong Squash Centre but it was marvellous theatre. (The ball boys at the Australian Open should run out a car window between points instead of a towel).
If you get a chance to see these international squash stars in the flesh, don’t miss it and bring your IPhone. You can even join the press gaggle after the game.
Would you dry your hands on the glass playing squash? Leave a comment below…