evolved into a legend gradually, Jonathon Power burst upon the world scene.
It was the late ’90s and suddenly he was beating everybody and the
superlatives were flying. Even the top players were singing his praises –
not a common occurrence – in particular extolling his skill and his reading
of the game. It was the latter that made him one of the fastest men on the
court. He read his opponents so well that he was on his way before the ball
had left their racket.
Jonathon Power was special because he allied his speed of
mind with a unique intelligence. This was reflected in his wit and his
wickedly funny repartee, as well as his movement and his racket work.
On occasions his speed was staggering. There were times
when he knew where the ball was going, knew that his opponent would be in
the way and was appealing and giving his reasons to the referee before the
ball had bounced. Very few referees had the mental resources to keep up with
him. It is worth noting that in all his legendary debates with referees, he
invariably argued the decision and hardly ever descended to rudeness.
He could hit the ball more ways than any other player. He
understood the value of a severely cut ball. He invented the backhand
crosscourt that bounced three times before it got to the short line; it
caught even the top players a yard short. And there were other shots that
defied description. Power loved the triple feint, in which his flashing
racket approached the ball from three different angles before making
contact, making it impossible to read.
An attempt to define what produced a Jonathon Power from
the wilds of Canada must take into account his solitude.
“I left home when I was 14 for squash and moved to the
city, where I rented an apartment. So I grew up on my own. I learned to make
my own meals and go to school and the squash club afterwards. I was the only
kid in grade nine who had his own apartment ...” Power leaves the full
implication of that teenage fantasy unspoken.
Within two years he was a member of the PSA and was
playing 20 tournaments a year. A major part of this lifestyle was solitude,
traveling alone, staying in hotel rooms, filling many hours a day between
matches. In talking about his attitude to life he admits: “I was trapped in
the long, boring and lonely existence on the Tour.”
And where did the flair come from?
“I have always been a huge sports fan and I always liked
the show act and being able to do the trick that the other guy couldn’t do
which made all the other kids in the junior tournaments talk about it. That
ego type of thing – that’s the fun thing in sport. The ability came as a
result of spending a lot of time on court by myself. That’s one of things I
like about squash: it’s one of the few sports that you can get better at by
yourself. You can go and play by yourself while the other guy is sleeping –
and get better. So it was a lot of time by myself on court fooling around
with the ball and the racket.”
When Power retired, he paid fulsome tribute to five people: his parents,
his wife Sita, Graham Ryding and coach Mike Way. It was father John who was
probably the most important in contributing to Jonathon’s success. It would
be wrong to conclude that from the age of 14 the son was on his own. His
father had arranged for the move to the city, had rented the apartment where
his son learnt about salads, sex and solitude, and always made sure there
were coaches in place.
It was John Power, squash coach at Dartford University,
who came up with a unique marketing ploy: he sold shares in Jonathon Power.
“My Dad sold me off as a kind of stock. Ten guys all put
in around a thousand bucks so they all owned a piece of me for ten years.
With that money, I had my first successful year. They all took a piece of my
sponsorship money and tournament winnings. It was a pretty interesting thing
to do but I needed that money at that time. And they made ten times their
money back, easily.
“I was 21 and languishing but suddenly I had shareholders
to answer to. I responded well to it,” he says with his usual frankness.
But, being Jonathon Power, he cannot resist adding a punch line: “I am now
the full owner of Jonathon Power … but my wife wouldn’t agree with that!”
Shareholders or not, Power was always his own man and did
things his own way. In spite of his insistence that squash was his whole
life from the age of 14, he was far from single minded. When his reputation
as a party animal comes up, he responds coolly.
“I had to get a handle on being young and traveling
around the world and having total freedom. I had to get a perspective. I was
interested in a lot of different things and meeting new people. I was having
fun rather than concentrating on squash. But that was in my early years –
late teenage. I threw myself into things and felt my way around. Made
mistakes, learnt from them, moved on. I kept trying to evolve. And never to
Power evolved but he did get pigeon-holed: as this
uniquely charismatic sportsman. In the late ’90s Power exploded to the top
of the sport, stunning everybody with his brilliance. As world champion he
gave Canadians another world-beater alongside all-time hockey great Wayne
Gretsky. Power was now front page news and was being given the media
treatment usually reserved for pop stars and actors.
NORTH AMERICAN HERO
The Canadian was then embraced by the USA, where they had played
hardball until 1994 and were now in the slow process of playing soft ball
catch-up – there wasn’t an American player in the world top 50.
The whole of North America claimed Power as one of their
own, and wherever he played on the burgeoning North American circuit, he
attracted full houses. Power could do no wrong and this was demonstrated in
one of his final appearances, at the Pace Canadian Classic in January 2006.
Power had reached the final after a hard semi-final and
when his back went into spasms, a recurring ailment of his, he was unable to
offer more than one game’s resistance against Amr Shabana. There was a
packed house – 750 spectators – in the John Bassett Theatre, some of whom
had paid $150 for a ticket for a final that lasted 31 minutes. Power was
acutely aware of the disappointment of the ticket holders and went centre
stage and told the audience that if he earned the same sort of money as a
tennis player, he would give them all their money back. Only Jonathon Power
could have said that – and meant it – and as one the audience gave him a
Being a national hero and bearer of North American hopes
is a lot of pressure to put on one man. Power says he never allowed it to
get to him.
“I wanted to represent myself and always tried to keep
things light with myself. Pressure is something you put on yourself, so you
can try to avoid it. Pressure will get to you at different stages in your
career but you can’t let it consume you,” he claims.
His manner and personality rubbed many people the wrong way and there
was constant criticism of some of his on-court behavior – and some openly
antagonistic referees. Power would shrug this off; he had the sense to wipe
his mind clean after any altercation or bad decision. He also claims that
the criticism did not aversely affect him.
“There’s nothing I could do about it. I only ever did
anything by feeling and reacting to situations. That was me being me – I
never wanted to harness it. I was comfortable with being me.”
Veteran Power watchers know this to be true. Power
reacted to adulation and antagonism in the best possible way: he ignored it
– or at least smiled at it as though it were some enjoyable gag. He had come
too far and had too many setbacks to be told what to do or how to do it. He
did it his way and gladly took the consequences.
He says he has no regrets and that he was able to retire when he did because
he had achieved all his goals.
“I could not have retired otherwise. I’d achieved
everything I wanted to – all the dreams I had as a kid and every tournament
out there I had won. There was nothing left for me to prove on the pro
circuit. I had to prove to myself that I could be consistent over a year and
get back to number one even though I was getting older.”
He did that in 2005 with five major titles: the Apawamis
Open, PSA Masters, Super Series Finals, Motor City Open and Saudi
International. The most noticeable was the PSA Masters win in Bermuda when,
for once, it wasn’t the Canadian magician on the court but a very patient
Power who rarely put a foot wrong, outlasting three younger opponents in
three five-game marathons before demolishing Lee Beachill in the final. It
was a stunning performance for a player of his age and one that was
completely out of character.
Later in the year he put in other fine performances, ending the year on
a high note by beating Anthony Ricketts in the final in Saudi Arabia, a
victory that put him back onto the number one spot in January of this year.
It was the sort of scenario that only Jonathon Power could mastermind,
another saga to add to the book of Power legends, a book that has come to
He is now faced with the minutiae of a normal life, living mostly in his
house in Montreal with his wife, a life without hotels and airports, without
tournaments, without constant training. A life without injury and pain. He
will have to learn to drive a car to start with. He wants to learn to swim
and learn Spanish because he and his wife enjoy Mexico and he wants to speak
the language to help develop squash in Latin America.
It is impossible to predict the impact Jonathon Power
will have on the game in South America; indeed it is difficult to judge just
how big an effect he has had on the growth of squash in North America, let
alone to assess the true value of his contribution to the game worldwide.
There may have been – and possibly will be – greater players within the four
walls of a squash court, but it will be a long time before this sport is
fortunate enough to have another player whose personality bursts through the
walls with such an impact as to create a legend to match that of Jonathon