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We reproduce an interview by Martin Bronstein of the new World Champion before the dream became reality…

Two weeks in 1996 transformed Jonathon Power from another North American squash player with promise into an elite member of the world’s top ten. Canada in particular had produced players who were equipped to make the grade - Dale Styner, Jamie Crombie, Sabir Butt and Gary Waite had all been shooting stars in the Northern Lights but only Waite had climbed into the top 20. Had the tall Torontonian not spread himself into three equal parts - hardball, Harvard studies and international squash - he would certainly have made the top ten. But Canada had to wait until Power finally made a total commitment to squash before they could claim a truly world class player and one, judging by the results of the last 12 months, who has both the talent and the dedication to go all the way.

But before the Tournament of Champions and German Masters when suddenly the world had to learn that he really did spell his first name with two O’s, Power could have been another precocious talent that fizzled in the reality of the pro squash circuit. It is a sad fact of sporting life that any amount of natural skill - dazzling as it may be - will achieve little without an equal measure of the hard grind of practice. And for squash, add the word fitness. Make no mistake about it, Power had a wonderful feel for the game of squash and a devious mind that could make his racket do wonderful things. “I would try anything, any shot, depending on what ego trip I was on at the time, “ says the articulate Power of his early days.

Early for him was at the age of eight when introduced to squash by his military father when the family were stationed in Prince Edward Island, one of Canada’s maritime provinces on the east coast.

His father obviously did a good job, not only on the physical side, but relating the deeds of the great Geoff Hunt who would do court sprints at the end of a match. “Naturally in my first match in an under 10 tournament - I was eight years old - I did court sprints between games. I looked like a right bastard,” he recounts between laughs.

Needless to say he won that tournament to commence a successful junior career. By the age of the 13 Power had given up ice-hockey, soccer and tennis and was committed to squash. That year he played the Drysdale Cup in England, reaching the second round before flu ruined the trip. His coaching was still paternal and it wasn’t until two years later that father thought it was time for professional help.

Former New Zealand champion Howard Broun (once described by Geoff Hunt as one of the finest shot makers he’d seen) had settled in Calgary and young Power went out to join him for his first serious coaching. This was a huge step - Calgary being further from the Maritimes than England. His schooling was in his own hands, studying alone for five hours a day and spending the rest of the time on the courts.

He continued to compete in the Drysdale Cup in London, but while his skill and laid back style caught the eye of the onlookers, Power lacked the mental strength of the European players and never fulfilled his potential in terms of winning titles.

“My first real success was in the world junior championships in Hong Kong in 1992 where I lost in the final to Juha Raumolin. My peers thought I would beat him but on paper he was favourite. My strong points at that time were my ball control and my sense for the game. I relied a lot on natural ability and never really honed my fitness or my mental toughness. Those were the components that alway let me down as a kid,” he says candidly. He doesn’t know where the shotmaking skill came from but he admits he always enjoyed making the final kill - “doing the dummy, making the other guy go the wrong way or make him look silly, that was my thing, my ego trip.”

He does know, however, quite precisely how and when he acquired mental toughness. All through his career everybody had tried to hammer into him the importance of fitness and mental strength but it wasn’t until mid-1995 that he felt he had to do something to progress. He was being coached by Mike Way in Toronto and was told bluntly it was time to grow up and work hard, that he only had one chance in a lifetime and now was the time.
“I relate to Mike pretty well, so I pulled up my socks and started to work on my fitness for the first time. Heavy work on the bike, doing sprints with Gary Waite, running and court sprints. I put my head down and treated squash like a full time job, rather than relying on my natural ability,” he recounts.

At that point he was ranked 47 in the world, but he’d been in the top 50 for for almost five years. A lack of progress up the ladder had annoyed him but he was growing up and trying to find his own niche in life. It was a precarious existence, just scratching a living with an exhibition here, a small weekend tournament there and the help his live-in girl friend. “She helped me focus my life,” he says simply.

The results of the hard summer of training in 1995 were soon evident. On the Asian circuit he was giving the like of Rodney Eyles, Paul Johnson and Mir Zaman Gul hard games. “That gave me confidence; I felt I was right in there with these guys and with a more hard work I could push through. It was nice to get almost immediate results and it gave me the motivation to continue with the disciplined training,” he remembers.  It was in the Pakistan Open that Power started to show real muscle. In the first round he beat Paul Steel in three, and in the second round faced the intimidating skill and size of Del Harris who took the first two games 15-8, 15-14. If Harris was expecting Power to run out of steam, he got a surprise. SuperCanuck Power came storming back to win the next three games 15-9, 15-6, 15-10 to earn a quarter final slot against world beater Jansher Khan.

Jonathon had even more strength in reserve; he pushed The Great One to five games losing 5-15,15-8, 4-15, 15-13, 13-15, a scoreline that few top ten players had managed against the world champion.

By January 1996 Power had jumped up to 22. (For numerologists, that's also his age). Suddenly he was pushing all the top players to five games. Losing yes, but losses that gave him enormous satisfaction. He now knew for certain that he was up there with the big boys, that his natural skill had now been blended with mental and physical toughness. Power now really believed that he could go to the top, that he could be world champion.

1996 started as a good year for Power and got better. His new-found strength was well entrenched and he was only losing to top ten players and even then, giving them a run for their money.

His trip to Minneapolis in October for the US Open started with a startling first round 3-2 victory over Brett Martin, but then disappointment, losing to Ahmed Barada 13-15 in the fifth game of their quarter final match. A week later he was in New York for the Tournament of Champions, a tournament noted for its incredible upsets of the top players. Firstly he had to deal with Zarak Jahan who, Power thinks, drilled him purposely with the ball in the third game. “ I was up 2-0 and 13-8. I took offence at his deliberate drilling. I started to lose my temper - I was right on the edge, but then gathered it pretty quick and finished him off. That hurt him more than me hitting him with the ball,” he recalls, but refuses to repeat what he said to Zarak after the match was finished.

And then the big one: Rodney Eyles in the quarter-finals, a straight games 15-7, 17-15, 15-9 victory over the world number two. “Yes, I had a game plan and it worked,” he claims. “My shots were on and I didn’t do a thing wrong. Rodney had just won the US Open and maybe he was a little bit tired. I mean you can’t get up for every match. I admit I got nervous when I was serving at match ball and when it was won I had this great sense of relief.”

Having beaten the second seed, Power was faced with fourth seed Peter Nicol, a player who is on his own winning roll and tipped by other players to soon take over the number two spot. But Power’s roll had more impetus and the Scotsman could manage just one game as the SuperCanuck won 15-4, 15-7, 13 -15 , 15-13 to get through to his first major final. Even more important was Craig Rowland’s stunning straight games win over Jansher Khan in the other semi-final. This gave Power a real chance at the title and he took it. “I feel I had the edge - I had won my previous rounds 3-0 and 3-1 and he’d had some hard matches against Brett Martin and Simon Parke. It was a nervous match and it went back and forth but I won it in five. I was ecstatic - I didn’t know how to feel, I was so shocked. Luckily I had my father and girl friend there to share it with,” he says.

A week later reality brought an end to his euphoria; regardless of his title, Power had to qualify for the German Masters with the prospect of facing Jansher in the first round proper. The Gods were looking on kindly and lo! Jansher withdrew from the tournament. SuperCanuck was cooking again taking out ‘lucky loser’ Simon Baker of Australia in three, beating sixth seeded Del Harris 3/1 in the quarters and keeping the bandwagon rolling with a straight games victory over Mark Chaloner in the semis. His opponent in the final wasn’t the expected number two seed, Rodney Eyles, but Simon Parke who had beaten Eyles in a long four game battle.

The almost unknown Jonathon Power took the German Masters title with a 3-0 victory over a tired Simon Parke. Two titles in two weeks! Look out Wayne Gretsky, there’s a new Canadian hero in town. He was able to bask in the glory until the world open in Karachi where he finally had to face Jansher in the second round. He lost in three and emerged obviously not a member of the JK fan club, feeling, as do many other players, that Jansher uses subtle interference to overcome his opponents.

“Jansher doesn’t play fair and he gets away with it because he’s very good at it. After he’s hit the ball he’s very quick to get into your path so it looks like you are making the interference. It’s a very tough thing to spot for the referees who don’t get to see the top guys week after week,” Power claims. This is not whingeing - quite the opposite; he sees it as a valuable learning experience and he can’t wait to get back on court with Jansher to try out a few strategies which he refuses to divulge.

In the meantime he will try to put some meat on his six foot frame which feathers the scales at about 155 lbs (10 1/2 stone) and thinks the extra weight will be one of the weapons in helping to overcome the world champion. He will also be doing a lot of work with a sports psychologist to beef him up mentally as well. Not that he appears to need this beefing up. He had jumped to 12 in the world by the end of last year (1996) and full expected to be in the top ten at around the number six mark at the beginning of the new year. And in a year’s time? “I hope to be top two or three. I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but that’s what I get up for every morning,” he says. But during January and February he’ll be concentrating not on tournaments (there are none) but getting his name around Canada and hoping that manager Trevor Marshall will be able to sign him to a shoe and racket contract now that he has made the top ten. As it stands he has no sponsorship other than the Cambridge Club, that classy Toronto sports club run by former Canadian squash champion, Clive Caldwell.

But as it now stands, Power could throw a mac over his shoulder, put on a snap-brim hat at a jaunty angle and sing “I did it Mike’s Way”. He would get a standing ovation anywhere in Canada and at least encouraging smiles anywhere in the world of squash.