By ALAN THATCHER
9th - Finals Day
Wow! What a way to finish the week. Two
great athletes, showing total commitment, incredible skill, phenomenal
retrieving powers and a pure passion for the game, delighted a
full-house crowd at the Broadgate Arena.
Peter Nicol and Simon Parke produced a final of absolutely
stunning quality. The world number one from Scotland squeezed home 15-12
in the fifth after an hour and 46 minutes on court and gasped:
"That was one of the toughest matches I've played in years."
Value for Money?
Organisers were concerned that the semi-final programme served up the
previous evening, with Jonathon Power conceding after one game against
Nicol and Parke demolishing Ahmed Barada in straight games, might not
have delivered full value for money.
But there were no such worries in this all-British final as two totally
committed players provided squash of the highest calibre for a
full-house audience in the Broadgate marquee.
Nicol triumphed 13-15, 15-9, 15-12, 12-15, 15-12 to retain his Super
Series title in a classic encounter that lasted one hour and 46 minutes.
The watching Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey MP, was mightily impressed
and was seen giving Parke a gentle, consoling hug during the
Nicol favourite, but ...
World champion Nicol began the final as clear favourite, with an 11-1
PSA career record against the Nottingham-based Yorkshireman. But Parke
has been in top form all week in London, demonstrating a spectacular
style of court coverage that has had the crowds gasping in admiration.
He was in confident mood and matched fire with fire. Both players
adopted similar tactics, attempting to work each other deep before
trying to take advantage of the cool conditions which favoured
Parke took the opening game on a questionable stroke decision, but Nicol
produced almost flawless squash to win the next two. At 2-1 up he looked
in supreme control, but Parke is a ferocious competitor and will chase
down every single ball.
Playing to the Gallery
The crowd were loving every minute and willed him to win the fourth game
to take the match the full distance. Their wishes were granted and the
score see-sawed throughout a spectacular final game until it was evenly
poised at 10-10. After more than an hour and a half, the squash,
and the punishing movement, was of the same quality as the opening game.
But this was where Nicol's vast experience paid off and he maintained
his flowing rhythm and deadly accuracy right to the end, finishing the
match with a rapier-like crosscourt that Parke couldn't reach.
It was clear that these two players have the ultimate respect for each
other's abilities and Nicol said afterwards: "It was a great final
and an honour to play in a match of that quality. Simon is a great
competitor and one of the toughest opponents in the game so naturally I
was pleased to come through in the end.
"Simon was in great form. He has improved so much and seems
to be playing the best squash of his life. I knew I had to really dig in
to stay in front. At 10-all in the fifth it was anyone's match. I'm
really glad to have won.
"We have both been playing well all week so it was always likely to
be a match that went the full distance. Now I am sure we are both
looking forward to a well-earned summer holiday after that battle."
Parke, who lost to Jansher Khan in the 1998 final, was given a huge
ovation as he collected his runner's up prize. "I fought like
a dog, but so did Peter. It was a great match and Peter showed his
quality right there at the end. I am pleased to have got so close to
him, and that kind of performance just makes me want to work harder to
make sure I beat him next time."
Nicol was full of praise for promoter Satinder Bajwa and his tournament
team. The London-based Scot added: "This event gets better every
year," he said. "There are too many people to mention but
special thanks must go to our title sponsors, Equitable Life, and our
presenting sponsors, British Land. And all the players have enjoyed
staying at the Great Eastern Hotel. It's one of the best hotels we have
ever stayed at on the tour."
It was indeed. Like the Broadgate Arena, it was a quality setting for a
Squash certainly put on a good show for the Minister for Sport, Kate
Hoey MP, and Baj's headline sponsors. But finals day had begun
ominously with another massive downpour at the Broadgate Arena as I
watched Peter Nicol training on court with practice partner Peter
Fortunately the clouds drifted away and, by the time the Minister
arrived, the Arena was bathed in sunshine and a juggler was entertaining
the crowds as they flocked in towards the marquee. Unlike the Millennium
Dome, there were no leaks in the roof.
During interviews the Minister expressed her surprise that squash was
not already an Olympic sport, given the global spread of the game. She
admitted that she was more a tennis player in her youth, but said she
was delighted that British players were doing so well in squash.
She certainly enjoyed the evening, and was not afraid to put a consoling
arm around Simon's waist during the prizegiving. We all know what squash
shirts are like at the end of a match!
She asked Baj to invite her again next year, which confirms the success
of the whole show.
NEW BALLS, PLEASE ...
The PSA and Dunlop were pleased with the reception of the new,
bigger ball, which showed up clearly on television.
Canadian TV producer John Delierre was also a happy man. He loved the
venue, and was knocked out by the quality of the squash, which came
across well on camera. I look forward to seeing the rushes.
Jean's ambition in life is to persuade the big American and Canadian
networks that squash CAN translate its spectacular court-craft to the
small screen. With this week's footage from London, following on from
rave reviews of his work at the Tournament of Champions in New York, he
thinks he's cracked it. He funded his own
production expenses to film in London all week and we wish him well in
Thanks to all the players, coaches and scribes who joined in the
commentary team, especially Martin Heath, who had to limp out of the
action on day one but stayed to the bitter end with a microphone in his
Chatting to his dad, Ted, it's easy to see where Martin gets his looks
- and his appetite for life.
Martin was able to discard his crutches after a day or so and he hopes
to be back on court within a fortnight.
ROOM SERVICE ...
The players loved their stay at the Great Eastern Hotel, where
everything, from the mineral water upwards, has the Conran design seal
of approval. Rooms kicked off at £300 a night, and Hilly was delighted
to be upgraded to a massive suite on Friday night, his 31st birthday.
Whether he ever got back there to sleep is debatable, having left the
finals night banquet to join up with the rest of the gang on Tony Hands'
stag night attack on the West End, joined by Essex boys Chris Walker and
I was pleased to pass on a birthday email from Hilly's folks Down Under.
I would have happily taken over his suite for the night ... but had to
be on court coaching in Maidstone at 9a.m. Saturday!
Friday's final was a classic piece of inspiration for any coach.
If anyone knows how to coach the Jonathon Power "helicopter"
shot, please get in touch!
ALWAYS A PLEASURE ...
Finally, a few more thank-you's. To Baj and his band of helpers for
putting on a great show in a superb setting, to the team at WSM, and to
the players for delivering quality entertainment at a time of year when
they would rather have been on a beach somewhere ... which is exactly
where Alex Gough was when he got the call to replace Martin Heath! We're
looking forward to next year's event already ...
Alan commentates for the video
the moment of victory
Nicol holds the trophy again
Baj with Parke
Parke with Kate Hoey
Don't miss the Video
8th - Day Four
WELL, it's an all-British final in the Equitable Life Super Series after
Jonathon Power limped out of the tournament against Scotland's Peter
Nicol, and Egyptian Ahmed Barada had no answer to an incredible
onslaught from England No.1 Simon Parke.
Power was obviously in discomfort because of the knee injury he suffered
against Parke the previous evening, and his movement was clearly
restricted as he lost the opening game 15-5.
The great Canadian showman was bending his leg after every other rally
and it came as no great surprise when he shook Nicol's hand at the end
of the game and limped off court.
The result was a reversal of fortunes in the British Open final in
Aberdeen in December, when Nicol collapsed with food poisoning and was
unable to continue after two games.
BARADA GUNNED DOWN (by Parke)
Power will be unable to contest the third-fourth play-off with Barada,
who was simply outgunned by Parke's incredible movement, energy and
appetite for the game. If you want to see great movement in this sport,
then just watch Parke's incredible court coverage at the Broadgate
He chased down every ball and returned even Barada's best shots with
interest. Nicol did the same thing to him on the previous evening, but
at least Barada had the satisfaction of taking the world champion to
Here, Parke looked like he was on a diet of rocket-fuel as he motored
round the court, boasting balls of the back wall and then haring forward
to cover the drop. Even when he was wrong-footed, with Barada often
delaying his shots early on, showing the drop and then hitting to
length, Parke recovered brilliantly.
Don't get me wrong. Barada did not play badly. It was simply that Parke
was in an incredible mind-zone, able to answer all of Barada's best
shots with even better ones of his own.
It promises to be a fascinating final, featuring the two best retrievers
in the game, so it promises to be a long affair for a sellout crowd.
ALL HANDS TO THE DECK
With the third place play-off cancelled, Baj has cobbled together a
warm-up doubles exhibition featuring the four musketeers Hill, Gough,
Johnson and Evans, the last four remaining fit bodies the organisers
could rustle up. At the time of writing it was not clear who will
be partnering whom, and it probably won't be much clearer during
I offered to partner Squash Player Editor Ian McKenzie, but he declined
the offer after watching me surrender my Square Mile over-25 (shouldn't
that be 45, Ed?) title to Steve Hutson on the Perspex court at
AND FINALLY ...
Good news from Martin Heath. The foot he injured on day one is getting
better every day and it looks like he will be back on court inside a
fortnight instead of the initial two-month prognosis.
Nice to meet PSA chairman Jack Herrick at the Broadgate. Charming,
civilised and a waspish sense of humour. You'd never guess he was a
Sports Journalist, Tournament Promoter and TV commentator is on the
spot at the Broadgate Arena, and here he presents his diary of the
tuned for match updates followed by Alan's summary of each day and
preview of the following day's action ...
The spirit of doubles - this was in Aberdeen
7th - Day Three
Emergency Ward Ten
The marquee inside the Broadgate Arena has been renamed Emergency Ward
Ten after another night of drama, fun, thrills, spills, cuts and
Canada's world number two Jonathon Power limped out of his Harrow Group
qualifier with Simon Parke after injuring a knee. Having already
qualified for the semi-finals, Power forfeited the match, while trailing
2-1 in games, to make sure his body was in prime condition for tonight's
battle with his great rival Peter Nicol.
Power had already crashed into the sidewall of the court after chasing
one particular shot in vain. Everyone held their breath, wondering how
this massive frame would hold up after such a collision, but the court
Nicol himself took a treatment break after being whacked in the face
with Ahmed Barada's racket during the final Fleet Group qualifier. Peter
had a little nick close to his eye, and let that particular game drift
by, but he came back on court to hit plenty of nicks of his own to beat
the Egyptian 15-11 in the fifth.
Nicol's mastery of this game is nothing short of amazing. Sure, he
looked like he was suffering a couple of tired spells, but time after
time he was digging out Barada's best shots. Even the tightest of drops,
clinging to the side wall, or buried in the nick, were returned with
interest. It must have been pretty demoralising for the Egyptian, but he
won't be losing too much sleep over it. He's back in action, back among
the bustle of the PSA squash family, and contesting a major semi-final.
Welcome back Barada
The players had all expressed their sympathy at the the abominable
circumstances surrounding his injury, and they were delighted to welcome
him to London when they got together on Monday morning, but, after that,
it's down to business. And that's where the sympathy ends. Barada is
getting just the right physical and mental workout he needs after such a
long break from the game.
Clearly his movement and sheer passion for the game have not been
diminished by his injury and it promises to be a full-blooded battle
The first two matches on court were dead rubbers, and spectators were
treated to two hugely enjoyable exhibition matches. Londoner Paul
Johnson helped swell the crowd by inviting a busload of mates, who
seemed perplexed at their hero's lack of movement during the first game,
won comfortably by Evans. It had nothing to do with any injury worries,
but everything to do with a late night out with Martin Heath.
Luckily Johnson needed only that one game to shake off the cobwebs and
his followers cheered as he and Evans exchanged trick shots, banter and
points. Johnson moved 2-1 ahead and the match appeared to be heading the
full distance as Evans led 9-3 in the fourth, but Johnson clawed back
the deficit to hold match ball at 14-13. Evans levelled, Johnson called
set one, and took it 15-14 after a ferocious rally.
Anthony Hill and Alex Gough also entertained the crowd with another
vaudeville show that went to Gough in straight games. At one stage Hill
was playing ping-pong with the crowd. He hit the ball out, someone threw
it back, Hill flicked it back into the audience, and so on. It's not
squash as we know it, but the crowd loved it.
No jazz band to stop play tonight, there was sunshine instead of
showers, and the players were able to hit the ball to a comfortable
length instead of being forced to adopt the big hack in the cold
conditions of Monday and Tuesday.
Looking to the Final ...
Peter Nicol's London fan club will be out in force to see him in action
against Power, who is confident of being fit to face the man whose
British Open title he took away when the world champion fell ill in his
home town of Aberdeen in December.
Power said: "I came off court as a precaution. My knee just seized
up. I don't know why. But I just hope it will be OK for the
English hopes rest with Simon Parke, a finalist in 1998 when he lost to
Jansher Khan at Hatfield. That was Jansher's fourth Super Series title.
He may have gone, but his coach and manager, Satinder Bajwa, is still
here, running the show with his own unique brand of charm and calm.
He's running a great show here, and my only advice would be to check the
local wine bars to see if any jazz bands are booked in for Friday night.
There again, maybe Baj might welcome a few volunteers to assist in his
research. Where's Heath and PJ?
Johnson's in the Bar already
6th - Day Two
at the Broadgate Arena
Squash and all that
SPORT is often prone to interruptions because of the weather.
Cricket matches are frequently delayed because of rain and bad light.
Wimbledon rarely enjoys a fortnight without losing a day or two to
summer downpours, forcing fans trapped inside Centre Court to be
subjected to Cliff Richard singing all the songs we'd love to forget.
Well, squash recorded a unique interruption when Jazz Stopped Play
during the Equitable Life Super Series finals at London's Broadgate
Simon Parke and David Evans were locked in mortal combat in their Harrow
group match inside the Broadgate marquee when a jazz band suddenly
struck up outside.
Apparently the band had been hired to play at a private party going on
at one of the many cafe bars springing up in this new-look corner of the
It was good quality jazz, and clearly agreeable to most people, although
it was obviously distracting both players, Parke especially. They came
off for a five-minute break while tournament organisers pleaded with the
party planners to reduce the volume. Someone suggested that they play
some music to entertain the crowd during the break.
Parke seemed to benefit most from the breather. He had been run ragged
by Evans in the opening game, hurtling from corner to corner to retrieve
the ball as Evans dictated play. But eventually Parke wore down
his opponent and squeezed home a 3-2 winner, 15-11 in the fifth, in just
under two hours. It was a hard-earned win for Parkie against one of his
most difficult opponents.
Flamin' June again ...
At one stage during the game, spectators queuing outside were forced to
dash inside the marquee for cover as a violent rainstorm unleashed its
wrath on the city. The roof shuddered as the rain belted down, but
fortunately there were no leaks in the temporary structure housed on
Broadgate's ice rink.
There were further distractions as the jazz band's volume crept up
again, to be replaced later on by the obligatory multi-decibel disco.
Helicopters often flew overhead as London's top tycoons made their way
home after a stressful day with the bead counters, but none of these
distractions could compare with the volume of Anthony Hill's debates
with the referee and marker as he lost in straight games to Ahmed Barada.
Welcome back Ahmed, says Hilly ...
Barada was clearly pleased at being back on court, and smiled
indulgently through most of the match as Hilly self-destructed. Barada
has enjoyed a comfortable return to the sport after that horrific
stabbing in Cairo, and to reach the semi-finals (albeit thanks mainly to
Martin Heath's foot injury on Monday) is probably more than he could
have hoped for.
As Barada changed his shirt after his match against Hill, I caught a
glimpse of the two vivid scars on his back. Not a pretty sight. But
Barada is a brave and honourable young man, and we wish him well as he
returns to the comfort of the familiar surroundings of the squash court.
In tonight's final Fleet Group match he faces defending champion Peter
Nicol in a repeat of last year's final, not to mention a re-run of the
World Open on Barada's home court in front of the Great Pyramids.
Top two looking cool ...
Nicol was a little off-guard as he dropped the first game against Alex
Gough, the replacement for the unfortunate Heath. Gough, had flown back
from a surfing holiday in the south of France and found the cool
conditions to his liking as he chipped and chopped the ball around the
front court. But Nicol stepped up a gear to dominate proceedings from
then on. Business as usual.
Nicol's great rival, Jonathon Power, had earlier surrendered a
game to Paul Johnson. Power squeezed home 15-14 in the opening game,
calling "set one" at 14-all and hammering PJ's serve straight
into the nick.
Power looked comfortably in control of the second game but stepped off
the gas in the third as Johnson won 15-8. But back came Power to take
the fourth 15-6.
The Apres-Squash ...
Once the squash was over, it was off to try to gatecrash the party ...
Full marks to Martin Heath for staying on in London to join me in the TV
commentary team, although I had to carry him up the stairs to get to our
Martin reports that he will be out of action for six to eight weeks
after damaging the underneath of his foot. Any squash player who
has suffered a similar injury will know how he feels.
Martin is in debate with the organisers about his tournament fees. As
someone who knows about these things, I think he should receive his full
entitlement (in other words, the prize money for finishing eighth) with
a contingency fund in place to pay for his replacement.
I'll leave that one to Martin, Baj and Gawain Briars.
The arena was still only half full on Tuesday but ticket sales are
looking good for the rest of the week.
Apologies for a late posting of today's Diary, due to a power-cut
back home in Kent.
Good job there's a roof!
Monday 5th -
It's like a war zone out there ... no, my colleague in the Press Room
and TV commentary box, Martin Bronstein, was not referring to the
Dunkirk anniversary, but to the proliferation of injuries to leading
squash players in major tournaments.
First of all, Jonathon Power keels over in the World Open in Egypt, then
Martin Heath has a heart flutter in Boston ... then Peter Nicol goes
down with food poisoning in Aberdeen, then Paul Price ricks his back in
Antwerp ... then Ahmed Barada quits in the same tournament after a
painful jab in a toe ... then comes the horrifying news of Barada being
stabbed outside his own house in Cairo.
Tonight Martin Heath welcomed Barada back on court in the Super Series
finals for the Egyptian' first match since the stabbing ... only for the
super Scot to limp off in the second game with a foot injury.
He was taken to Whitechapel Hospital (now known as Jock The Ripper
territory) for treatment and wisely decided not to continue with the
Hopefully, Martin will not fly straight back to Scotland but will summon
the energy to hobble up the bleachers to join me in our back-row TV
Revving the event up ...
A distinguished gallery of guest presenters joined me there this
evening: WISPA chief Andrew Shelley, Peter Nicol's coach Neil Harvey,
the aforementioned Mr Bronstein, and event promoter Satinda Bajwa, who
has done a great job and revved the whole thing up a notch or three this
The marquee now has a see-through side-panel so that passers-by can ogle
the action from the balcony next to the Corney and Barrow wine bar (also
known as the Press annex) ...
It is certainly one of the more civilised viewing areas in squash ...
although it would be unfair of me to reveal the names of the players who
were quietly hammering back the complimentary red wine, ice-cool beer
(in frosted glasses...n-ice touch), gently washed down with Jack Daniels
chasers ... hmmm, this is my kind of tournament.
Shame I had to drive home ... I just love Diet Coke ...
Bad Hair Days?
The day kicked off with a Press Conference at the Great Eastern Hotel,
where Baj, PSA chief Gawain Briars and the new event compere Sarah
Burrell (from Anglia TV) introduced the players to a pretty good media
It was wonderful to welcome back Ahmed Barada, but much more fun to
welcome Jonathon Power's new hairdo.
He either spent a fortune at some posh West End salon, or got it done on
the cheap at Sainsbury's Meat Counter. It's difficult to describe, but I
would just say it's like a fluffy, grunge-type Harpo Marx thing that
would sit more comfortably on a South Downs sheep...
Sitting comfortably on a South Downs sheep is a practice more commonly
popular among our Welsh and Australian guests, who obviously share an
affinity with our woolly-backed friends.
In a unique twist, Baj decided to honour the players by presenting them
with special commemorative trophies before whacking a single ball in
The players seemed to struggle a bit with the experimental bigger white
ball (6per cent larger apparently) on a cold court. As Andrew Shelley
said; It may be flamin' June, but it's flamin' cold June.
Peter Nicol didn't take too long to go over the Hill; Martin Heath was
looking good until his foot injury against an understandably hesitant
Barada; the longest match of the night was always going to be the
all-British affair between Parky and PJ ... while an athletic,
fresh-out-of the blocks Jonathon Power (has he been training?) warmed up
the cool arena with a magical array of improvised strokes against the
brave David Evans.
The Curse of ...
David is making his first appearance at the Super Series and is
obviously suffering from the Curse Of Bronstein, who tipped him to win
on some God-fearing Yankee squash website.
Somehow, during our commentary, Martin managed to introduce Gilbert and
Sullivan into the conversation. I replied that they were a bloody good
doubles team, but, as they always said, a squash referee's lot is not
always a happy one ...
That's enough for tonight, folks. See you tomorrow. Reserve my usual
table in the corner please, waiter ...
Something's in the Air ...
But, before I go: Now here's a thing ... Friday night is party night at
the event ... it's also Anthony Hills' birthday ... AND Sarah's ...
same day, same month, same year ... back in '69. Hmmm ... could be some
party ... especially as security staff have been placed on the lookout
for an itinerant band of PSA gatecrashers all on Tony Hands' stag
Memo to Sarah: Grab the train back to Norwich on Friday ... or
lock that hotel door.
Memo to me: get some sleep. You're on court Thursday in the Square Mile
Must get a hit tomorrow (today) with my old sparring partner, Steve
"Snapper" Line. Hope you can provide balls 6 per cent larger
than normal ...
Salon or Sainsbury's ???
Ice-Skating weather at Broadgate