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By ALAN THATCHER
Friday 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 presentations.

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 front-court accuracy.

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 quality event.

YES PLEASE, MINISTER...
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 Genever.

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 his endeavours.

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 hand.

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 Del Harris.

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


Thursday 8th - Day Four  

ALL-BRITISH FINAL
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 Arena.

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 five.

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 the match.

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 lunchtime.

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 lawyer!
 

 

Alan Thatcher,
Sports Journalist, Tournament Promoter and TV commentator is on the spot at the Broadgate Arena, and here he presents his diary of the tournament.

 

Stay 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

 

     
Wednesday 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 bruises.

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 was fine.

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 with Parke.

Exhibition time
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 semi-finals."

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

     
Tuesday 6th - Day Two
at the Broadgate Arena
 
 
Squash and all that jazz ...
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 Arena.

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 city.

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 seats.

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.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathon Power
Jonathon Power

 

 


Good job there's a roof!

 

Monday 5th - Day One

2a.m. latest...
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 tournament.

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 commentary position.

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 year.

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 turn-out.

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 anger.

Flamin' June
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, toned-up,
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 night ...

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 final.

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 ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power's new hair-do ...
Salon or Sainsbury's ???

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ice-Skating weather at Broadgate