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Tales from Toronto

Globe and Mail Reports


Power & Nicol - opposites attract

Power's temper chills with age
Power scores painful win

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Toronto Canada's star squash player Jonathon Power hobbled to victory last night at the $75,000 YMG Capital Canadian Squash Classic, finally grinding out a win over his nemesis, Peter Nicol of England, who was also suffering.

It seemed as if the winner of the event would be the last guy left standing. Power was steaming his way to certain victory in front of a sellout home crowd at BCE Place, before he wrenched his ankle in a freak misstep.

Power, 28, who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Montreal, had to be carried off the court, but returned 35 minutes later to defeat Nicol 15-8, 15-3, 16-17 and 15-7.

Now Power and Nicol are even. They've met 32 times and each has 16 wins. Last night, both were fighting painful injuries to their right ankles. That's tough for a right-handed player, such as Power.

It was amazing that Nicol showed up at all. He wrenched his ankle 1 weeks ago, was on crutches last week, but still came to Toronto. He admitted that during the second game, when Power blasted him 15-3, he was playing on only one leg.

It was the battle of the walking wounded. Only three weeks before the $150,000 World Open in Antwerp, Belgium, the top two players in the world are nursing gimpy ankles. Nicol has been the world's No. 1 player for 43 months out of the past five years, with Power snatching the spot from him occasionally.

Last night, Power was blasting along in the first two games, dominating Nicol, refusing to let up on him even though it was clear the Scottish-born player was troubled. Then disaster struck in the third game. Power made a lunge to return a shot, but his right foot landed on Nicol's foot, slid off sideways, and threw him off balance and seriously twisted his right ankle.

Power lay writhing on the floor while Nicol and the crowd watched in stunned amazement. The Canadian player was treated on court, before he was carried off to an athletes area.

Power was lucky. Dr. Peter Bletcher said the Canadian did not tear any ligaments in the ankle, and there was no internal bleeding. The ankle was solidly taped. Bletcher urged him to continue. Although Power had an hour to return to the court, he was back much sooner.

"It wasn't too bad," Power said. "I was moving all right, once I got comfortable on it. The beginning was a little tough, but I didn't want to give it to him. I was playing so well today, and he didn't deserve it. And I just wanted to go for it, hard, get back out there and win the match."

At every point, Power said he kept saying to himself, "Don't think about it. Don't think about it. No excuses. No excuses."

Even after he returned to the court, Power spent a lot of time scrambling around on the injured ankle, slipping and sliding and ending up on his back with his feet in the air. The audience cringed every time this happened.

"It's a sealed floor, so the sweat sits on the top," Power said. "Sometimes at a lunge, you'd slip."

Before Power's fall, he had been keying on on Nicol's problems. "I knew he was having trouble changing directions," Power said. "That was my strategy, to flick him [from side to side] and he got tired in the fourth. He wasn't getting those cross-court shots anymore."

As for Nicol, he said his injury occurred when he went over on his ankle a week ago Tuesday. "I was on crutches until Thursday afternoon, and then I flew on Friday morning."

He said the organizers, who knew of his problem, helped him all they could. "I arrived at 10 on Friday evening, and I met them at the clinic at 11:30. Three of them came in to see me and gave me an hour's treatment. And that happened Friday, Saturday, Sunday and every night and day during the tournament. Without their help, I wouldn't have been able to even play, never mind getting to the final."

He said he was fine on Wednesday, but "it's always difficult playing Jonathon. He's so much faster-paced than anyone else, and he moves and he twists and he turns you. And you can't play him on one leg."
Power overcomes stumble
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Toronto Jonathon Power thrives on pressure. He creates it, especially for others. He thumbs his nose at it.

But last night, at the YMG Capital Canadian Squash Classic, Power was the one who was under pressure. He grimaced. He bellowed. He seemed all out of sorts. And the crowd was strangely hushed when Power lost the first game of his quarter-final, 15-11, to 30-year-old Mark Chaloner of Britain, who is ranked ninth in the world.

Like an old wagon rumbling up a stony hill, Power won the next three games 15-7, 15-12 and 15-11 for victory over Chaloner, setting up a semi-final match against Joseph Kneipp of Australia tonight. But it wasn't an easy win, taking 86 minutes.

Drained afterward, Power could only say initially that "it was all right. I won, so that's all that matters."

Power said he felt "a little stale and flat" last night, and it was easy to tell. "I was trying to pump myself up . . . " he said, perhaps referring to a moment in the fourth game when he tossed his racquet and received a warning for his conduct.

"I didn't feel like I had my normal speed and intensity, so I was maybe trying to force that intensity a little bit," Power said, adding that he felt a few lapses of concentration. "[Chaloner] was playing pretty well, moving on the ball very quickly."

Once Power found his footing and his rhythm midway through the second game, he stopped being so aggressive. He turned more patient, and found opportunities better. "I think I just moved him around a little bit more, and I got him on the wrong end of a few rallies where I was in the middle [of the court] and he was doing most of the running," Power said. "Near the end of every game, he was getting tired, so I was able to get those run of points right at the end. I thought he was slowing down."

Power's difficulties weren't the only surprise last night. John White, the No. 5-ranked Australian who plays for Scotland, was ousted by Kneipp, who is ranked 13th.

Kneipp upset No. 6 Lee Beachill of England, earlier in the week. He had never played Beachill before.

Kneipp said he hasn't played Power in three years, but defeated Power in three games during the last match. "That was a joy," Kneipp said. "I've been looking forward to playing Jonathon for ages. Unfortunately, I haven't been getting through to the late rounds."

But the focus will be on Power, 28, a native of Comox, B.C., who grew up in Toronto. "I like the attention." The Canadian Classic, with $75,000 in prize money, is the tenth largest squash tournament on the Professional Squash Association tour.

"Week after week, I have a lot of ups and downs," Power said. "But when the time is right to win, I'm usually pretty competitive."

Power is taking aim at No. 1 Peter Nicol of Britain, who defeated him last year at this event. Th final is tomorrow at BCE Place.

Power triumphed over Nicol in their first five matches earlier this season. One of them was at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, where Nicol was under great pressure to win. By the time Nicol won the doubles title, he had played 14 matches in 11 days. Then he played in Hong Kong and at the U.S. Open. After 2 months of intense competition, Nicol said he had enough. He took a vacation, and has returned at the top of his game.

Power has been one of the world's best players for the past five years, often trading places with Nicol at the top, but his unpredictable behaviour on the court and his well-known jousts with referees have made him a very visible figure in squash.

"Nothing is premeditated in anything I do," said Power, who has been known to lie down on the court and toss his racquet to protest a call. He lost a quarter-final match to White at the recent Qatar Open after a tussle with a referee.

"I just sort of roll with how things are going, in every situation," Power said.

But he said he would rather see high-level former players, rather than recreational players, become referees. "They just don't understand the game at this speed and at this level and it's very difficult to judge," Power said. "This is not like tennis, where you call the ball in or out and you just need a pair of eyes to see it.

"You have to be able to anticipate and predict what is going to happen on the court. So if there is interference, you have to be able to tell that guy he's not fast enough to get to the ball. I think you really need somebody that you respect, like a peer, or an ex-player who has that knowledge . . . rather than some guy who just plays twice a week."

Power said he could never be a referee. "There's not a little bit of policeman in me."
Nicol overruns Ryding

's Globe and Mail

TORONTO -- The world's No. 1 squash player, Peter Nicol of England, knew it would be tough playing Graham Ryding of Toronto on home ground last night at the $75,000 YMG Capital Canadian Classic.

Ryding pushed Nicol, making him run to the front of the court. Ryding gave a gritty, determined effort, but Nicol won 15-12, 11-15, 15-13, 15-8.

In the first game, Ryding matched Nicol point for point. In the second game, Ryding was behind 9-4 but came back to win.

"I felt good the first two games," Ryding said afterward. "But I lost my concentration a little bit in the third. I thought after the second game, I was really in there with a good shot to win. But he upped the pace. He played like the fast-paced Peter Nicol I know."

Nicol injured an ankle about 1 weeks ago, and in the first couple of games looked a little tentative. Ryding took advantage of it, forcing him to play at the front of the court, beating him on tricky corner shots, and shots close to the wall.

Ryding said his strategy was to break up the pace, to foul up Nicol, who tends to play quickly. Ryding tried to play aggressively on some points, then slow down on others, "to take his [Nicol's] rhythm away."

Two years ago, Nicol played Ryding, who is ranked No. 23 in the world, and he was hard-pressed to hold him off. Ryding won one match from him, and after 1 hours, Nicol finally had his victory.

Nicol, who has been on top of the squash world for 43 months, has had some of his most dramatic matches against Canadian star Jonathon Power. Nicol, the defending champion in the YMG Capital Classic, has the edge on the unpredictable Power, going 16-15 against him. Although Ryding is ranked No. 2 in Canada, Nicol fears him, too.

"He plays a different game and has a different style from Power," Nicol said yesterday. "Graham steps forward and uses a different type of deception. Everyone says [Power] is very deceptive, but if you actually break his game down, he plays an incredible lot at the back [of the court]. He generally hits the same shots, but he just does it very well . . . Watching him, you might not agree with that, but I've played with him a lot, and you're stuck in the back corners a remarkable amount.

"Graham will flick the ball a little bit more. He'll do a little bit more with the ball."

Power calls Ryding one of his most fearsome opponents. He should know better than anyone, having played the Winnipeg-born Ryding since both were teenagers.

"He has a very good counterattack," Power said of Ryding. "He's a dangerous player, because on his day, he can beat some of the guys in the top five in the world."

The trouble is, Ryding doesn't always play at his highest level, riding a bit of a roller coaster. That's easy to do in squash, where the loss of a moment of mental focus can turn a score around completely. "His game can go really high, but he can have some bad losses also," Power said. "He's been playing really well lately."

Ryding has never defeated Power as a pro player, although he defeated him several times when they were juniors. "We've had some good games . . . a couple of five gamers," Power said. "He's come close, but not yet. I hope I can hold him off. I'm sure we'll still be going at it when we're 40."

Nicol is fresh off a win at the Qatar Open, where Power was defeated in a semi-final. Power returned to Canada six days ago, taking two days to get home, with a stopover in London, England. "It took a while to get over the jet lag," Power said. On Sunday night, he finally got a full night's sleep.

Nicol started playing tennis at a club when he was a youngster, but the club set up a squash court and he became addicted. "What better?" he said. "The ball kept coming back continuously. Tennis bored me by the sheer fact that I had to keep picking the balls up and trying again."



The YMG Classic is the only major professional softball event in Canada, but the media are gradually beginning to take an interest in the game, largely thanks to the achievements and charisma of Jonathon Power. Grapevine's Canadian correspondent, Ryan Barnett, emails the following despatch:

The hype has already started here in Canada for the YMG Classic, with an interesting interview published in the Canadian Press on the Power-Nicol rivalry. If Peter can't go because of his ankle and, with David Palmer sitting this one out, Power will never have a better opportunity to retake the title.


Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power are always working toward the same goal - to be the best squash player in the world. But the two men couldn't be more different.

Power is notorious for being outspoken and opinionated and for throwing temper tantrums on the court. He's emotional to say the least. Nicol, on the other hand, is more reserved and soft-spoken.

"Everything in life, we couldn't be farther apart," Power said Thursday from his home in Montreal. "At the same time, we've managed to arrive at the same goal but we've done it completely different ways with different philosophies. It just proves my theory that there's more than one way to do anything."

In July, Power scored a big victory when he beat his English rival in the Commonwealth Games final in Manchester, England. The victory tied the career record between the two at 15 wins apiece. But Nicol made it 16-15 when he beat Power at the Hong Kong Open in August. Power, who was battling back spasms at the time, wasn't happy.

The two have a chance to meet again at the $75,000 YMG Capital Classic in Toronto. It's the only professional squash tournament played in Canada, making it a major event on Power's calendar.

"It's one of the biggest tournaments of the year and that's how I treat it," said Power, who lived in Toronto for 12 years before moving to Montreal. "I'm feeling in good shape, so I'm pretty excited to play him (Nicol)."

After taking Nicol down on his home court, the 28-year-old Power would relish the chance to do the same on his own turf. And Power wouldn't mind capturing the No.1 ranking that Nicol currently holds. Power, who is No.2, hasn't been in that top spot all year.

I'd like to get back there by the end of the year because I haven't been No.1 yet this year," he said. After the win in Manchester, Power thought he had a shot at passing Nicol, but he's "messed up" the last few tournaments he's played in, preventing him from getting there.

But Power admits that being ranked No. 1 isn't always the best place to be. "When I get up there I like to celebrate that I'm there rather than keep working and stay there," he said. "That's just one of the things that makes me different from him (Nicol)."

Nicol, Power says, is content to work hard to keep that No. 1 spot while the Canadian is less likely to stay focused when there's nothing to shoot for. Their styles of play are so drastically different. Power plays an aggressive game, constantly attacking his opponent and trying to open the game up. Nicol, on the other hand, plays a more calculated game, keeping the rallies going for as long as possible in order to wear down his opponent.

"We're like the St. Louis Rams and the Baltimore Ravens," said Power. "I'm all offence and he's all defence."

So, does Power ever get tired of always having to worry about Nicol? The answer is yes and no. "It's one of those things, you love it and you hate it," said Power. "It just depends on the day. When you win, you love it, when you lose, you hate it."

While he doesn't plan on retiring any time soon, Power is already planning for his future. He recently launched his own line of shoes and clothing. He designed the shoes himself and has been wearing them in competition for the past few months. Part of his motivation for coming up with the new product line was style -or lack of it.

"I just felt it was kind of a bland sport," he said. "I think through footwear and clothing, I felt I could make a more youthful image and help make squash a cooler sport in North America."

With the Commonwealth Games medal already under his belt, Power is looking ahead to next summer's Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic. "I'm pumped up for that. I like multi-sport games," he said.

But without Nicol in the field, Power sees fellow Canadian Graham Ryding as his biggest competition. The two are the best of friends. Ryding was the best man at Power's wedding. But there's no love between them when they're on the court.

"We grew up together," said Power. "But we're fierce competitors."

Power's temper
chills a little with age

From the Toronto Globe and Mail

TORONTO -- Jonathon Power made his name as a brat in squash, but the label doesn't fit quite so well now that he's logged 12 years on the world professional circuit. 
"At 28, I'm not the little brat any more, just a sour old man," Power said in an interview this week before he headed to Toronto for the third annual YMG Capital Canadian Classic. The tournament, which runs Sunday through Thursday at BCE Place, features four of the world's top-five ranked players, including Power, of Montreal, who is No. 2. His perennial nemesis, Peter Nicol of England, is ranked No. 1, and is the tournament's defending champion.
"My temper's been good lately as I get older," Power said. "Squash fosters a lot of interaction with the ref. There's always going to be some histrionics when I play, otherwise there's no drama out there. It'd be a boring sport."

It hasn't been boring for Power this season. He finished ahead of Nicol in five consecutive tournaments, including the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, where the old rivals battled for the gold medal. Aside from that win, Power had victories in the Tournament of Champions in New York, the Pakistan Open, the Professional Squash Association Masters Tournament and the Canadian nationals. 
His winning streak was stopped at the Cathay Pacific Open in Hong Kong in September, where Nicol prevailed in a 109-minute marathon. Both men lost early in the U.S. Open. Then Power went on to the $200,000 (U.S.) Qatar Open, where he fell to John White of Scotland in the quarter-final, after a run-in with a referee. White, ranked No. 5 in the world, will be another of the title contenders in Toronto. He's one of the few players who can match Power's fast pace during a prolonged match.
White is an Australian who emigrated to Scotland to play there. He said he feels there is better sponsorship and opportunities for support in Scotland. Yet Nicol abandoned his native Scotland to play for England, citing precisely the same reason -- better support than at home.
It's draining to follow the tour to its far-flung corners, Power said, but he gears up for Toronto. A native of Comox, B.C., Power grew up in Toronto.
"Toronto's a huge event for me, one of my major events of the year," Power said. "I won it the first year and lost out to Peter last year. I don't get much of a chance to play in front of a Canadian crowd.
"In Toronto, the squash community is fairly large. Over 100,000 people play and know who I am, so all the people who come out I will feel I've known since I was eight years old and started playing tournaments. I could probably name 70 per cent of the people there."
That makes Toronto a stop with more pleasure than pressure, even though Power is the home favourite. "I've won world titles and been ranked No. 1 before, and sometimes it's hard to keep getting charged up. But it's easier here in front of family and friends than arriving tired in Pakistan or Qatar and trying to light a fire under myself.
"I used to love jumping on that plane and flying around the world. First crossed the country from PEI to Winnipeg travelling by myself when I was eight. Travel was a big draw for me early on."
Power is not so weary of travel that he is contemplating walking out of the glass cube court forever. He has stayed relatively free of injuries this season, "and if you stay physically well, you can do it over 30. It's a matter of getting mentally up."
After the Toronto event, he will end his season with the World Open, from Dec. 6 to 14 in Antwerp, Belgium.

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