By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
An overlooked sport that is seeking to gain more popularity held the biggest event of its sports year in Bellevue last week.
The men’s squash World Championships came to the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Wash., from Nov. 11-22. The world championships brought the best in men’s professional squash to the area.
The game is played in an enclosed court with the players using all four walls they are in to hit a hollow rubber ball with squash racquets. The players must alternate in striking the ball with their racquet and hit the ball onto the playable surface of the walls of the enclosure. A player serves to start a rally and it continues until the ball is out or a player fails to hit the ball before it has bounced twice.
The game originated in England in the 1830s. The game did not catch on in North America until the 1880s and it was not until 1904 that there was an association of squash players formed.
The World Championships coming to Bellevue was due in part to the work of Shabana Khan. It was Khan who submitted the bid to host the event in Bellevue. Khan was a former member of the national team. Khan’s family has been heavily involved in the sport for years. Khan’s father, Yusef, has been a part of the squash community in the area since arriving from India in 1968.
Last year’s World Championships were held in Qatar last year. Ramy Ashour, the 2014 champion, came to Bellevue to defend his crown. Ashour fell short of his defense as France’s Gregory Caultier earned the title and the first-place prize of $325,000. Gaultier defeated Omar Masaad of Egypt in the championship match.
The event was held on the first floor of the Meydenbauer Center. A portion of the huge first floor of the convention center was sectioned off for the event. Vendors selling squash racquets and shoes were there for sport enthusiasts as they walked inside to the court. Unlike most squash courts found at gyms, this one had a wall with three transparent walls for the fans to watch. Since this was the World Championship, there were corporate sponsors that adorned the court. The most recognizable was communications company Skype. Microsoft also had a presence at the event hyping its new cloud-based business analytics service, Microsoft Power BI. The tie-in with the event was that the application provided real-time stats of squash players as they played in an exhibition. It also provided “live bracket visualization” for fans to follow results and pairings as the tournament progressed.
The sport of squash is gaining a foothold in popularity. The three countries in which the sport is growing are the United States, Egypt, and England. The highest ranked player from an Asian country was Max Lee from Hong Kong. The 27-year-old is said to have a body made for squash: fast, fit and thin. However, Lee was only able to make it through Round 1 of the World Championships at the Meydenbauer Center.
Although not at the world championships, Hong Kong has another great squash player in 5-foot-5 Leo Au. The 25-year-old is on the ascent in the sport as he recently beat a former number one player in the world to make it into the top 30 rankings.
In addition, India and Pakistan are two countries with a huge following in the sport.
On the women’s side, Nicol Ann David from Malaysia is the number two ranked women’s squash player in the world. The 32-year-old is an eight-time world champion.
Locally, the Seattle Athletic Club, Washington Athletic Club, Pro Sports Club and several YMCAs across the Puget Sound are among the places you can find squash courts. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.