By Jack Farley
This year saw another incredible success for what has become one of the premier squash events in all of North America. The Greenwich North American Open/Harrow Greenwich Open (NAO/HGO), a tri-club tournament with roots dating back to 1931, held its Main Draw events Jan. 22-24, 2010 in Greenwich (CT).
This tri-club tournament brings together a unique combination of the world’s top men and women professionals in cooperation with U.S. SQUASH in what amounts to a significant purse for the pros while at the same time raising a significant amount for the recently formed NAO/HGO Scholarship Fund.
Early in the week saw intense Qualifying Rounds, attracting crowd-pleasing local talent that included Suzie Pierrepont, Lily Lorentzen, and John McAtee. And the Main Draw also had popular local talent that included Steve Scharff, Joe Pentland and Erick Vlcek.
This year the tournament basked in some “politically correct” happenings when several of the organizers earned on-court recognition starting with Icy Frantz who won the Mixed Pro-Am. In addition to her husband being a State Senator, she serves on the US Squash Board and she was one of the tournament Chairs! No… it was not a fix… Icy’s partner played exceptionally well…whoops…did we really say that?
Another “politically correct” Pro-Am winner was Chris Willis. His company Impala Asset Management was a lead Sponsor (along with Harrow and Chilton Investment). During the awards presentation Chris smiled graciously as he reflected on his two week victory swing playing in back to back tournaments on the GCC courts (two weeks earlier he won the GCC member guest playing with Ted Murphy, a Welcome Dinner sponsor).
Complimenting the participatory fun of the Pro-Am’s was the skillful and ever breathtaking play of the world’s top professionals starting with the men’s ISDA doubles where Damien Mudge/Viktor Berg returned to the victory lane after a one year absence. The audience were treated to a five-game match as Mudge/Berg were up 2-0 and folks were putting their coats on—only to find John Russell/Preston Quick come storming back with some spectacular play by Russell as he repeatedly hit un-gettable reverse corners. But, in the end…the power of Mudge keeping the opponents on their heels and the always spectacularly entertaining play of Viktor Berg won out in the fifth by a close score of 15-12.
On the women’s side, the WISPA singles finals had the added attraction of WISPA president Natalie Grainger and WISPA Chair Ingrid Lofdahl-Bentzer sitting front row—putting the two finalists, Alison Waters and Omneya Abdel Kawy, on notice to perform well. And they did! The game score of 3-0 does not reflect how close the match was. Every game saw the lead change back and forth. But, the experience and steadiness of Alison Waters proved to be the margin of victory. The packed crowd gave them a spontaneous standing ovation as the ultimate recognition of their masterful play.
And what a joy it is for all of squash enthusiasts to continue to find that our professionals are so “reachable.” Indeed, the pros in this tournament were fully cooperative about the fireside chat, playing back to back matches between Pro-Am and Main Draw, and were always approachable throughout the tournament. What other sport can say that about their pros?
To add to everyone’s enjoyment throughout the week, there was a Welcome dinner the eve before the Main Draw, and the social highlight was a Saturday evening gala of cocktails, dinner and dancing.
During the cocktail hour, lead Chair David King presented a plaque to Honorary Chair Ed Harding who in turn spoke briefly and eloquently about how much squash has meant to him throughout his 75+ years. Ed included a wonderful reference to his own attempt to win the NAO doubles tournament in 1972 when he and his partner, Roger Wales, lost in five to tournament winners Tom Poor and Anil Nayar.
Another nice touch to the cocktail hour was to have Benjamin Uwadinobi, one of the CitySquash students, display his off-court talent as he played the piano beautifully to the delight of all. This was followed by No. 1 tournament seed Paul Price showing his off-court talent as band leader! All in all, this year’s NAO/HGO was a carefully organized mix of on-court and off-court talent…with a bit of political correctness tossed in.