By Kevin Klipstein
If you’ve never been to the Tournament of Champions hosted at Grand Central each of the last 13 years—you should make an effort to do so at least once. The atmosphere is truly distinct, and the competition world-class. In building on the great history of the title, and creating some of his own history, John Nimick has done a great service to the sport. The success of the event didn’t happen overnight though. Nimick, the former WPSA star, former Director of the PSA and current President of Event Engine, has been running professional tournaments profitably for the better part of two decades and this is no small task. In my view, squash is the hardest dollar to earn in professional sports—whether it’s competing on the court, or running the events themselves.
The tournament play was nothing short of extraordinary, and the final was some of the best squash I have ever seen. The match was between Ramy Ashour, the Egyptian World No. 1 and maybe the most thrilling, certainly among the most talented, player ever to watch, and James Willstrop, English World No. 7, who though he is a 6’ 3” giant, moves as fluidly as a dancer. Willstrop defeated Ashour in a 3-1 upset.
Beyond the fantastic display of athleticism, determination and sportsmanship, Willstrop’s victory speech was perhaps the most eloquent and sincere I’ve ever heard. Willstrop needed no notes to thank the many people who helped him earn the 2010 Tournament of Champions title. He started with an apology, joking that it had been some time since he had won a tournament, and he wasn’t sure when it would happen again. The theme of his comments was that his victory was not a product of a single player performing brilliantly that night, rather the product of literally two decades of hard work, and sacrifice by him, his family, and many other coaches, trainers and supporters. His victory was as much theirs. He repeated over and over, “we’ve worked so hard for this.”
While we hear this type of speech in one form or another after most competitions, they almost always seem like nothing more than platitudes. But this one was different. Perhaps it is because I really do believe that right now, earning a living in professional squash is as hard as it gets in sports, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who try. More than this though, was that you could tell he really meant what he said, and in today’s world of instant “American Idol” fame, I found it very refreshing to hear someone who, arguably on that night, was the best in the world, truly valued and appreciated the work and sacrifice of all the others who helped to get him to that point in his life.
Just about every squash player I know feels that this sport is the best, bar none. People young and old, amateur and professional, play for the love of the game and the relationships they have because of it. Maybe that’s why James has worked so hard for 20 years to achieve what he has—for the love of the game, or maybe to try to repay the people in his life for their sacrifice. It certainly isn’t for the money, and it’s not the fame. And maybe that’s why the Tournament of Champions, at Grand Central, holds such a special place in the hearts of the professionals and fans alike. For one week each year, squash takes what we believe to be its rightful place in sports, as one of the most spectacular events at one of the most visible venues in the world.