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Is that SQUASH in Grand Central? Yep (just part of ‘squash week’ in NYC)

January 28, 2010 – 10:10 PM

Tournament of Champions in Grand Central this week

By Sarah Odell

Anyone striding through Grand Central Terminal this week could be excused for looking up from their Blackberries and iPhones and thinking they had accidentally zig-zagged west to Madison Square Garden (OK, not really, but…)

It’s not everyday that an all-glass regulation squash court with stadium seating is erected in the footpath of 150,000 commuters. I’m talking about the annual Tournament of Champions, a mega event featuring 32 of the world’s top squash players – along with a constellation of non-pro events, including the GrandOpen, which I played in last weekend as part of “Squash Week.”

As someone who has watched and played squash in 90-plus degree heat in Israel, on grungy college courts, at some of the most elite clubs in Greenwich, CT, Philadelphia, PA, there is something truly exhilarating about seeing squash in Grand Central. It’s just different to see the game in Vanderbilt Hall, an elegant space with 48-foot ceilings and chandeliers, with views on all sides and the sound of New York traffic about twenty feet from the court.

The story at this year ‘s Grand Open, hosted by the Metropolitan Squash Rackets Association (MSRA) and played at the Harvard Club, Princeton Club, Yale Club, Sports Club LA and New York Sports Club Uptown (and drew 200 players from across the US!)  —  was women.

Twenty percent more female players showed up to play this year, said Jessica Green, MSRA co-chair. The numbers, said Emily Steiff, a former collegiate player from Connecticut College who helped organize the Grand, spurred organizers to add flights. While the MSRA originally planned flights for female players – at 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 levels , heavy demand drove them to add play for  4.5 and 5.5 players.

“The growth in women’s squash in New York has been phenomenal,” said Green. In the last five years, she said, the MSRA has added eight women’s league teams (including a new 5.0 division), led clinics and round robins serving hundreds of players.

“New players are entering at the beginner and novice levels, women are returning after taking breaks for work and family, and players are continuing to play competitively post-college — all good news for the growth of the sport,” says Green, who said they saw a 20 percent growth in female entrants this year.

And the quality has been strong. “We were thrilled to see 16-year old Amanda Sobhy take third place in the men’s 6.0 draw.” Sobhy, who is ranked 55th on the WISPA tour, entered in the highest men’s division. Her result is proof that the women are getting stronger, even at the local level, and becoming a force to be reckoned with.

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