To the disappointment of squash viewers everywhere, the men’s elite game has become embroiled in a growing culture of cynical play, disrespect for officials and embarrassing histrionics – and had become at risk of losing its way.
The average squash player or fan could have been forgiven for asking themselves the question: Is this a sport I can really be proud to be associated with?
But after Black Ball, thankfully, yes it is again – and this is true of both the women’s and men’s side of the draw.
Return of no-nonsense squash at Black Ball
While the women have admirably continued to play around each other, dust themselves down after collisions and acquiesce to refereeing decisions, in the men’s game, the true grit and sense of fair play that embody the sport have vanished like a mishit lob into the Nile.
So I was as heartened as anyone by the nonsense-free squash on show at the recent Black Ball Open on both sides of the draw.
After all, beginners and club players like me look to the elite game for their cues.
Black Ball was the tournament where the men’s game finally recaptured the hearts and minds of the squash-viewing public.
As ever, this was most eloquently expressed by the men’s winner himself, the regal Mohamed Elshorbagy, in his post-match interview following his victory over Tarek Momen (a game played with the utmost respect between the two players). ‘The Beast’ is now in with a chance of recapturing the world number one spot at the Canary Wharf Classic, which kicks off today.
“We haven’t had a tournament where everyone talks about just the quality of the matches and the quality of the sport, and that’s what we really want as a sport,” Elshorbagy said of the social media reaction to Black Ball (including from US number one Amanda Sobhy – see below).
“I really hope that all the players can keep playing this kind of quality.
“That’s the way the sport should be played: with respect having fun, but as competitors.”
I dont know about you guys but as a squash fan, I feel like this week produced some high quality squash… especially on the men’s side. A lot of intensely entertaining, yet free flowing squash in many of the men’s matches which was really refreshing to see🤌🏽 Good week overall!👏🏽
— Amanda Sobhy (@itssobhytime) March 7, 2023
Elshorbagy Sr provided one half of one of the game’s modern classics when he ended Diego Elias’ unbeaten 2023 run in a semi-final match that was as clean as it was completely absorbing.
The other stand-out showdown in the men’s draw was provided by Joel Makin and Marwan Elshorbagy. The duo produced five sets of warrior-like squash in a quarter-final match-up that left the crowd wanting more.
Elshorbagy Jr played through every rally, even when he could have easily elected to stop for a stroke. Makin took a racket to the eye in the fifth set and, with blood visibly gathering around his eye socket, played on. Refereeing decisions were quickly accepted by both players. Although the Welshman took it, squash was the winner.
This is what we came to watch. This is what we paid our Squash TV subscriptions to enjoy. This is what will inspire the next generation of athletes to take up the sport.
And this is what we hope to see more of over the coming six days at the Canary Wharf Classic.