With the main hall still pasted with draw sheets, banners and court directions, the hundreds of eager squash enthusiasts’ eyes, analysing every triumph, upset and heartbreak, had been replaced by swirling memories—memories of Canada’s Squash Nationals, hosted for the first time by the newborn National Squash Academy in Toronto, Ontario.
The scene on Sunday, just one day after Shahier Razik and the NSA’s Miranda Ranieri successfully defended their National crowns, was like the O.K. Corral an hour after Wyatt Earp had cemented his place in American history. For Canadian squash this was the answer sought by every entrant, every spectator who was lucky enough to behold Canada’s first two all-glass courts and every Canadian who laces up his shoes in anticipation of the next on-court battle: the National Squash Academy is here and it’s ready to launch Canadian squash into the next decade.
As the NSA’s own Dane Sharp tussled with reigning champion Razik in the Men’s Open quarter-finals, the participants and spectators could appreciate the value of a world-class squash facility.
National-level matches were taking place on eight other glass-back courts and another all glass court—attendees felt like tennis players at a Grand Slam for the first time. If the world-class quarter-final wasn’t enough to satisfy a fan’s cravings then moseying down through the squash corridor with five-game epics on either side of the aisle surely did.
Owners Jamie Nicholls, former World #12 and Doubles World #1 Gary Waite and of course former World Champion Jonathan Power knew that the Canadian Nationals would be the first major event played in their new squash playground. They were certainly not without doubters as the club was barely off the ground, having only opened in November of 2010. However, the trio of world squash legends, and their team of squash lovers, made herculean efforts to make everything work out.
The legends were out in full force to witness what so many experts in the Canadian squash community claimed was impossible. Former champions Power, Waite and Graham Ryding were all on hand throughout the tournament to take in the spectacular squash.
Meanwhile, the female fables of Marnie Baizley and Melanie Jans were continued as the former 90s champions made solid showings with fifth and sixth place finishes respectively. Jahangir Khan, the holder of the longest win streak in squash history at 555, was even seen roaming the grounds just prior to the event.
Owner Jamie Nicholls worked closely with Canadian squash staple holds, Mark Sachvie and Rob Brooks. It was as though the all-stars of the Canadian squash scene came together to showcase just what this new National Squash Academy facility could do.
750 people came through the building during the course of the tournament, this number could easily be doubled at future events. The venue was a welcome change from the all-white clothing codes and private club vibe that has bogged down Canadian squash for decades. Nicholls, Waite and Power run the academy as they see fit and in a manner that they think will best propel Canada’s athletes towards international success.
Four of the eight men’s quarter-finalists (Andrew McDougall of Calgary, Sharp of Pickering, Tyler Hamilton of Burlington and Matt Serediak of Regina) and the top three women (champion Ranieri of Kitchener, Stephanie Edmison of Toronto and Sam Cornett of Ottawa) all train regularly at the National Squash Academy. This is within merely eight months of the first court being built.
After taking down Shawn Delierre of Montreal in a three-game final, Razik was all class in his victory speech. Like any champion he thanked those who had helped get him to the top of the mountain, tournament organizers and sponsors, and he thanked the team that has helped bring the NSA dream into a reality.
Razik, along with everyone else who attended or played in the event, got to see firsthand that the National Squash Academy is a blossoming young project with the pedigree and backing to bloom into the ultimate squash fantasy.