Legends roll back the years
The annual Randall & Quilter Legends of Squash tournament got under way in fine style yesterday as eight former superstars of the sport turned back the clock in a showcase of high-quality action.
Hosted by the Bermuda Squash Racquets Association, in Devonshire, and in front of a capacity crowd, the first four group matches took place, featuring players who have all reached the very highest echelons of the game in their professional careers.
In the opening encounter, Scotland’s John White, the former world No 1 and arguably the world’s hardest hitter, demonstrated his powerful style of play in overcoming fellow former world champion Jonathon Power, from Canada, 11-9, 8-11, 11-6.
“It’s always great to come back to the island and play some squash,” said White, who was clocked at 172mph during his career. “The crowd are always enthusiastic and it is always nice to be able to give back to the club for what they have done for the sport.
“Once you’re out there, it brings back old memories and it’s great to roll back the years.
“The competitive element never goes away and when the games are close you find yourself going for shots like you were 15 years ago; it’s a great time out there.
“Every time I come back, the crowd are still as enthusiastic and supportive and you can see that enjoyment from them as well.
“That has always surprised me a little that year after year that squash community still come out in force in Bermuda; it’s one of the reasons that I never hesitate to come out when I’m invited to play.”
Despite his opening defeat, Power spoke of his joy at building his longstanding affinity with the island having first featured in a tournament at the club 28 years ago.
“John and I always go back in fourth in this competition every year and it’s always fun to play against him,” said the former British Open Champion.
“It’s not as ferocious as it used to be when we playing as professionals but there is definitely still some competitiveness there for sure.
“The first time I came out for an event here was 1991 at this club, so I’ve been coming here since then.
“It’s great to see some old faces and that’s a real major part of playing squash around the world is that you have these kind of relationships and friendships.
“Some of the crowd will remember us from when we were playing at a higher level and it’s great to see them still come out in large numbers to support.
Past rivalries were resumed in a match between English compatriots and former training partners, as Peter Marshall and Simon Parke took to the court, with the former eventually prevailing in straight sets, winning, 11-5, 11-6.
“It was definitely a bit of a throwback to the old days between myself and Simon,” said former world No 2 Marshall, who is renowned for his double-handed playing style.
“We used to train together all the time so we played with each other everyday for around six or seven years. We probably haven’t played each other for about 20 years so it was great to go back in a time a bit.
“This is an exhibition event but I’m sure everyone wants to win and compete the best they can. As former professionals we are all competitive by nature and we still have that drive.
“You don’t want to embarrass yourself and so while there isn’t the pressure we used to face, you still want to put on a good show for the spectators.
“My technique is unusual, but I think it has it’s advantages. I can create a lot of deception and that is tough for anyone to face. Anything you can do to throw someone off their rhythm is always good; it’s hard to read the ball.”
There was also victory for tournament favourite David Palmer, with the double World Champion, and Commonwealth Games gold medal-winner surviving a hard-fought encounter against Wales’s David Evans to claim a 11-6, 7-11, 11-8 win.
Palmer, who has been familiar with Bermuda since first venturing to the island in the early 2000s, even living in the country at one stage during his professional career.
He spoke of the reasons behind the continued success of the tournament, which has not always had such longevity elsewhere around the world.
“Everyone loves coming here and perhaps myself more than most, it always feels like a second home to me,” he said.
“Bermuda has grown up with this era of players, so they are more familiar with the guys here than perhaps the current crop of players. That’s why I think you always see a big crowd for this event and we kept getting invited back. Most other places, an event like this might run for a year or two then faze out, but it’s remained popular here and they manage to keep reinventing it, that’s all credit to the club.
“The combination of players is really unique as well. There are players of different heights, sizes, builds and techniques, so it really shows that there are more than one way to play squash. The spectators like to see those different match ups and it makes for really interesting games.”
The first day of competition ended with a comfortable victory for world over-35 champion LJ Anjema, of Holland, who overcame England’s former world No 14 Nick Taylor in straight sets 11-4, 11-3.
The tournament resumes today with Palmer facing Marshall, White taking on Taylor, Parke meeting Evans and Anjema going head-to-head with Power.