The 2017 NASH Cup is in the books! 55 players from 18 countries did battle over 6 days at the London Squash & Fitness Club in front of sold out crowds and a record global online audience. Stunning upsets defined the middle of each draw, while the top seeds marched to world class men’s and women’s finals on Saturday night.
The fall of 2008 was a less than ideal time to launch any event, much less one whose supporters included sponsors from the financial sector. But here we are, 10 years later, and founding sponsors NASH Family Wealth Management; Dynamic Funds ; Renaissance Investments ; NASH Jewellers , and Sleeman Brewery continue to help push the event to new heights. What started as a modest $5K USD men’s purse has grown to a $15K USD men’s and $15K USD women’s purse – the largest combined purse in Canada for 2017.
Work on the tournament begins each October. This is a volunteer effort, and it’s vital that major tasks be completed over extended periods of time. Many of the current NASH Cup Committee have been involved from the very beginning when a group of London Squash members, none of whom had ever been to a PSA event, sat around a board room table and discussed what it should mean when a professional athlete arrives at our club.
The professional draws last week were the best we have ever seen. The men’s included 14 top 100 ranked athletes and the women’s included 17. The depth of player was significantly higher than a $15K USD purse would normally draw, and was a direct reflection of the reputation the NASH Cup has built over the past decade. It’s very possible that these will prove to be the most competitive $15K purses anywhere in the world this year.
Professional athletes began arriving four days prior to competition from all corners of the world. For those traveling from Australia; New Zealand; Malaysia and Pakistan the trip took over a full day. For many they were coming to this city and tournament for the first time. 23 players were “rookies” this year. They came largely because of what they had heard about it from others. They arrived by plane, train, bus and car and were met by eager billets and volunteers lead by Trevor Tyson and Phill Stables. They were greeted, for the 10th consecutive year, by beautiful weather and unseasonably warm temperature. They arrived in city bursting with life where the school year was just beginning and the night life was vibrant.
The week officially began with an open house gathering on Sunday afternoon hosted by NASH Family Wealth Management and supported by Sleeman Brewery. This unique gathering of players, sponsors, and volunteers provided a venue to celebrate 10 years of excitement before getting down to the business on Monday.
Monday night was the first time in NASH Cup history that 16 matches were to take place in a single day, and it went off without a hitch. The competitive field included many top local players (including Western’s Matt Henderson – pictured) and the first appearance of 16 year old Charlotte Orcutt of Toronto at a PSA event. London is one of very few venues where the opening round, currently referred to as the qualifier round, draws a full crowd. The London squash community has caught on that anything can happen in the first round, and it’s the place where local heroes are born. The opening night crowd, and the excitement it brings, built a great foundation for the week ahead.
Tuesday night tends to bring some emotional matches and significant upsets as the remaining 8 players in the qualifier draw fight for one of four spaces with the top 12 players Wednesday night. In the women’s draw 7TH seeded Anna Kimberley of England beat 4th seed Reyna Pacheco of the USA 3-0. In the mens’ draw unseeded Shahjahan Khan of Pakistan beat 3rd seed Juan Camilo Vargas of Colombia 3-1. Tuesday night ended with the remaining four men and women having their names drawn and assigned to main draw slots. After fighting to reach this point in the tournament a professional’s hopes for further advancement literally come down to the ‘luck of the draw’ as they risk of having to face one of the top seeds.
On Wednesday the main draw began. The women’s was full of surprises with the 4th; 5th and 7th seeded players falling. Nikki Todd of Canada (pictured) beat 4th seeded Nada Abbas of Egypt 3-2 and would eventually find herself as the sole Canadian in the semi-finals. The men’s side saw the 4th and 6th seeds taken down by local favourites Jan Van Den Herrewegen of Belgium and Canada’s Nick Sachvie.
London Squash & Fitness’ seating space behind the main court is limited to about 80 seats and, as previously noted, these spaces are in high demand. The viewing space includes a balcony with about 20 seats that functions as the events hospitality suite and is officially sponsored by Pat Levac and MTE Consultants. The seats in this space rarely change hands. While the viewing angle is from above the court, the experience is closest one can get to standing on the court. At one point during the week a player’s racquet bounced off the ground and up into the balcony, quite a surprise for those who were watching.
This limited spectator space makes our online presence very important, and a big thank you goes out to all of those who make it happen. Bill Fitzpatrick of Polymath Interactive; Kim and Wayne Atkinson of Ontario SEO; and Grant Beamish of Mesh Integrated Communications have worked together for many years now providing our web site; live streaming and digital marketing. A team of volunteers including Monika Savage, Mark McLean, Sujai Shah; Julia and Adelaide Nash made sure the live scoring was maintained throughout the event. Each day the NASH Cup published summaries and results with guest writers Amit Shah; Derek Moore; Jayden Shortt; Rob Dorherty and the unique stylings of “Stingray” (a sample of which can be found here). The live streaming of 2017 matches was watched by 13,000 unique devices in 65 countries. Those wishing to review all the online activity, or keep up with planning for 2018 can visit Facebook; Twitter; Instagram and www.nashcup.com .
Thursday marked the end of unseasonably warm weather, and the start of an outright heat wave in London Ontario. It would be the first of 6 consecutive temperature records to fall. A hot court means a hot squash ball. Many players had to adjust their game to deal with a ball that just wouldn’t stay down. The evening quickly fell behind schedule with the opening women’s matches both going five games. Fans also witnessed their first full wardrobe change between games during an 84 minute marathon match between Engand’s Nathan Lake and Jan Van Den Herrewegen.
Players making it to the quarter finals were provided with a little extra in the way of a pearl necklace from NASH Jewellers (pictured). The NASH Cup purse was originally set to be $10K for the women, but some last minute support from the PSA and Mackenzie Investments allowed the event to be run with equal prize money for the first time.
Thursday also featured the annual club Barbeque; Doubles Calcutta and, for the first time, an exhibition match at Maple City Squash in Chatham. Professionals Shawn Delierre; Charles Sharpes; Hollie Naughton and Sarah Cardwell (pictured) made the journey to Chatham and played in front of a sold out crowd in what is a very unique squash facility. Our thanks to Jamie Nicholls and Squash Ontario for their support of this effort.
On Friday 93 amateurs arrived prepared to compete in 9 divisions. Matches were played at both London Squash and GoodLife Fitness Citi Plaza and all had to be complete by Saturday afternoon. The courts at GoodLife are underground and, despite the hot weather, were quite temperate. The courts at London Squash could best be described as “Sauna Squash”. Adding a large amateur event to an already busy week is no small task. Club Professional Jay Francis did a fantastic job of organizing the draws. Jeremiah Rusznyak; John Bowering; and Rob Dorherty made sure that everyone knew where their next match was, and recorded all the results.
The professionals hit the court at 5:30pm in front of a sold out crowd. Full week ticket holders and sponsors such as Natixas Global Asset Management; Horizons ETF's; TLC Landscaping; FP Law; and National Bank Financial are given first rights to renew their support of the event early each year. This has resulted in limited availability of seats, particularly in the final nights of the tournament. Nobody in the front row has given up their seats in over 5 years.
The tournament includes fundraising efforts focused on the support of developmental squash in the London region and across the province. Nightly 50/50 draws benefit the Western women’s squash team; week long draw, spearheaded by Laura Savage, goes to junior squash; and a silent auction table, where proceeds are matched by Chris Lee and Scotiabank; goes to the Jesters University Squash League.
All four of the top seeds prevailed in the semi-final matches, but these were no walk-overs. Long tight rallies pushed players to the limits and tested our referees. Craig Hall draws top refs from across the province to oversee NASH Cup matches, but like any professional sport there are calls that will be challenged. The installation of a microphone on court allowed the crowd to better hear both sides of each discussion following any calls that were brought into question.
Club Manager Tom Panabaker rarely leaves London Squash the week of the NASH Cup. His staff, lea by Laurie Ingram, arrived early and stayed late each day. Saturday is the real test. Nearly 200 amateur matches need to be completed by the time the Open division final gets going at 5pm. A challenge match featuring 3 professionals and 3 top club amateurs starts at 6pm as a “warm-up act” to the main event. Then, at 7pm, the main event begins.
The 2017 NASH Cup finals offered a stunning display of squash skill. Both matches were tight right from the start. The opening games went to each player resulting in 1-1 ties and very engaged spectators.
The men’s final featured something that had never been witnessed at the NASH Cup. Down in the third game Joel Makin asked for a break to replace his shoes. The heat on the court had led to an excessive amount of sweat. It reached the point that moisture was coming from his shoes with each step, creating a hazard. The referee allowed the break. Tom Richards was able to regain his momentum and win the game gaining a 2-1 lead in the match.
The crowd was kept on the edge of their seats as rallies went on and on. The smallest mistake by a player resulted in the loss of a point, and often a shift in the match’s momentum. In both matches the second seeded player (aka underdog) appeared to have control early, the tournament’s top seeds prevailed.
Over the past 10 years the NASH Cup and London Ontario have gained a reputation as a “must attend” stop on the PSA tour. The heat this year was exceptional, but London Squash, the spectators and the players handled it wonderfully. We look forward to doing it again in 2018
“It’s hotter than playing in Qatar” – Charles Sharpes. England
“…It was hard and very hot, but it wasn’t really an issue. You lose a lot of fluid. We changed our shoes, and you lose about 7-10lbs in such a match!! No need to diet!” – Tom Richards. England
The NASH Cup is a world class volunteer run professional tournament hosted by London Squash & Fitness and lead sponsor Jay Nash of NASH Family Wealth Management at National Bank Financial. It was launched in 2008 and has grown to be Canada’s largest PSA purse in 2017. The event will return in 2018. Full details can be found at www.nashcup.com
Photography by Rael Wienburg
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