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  • Freddy Ramirez

Sitting In The Stands Early At The TOC

Yesterday, a spur of the moment decision had me sitting in the cheap seats (free) at the Tournament of Champions at Grand Central. The Pro/Am (singles) part of the event was in play. Squash is a bit different from racquetball in that singles and doubles are played on different sized courts. (Doubles courts are much bigger... for the unfamiliar racquetball player. Doubles Squash has it's own pro tour here in the states, and is considered a different sport in that events are kept separate. Though doubles is fast and fun to watch.) Besides enjoying what I was watching on the court, it was interesting to see how the ropes that separate the court and the thousands of commuters walking by really work. People stop and watch, and will stand there for a long time. Even as the official looking attendants clearly weren't stopping people from walking to the seats, interested passersby were hesitant to walk through the ropes to grab a seat. It's a high end event and feels like it. Across from the court, there are booths set up, a ritzy looking temporary bar, that looks like it's always there, and I know, part of the space later serves as a VIP area. As I sat there, I kept thinking about racquetball's U.S. Open, and seeing how even though in practice the events are fundamentally the same, there were tons of subtle cultural differences. And all the ideas bouncing in my head about ideally grabbing new kinds of images and videos while dealing with the etiquette on their court. I'll admit, just sitting there felt pretty cool.

Most of the amateurs playing the professionals clearly weren't slouches, but you could see just how the professionals have mastery over position and court control, as well as the cardio needed for the game. It wasn't the highest level of the game, but it was enjoyable to watch Gregory Gaultier and Amr Shabana, Alister Walker (and a couple of others who I'm not knowledgeable enough to know of the top of my head,) on the glass court.

I was able to stick around for the "Red Bull Karim Darwish Challenge". (See my last entry.) Karim played game sets of 5 straight points against all types of players. Mostly NY club players that ranged from former top collegiate types to a girl in the sixth grade who already has a long list of titles. (She was really good...) The challenge started off with something offbeat, with Red Bull's Karim playing a top NYC handball player brought in by Redbull, squash racquet against hands. Initially, it felt awkward but nonetheless interesting to me, so I had to walk towards the court to grab a snapshot. (More on that in a bit.) Red Bull didn't seem to have a big presence. They had copies of their latest print magazine available to grab (I took one of course), a couple of coolers by the court and the challengers wearing t-shirts. However, I did see a couple of girls walking through Grand Central with backpack coolers, offering free cans of their stuff.

So I step down towards the court to snap a shot of Timbo playing Karim with his hands. I didn't have anything like a camera set up, just an old GoPro I keep in my laptop bag. As I'm grabbing a shot, the event photographer crouches down next to me and says, "You're going to need a bigger camera." I chuckled a bit and said, "Indeed". We exchanged a few words and business cards. Turns out it was Steve Line, who I know about and who's work I've seen a ton. Great first impression I thought. I chuckled on my way back to my seat until I ran into and did a bit of catching up with Ned Marks, a local pro who I wrote about 2 years ago.

I'm not sure if I'll wind up sitting in the stands next week sometime, but I'll be digging it just the same. The world's best players and Nicol are in NYC... so I'll be following along. (Dig the dramatic promo vid below...)

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