The smallest country in South America provided the warmest of welcomes for Nicol David, Rachael Grinham and Sarah Fitz-Gerald when the WISPA stars visited Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, on the third leg of their promotional tour of South America.
David, the world number one and reigning world champion from Malaysia, has been joined by Australians Rachael Grinham and Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the world No3 and record five-times world champion, respectively, on the ninth annual promotional expedition organised by the Women's International Squash Players' Association.
The tour to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile is the latest initiative in WISPA’s continuing drive to promote women's squash around the world.
Uruguay has a population of just three million, half of whom live in the capital Montevideo.
Within an hour of arriving in Montevideo, the WISPA party were welcomed at Club Carrasco, a club in the upmarket Carrasco district of the city, whose courts were built in 1972. Club President Paul Bragard is a leading squash figure in the country, after winning the national crown eight times since 1974 and, in 1985, becoming the first Uruguayan to win the South American title.
A packed crowd was captivated by an exhibition match between Sarah Fitz-Gerald and Rachael Grinham, before Nicol David faced a challenge from the President's son Jean Paul Bragard, the champion of Uruguay since 2000.
"It was incredible to play Nicol," said the exhausted 25-year-old after the best-of-three battle. "She is not only a wonderful player, but also a wonderful person. She made me play my best squash, using all my tricks!
"She's like a spider - getting to all corners of the court so fast! I had to play as hard as I could. This was one of my best squash experiences ever. I will remember it for the rest of my life!" said the younger Bragard.
After a sight-seeing tour of Montevideo, the WISPA girls visited the British Schools of Montevideo Old Boys and Old Girls Club. Uruguay's first squash courts were built in 1945 at the then Old Boys Club in downtown Montevideo. The clubs recently merged and, in October last year, opened a new two-court complex on the grounds of the long-established school which boasts more than 1,000 pupils.
"For our club, this is the perfect moment," said club captain Gabriel Arancibia. "We couldn't think of a better way of introducing squash to our new combined membership - not just old boys and old girls, of course, but pupils at the school too.
"We hope that the crowds that the WISPA trio attracted will show just what a great sport squash is for women," added Arancibia.
A four-year stint in England as a history teacher introduced Paula Greco to squash - and she returned to her home town as Uruguay's only female player!
"Squash is not a very popular sport in Uruguay, and certainly not among women. To have the opportunity to see the best female squash players in the world play in Montevideo has been absolutely fantastic," explained the undisputed Uruguayan number one.
"Hopefully this tour will encourage more Uruguayan girls and women to get into the courts and have a go at such an amazing game. It won't be easy to break with the tradition of seeing squash as a sport only for men, but I believe the WISPA tour has been the first step towards this direction."
The two-day visit to Uruguay attracted widespread national media coverage in newspapers including El Pais, El Observador and La Republica; the magazine 17 Deportes; the radio station Concierto FM; and the TV channel Canal 10.
"It's hard for squash in this country as the mentality is much more geared to team sports, like rugby and football, than individual sports," concluded Paul Bragard, who has taken on the role as President of the fledgling Uruguayan Squash Association.
"But the WISPA visit has definitely given squash a major boost here - with unprecedented media coverage for the sport. I'm sure that the squash community here will be talking about this event for a long time."
Sarah Fitz-Gerald summed up the WISPA girls' enjoyment of the Montevideo visit: "The hospitality we received was out of this world," said one of the sport's greatest players of all-time. "For such a small squash community, they really treated us royally - we will remember this with great fondness!"
From Uruguay, the WISPA party move onto the fourth and final leg of the Tour in the Chile capital Santiago.
The WISPA Promotional Tour concept was launched in 1999 with a visit to the Czech Republic. Successive years featured trips to Jamaica, El Salvador, Peru, Kenya, Thailand, Brunei, Sarawak, Russia, China, Nepal, Jordan, Turkey and, last year, to Estonia and Norway.
Issued by Howard Harding on behalf of WISPA
Women’s International Squash Players' Association
Tel: (+44) 1737-243333; Mobile: (+44) 7773-325130; Email: HowHard@aol.com
WISPA: Tel: (+44) 20 7222 1667; Email: email@example.com
WSQ 3928 12 June 2007
photos Janos Schmidt