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Squash - 07. June 2007.

WISPA Tour Provides 'Historic Opportunity For South American Squash'

The visit was part of a 12-day tour of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay organised by the Women's International Squash Players' Association (WISPA) - led by Malaysia's world champion and world number one Nicol David, Australia's world number three Rachael Grinham, and Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the record five-times world champion, also from Australia.

The annual tour, the ninth since 1999, is the latest initiative in WISPA’s continuing drive to promote women's squash around the world.

The climax of the trip was a dramatic exhibition match witnessed by a packed crowd at the city's Olimpia Cancilleria club, in which former world number one Rachael Grinham recovered from match-ball down to beat Tour rival Nicol David.

As well as exhibition matches and challenges against many of the host country's top players, the WISPA stars also staged a number of interactive clinics with the Argentinean women's national squad on the eve of the players' participation in the South American Championships in Colombia.

"Our players have not only had the chance to see some of the world's best players in action, but also learn from them in other ways too, by talking to them as well as being on court with them," explained Fontanazzi.

"The WISPA Tour has provided an invaluable promotional opportunity for the sport here - I am sure we will be feeling the benefits for many years to come. This has been a historic opportunity for squash in South America," concluded the sport's regional president.

The Olimpia Cancilleria crowd also saw Rachael Grinham take on the country's top junior Gonzalo Miranda, the reigning Pan-American Junior champion, and Nicol David challenge Argentinean No1 Matias Valenzuela, the world No 243 from Mar del Plata.

"She is so accurate," said Valenzuela of his opponent. "Naturally, as a man, I am stronger than Nicol, but she is so fast around the court."

Midway through the late-night match, the two players were asked to move from the main showcourt onto an adjacent court. "The other side of the front wall is the bedroom of a private house, and our neighbour complains that he cannot sleep when squash is being played on that court - so we agree not to use that court after 10.00pm!" explained a club spokesman.

Opened in 1982 and situated in central Buenos Aires, the Olimpia Cancilleria boasts five squash courts as well as a racquetball court. Like most squash venues in the country, the club is a public facility, which does not require membership.

"It is wonderful for our players to see top internationals here in Buenos Aires," said Guillermo Kesztembaun, the Argentina national coach since 1993. "The only experience they have of international squash is at the South American Championships and the Pan-American championships.

"The legacy of this visit will be the vision of how good these WISPA players are, and what a great sport squash is."

Kesztembaun expects his national team to finish in the top four in the regional championships in Colombia. "If not, I will kill myself," joked the passionate squash enthusiast who has squash logos tattooed on his calf and shoulder!

Nicol David played promising junior Antonella Falcione, a 16-year-old from Mar del Plata who is both the Argentinean Junior champion and Pan-American junior champion: "Antonella has the potential to do well in the sport," said David, the former record two-times world junior champion. "She will need to get funding but she is very keen and I am sure she will train hard to achieve her goal."

In addition to the Olimpia Cancilleria club, the WISPA trio also played at the Circulo de Armas club and The Squash Club, the oldest club in Buenos Aires, founded in 1929.

"This was a gift for our eyes," exclaimed Circulo de Armas club President Jorge Otamendi after David and Grinham showed off their squash prowess.

Founded in 1929, The Squash Club was modelled on British gentlemen's clubs of the period, and much of the club's original documentation is in English. However, the club was forced to 're-brand' itself as simply 'Squash Club' during the Falklands conflict 25 years ago, when all English references were forbidden!

Sarah Fitz-Gerald endeared herself to the packed and wildly enthusiastic club members who took time off to witness the trio's lunch-time appearance at the club - taking on, and beating, both the club's former champion Alejandro "Pulga" Dominguez and current champion Duncan Jub, a Scottish-born Argentinean who is also a polo player.

'Sarah, Sarah, Sarah …..' shouted the crowd as they revelled in their icons being suitably punished!

"That was fantastic," said an exhausted Dominguez after his battle with Fitz-Gerald. "Jonathon Power was also here - he is my friend. When he finished, he gave me his racquet, and I always keep it in my bag - but never use it," said the popular club player, recalling the Canadian's visit in 1999 to celebrate the club's 70th anniversary.

Club captain Diego Gallardo admitted that women are traditionally only invited to the club once a year, at Christmas. "We may have to make that tradition two times a year after today!"

At a press conference at the Olimpia club, the Argentina Squash Association President Ricardo Roude expressed his gratitude to the WISPA Party: "We feel we owe you something for coming here - it will stimulate our younger players to improve their squash and help them follow the example of your great players.

"We are a third world country with third world budgets. But we have heart and hope one day we will show the results of this visit," added Roude.

TV cameras filmed the players answering a variety of questions about the WISPA Tour, their training regimes, how they became involved with squash, their Olympic hopes for the sport, etc. Features, including photographs of the WISPA stars in action, are expected to be seen in the nation's press in the coming days.

Andrew Shelley was delighted with the welcome that the Buenos Aires visit received: "We have received a terrific reception and have laid the foundation for strong relationships," said the WISPA Chief Executive.

"There are wonderfully enthusiastic people here who are passionate about the women's game. A fledgling local women's circuit, embracing beginners and club players alike, is already in place - and we must look at ways to encourage its growth."

Sarah Fitz-Gerald, one of the most successful women's squash players of all-time, was also encouraged by the future of the sport in Argentina: "They play their squash here like they play their football - with passion, enthusiasm and flair!"

Issued on behalf of: WISPA

For further information: Howard Harding

Tel: (44) 1737-243333 or (mobile) (44) 7773-325130

WSQ 3925 Email: [email protected] 6 June 2007

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