If the recent Cayman Open is anything to go by, next year’s squash event is going to be another humdinger.
It’s going to be partly staged at the South Sound Squash Club and the latter matches in a spectacular glass court in Camana Bay.
Set your diaries for April 11-17 next year because even the least interested squash fan is going to enjoy some aspects of it.
Cayman brought over most of the world top women players and many of the best in the Caribbean for the Cayman Open earlier this month and all the visitors went away singing the places praises.
It was all done with the vision, tireless effort and minute attention to deal of tournament organiser Dan Kneipp, a coach at the club who has worked in the sport’s higher echelons for years.
The inaugural Cayman Open was great and Kneipp is already enthusing over the next one.
He says: ‘Marketing it internationally, it will be on Sky TV. The shots will be of Camana Bay, of the harbour and the glass arena, so it’s not just a spectacular venue for the event, it’s also a spectacular venue for how we can run things in the Cayman islands and also boost sports tourism.
‘The players loved Cayman and how the tournament was run and they’re already excited about coming next year.
‘The best way we can make it better is by having it at Camana Bay. We knew one of the problems we would have this year was with seating and accessibility. We wanted to have it somewhere where it was very accessible. It will be a four-wall glass court. Anyone can walk up to the front wall and watch the top players play.
‘We’re also going to piggy back a couple of tournaments, so we’ll also have a junior tournament, sanctioned by the US. This year we had six Ivy League colleges come to Cayman and I’m expecting to get about 12 next year.
‘Hearing the players say how fantastic this event was and how much they loved Cayman and how much they’re looking forward to coming back is inspiring.
‘I know we can do it just as good and Camana Bay being the site sponsor is just going to take it to another level, so it will be a genuine, world class event.
‘If you look at the major squash web site today, it’s got 620,000 unique viewers. The front page is a picture of the Cayman Islands.’
The Caribbean’s No.1 woman, Nicolette Fernandes did not get past the qualifying rounds but she still had a blast, especially doing the tourist stuff like swimming with the stingrays, as did not of the players.
‘What that does for the Cayman Islands marketing is just unbelievable, particularly as the Western European and the North American squash market gels with the Cayman Islands market perfectly,’ says Kneipp.
Jeff Broderick, president of the squash club wants to make Cayman the squash hub of the Caribbean and this tournament helped considerably. With youngsters like Cameron Stafford and Jake Kelly getting to the semi-finals, the youth policy is evidently working well.
All the sponsors deserve props, especially the major ones; the Ministry of Education, BDO, Cayman Airways, Massive, Maples, Sunshine Suites, LIME and Cayman Financial Review.
Andrew Shelley is the chief executive of the Women’s International Squash Players Association.
‘From the moment we got off the plane and arrived on the island for the first time we’ve been swept away by the warmth of the welcome we’ve had here,’ he says.
‘But we’ve also been so impressed with the quality of the event. It’s the first time it’s been held. The squash has been great. The junior and community action has been going on all week. Everything’s inter-related and everyone’s so behind it. It’s been second to none.
‘Next year it will be even better because everything that’s happened this week will be learned from.
‘The plans for the glass court next year will allow for the media, especially television cameras, to become more accessible. It will also highlight the beauty of the island and all the attractions as well as the squash in a one hour highlights programme.
‘All the possibilities for display, entertainment, exhibition and catering for the kids in larger numbers because the capacity will be much bigger, is something to savour.’
Malaysia’s Nicol David is the world No.1. She comfortably beat Natalie Grainger, world No.2 in the final. Grainger has been here before and played as if she had enjoyed local cuisine a little too much. David did the stingray bit too having extended her trip by a day before moving on to the next tournament in Dallas.
‘The stepping on court and just playing in front of the crowd has been the best thing about being here,’ says David. ‘This has been so momentous and takes me back to where I come from.
‘There was no questions about coming here because I just knew it was going to be a good tournament. Just the whole atmosphere and vibe you get here makes you so comfortable and you just want to play well. So I’m really pleased with my performance and glad that I won this title.
‘I’m looking forward to all the big plans for next year and I’m sure that lots of girls will be coming back, definitely.
‘I’m sure they’ll want to come back because it was such a fantastic tournament and they did lots of tourist things.’
Does American Grainger always walk about with a smile on her face or is it the Cayman effect?
‘This year was great again,’ she says. ‘I’ve been in the water nearly every single day, been on a boat, the weather was terrific. I didn’t go to swim with the stingrays but had a blast.
‘I actually caught up with some friends as well. I had some terrific meals whilst I was here. I ate at Blue at the Ritz last night. That was amazing.
‘I’m going to try to get in the finals again next year and if that time round I can win, then that’ll be great.
‘They’ve done a fantastic job to put something on which is such a great scale.
‘I don’t know if the club is normally this busy but there is so much going on. It’s unbelievable the atmosphere. They’re so friendly and want to hang out. They’re loud and noisy which is something I love. It’s just great. This is one of my favourite places in the world to go to.
‘If I’m an adopted Caymanian I want to hear the locals supporting me! Even if more players want to come next time we’re not going to let them in, are we?’
Craig Archer, the tournament referee, came over from Barbados. ‘This was a tremendous competition, very well put together by Dan and the rest of his helpers.
‘It was an excellent tournament which ran very smoothly. From a referee’s perspective, we worked very well as a team and we enjoyed it greatly and we’re pleased to have been able to come along and participate in this great event.’
Archer was pleased that so many Caribbean players were invited and able to play even if the women did not make it past the qualifiers.
Caribbean champion Gavin Cumberbatch was beaten in the quarter-finals by Cayman’s Jake Kelly.
‘I thought this was fantastic tournament,’ the Bajan says. ‘Kudos to Dan and the rest of the team of his organisers. I was very excited but unfortunately picked up an injury but I’ll definitely be back next year.
‘There’s going to be a little bit more than a murmur about Cayman now. People will know that Cayman put in a lot of hard work and a lot of focus and progress is going on here. Whether Cayman will be a force to be reckoned with, well I’m looking forward to them coming to Trinidad at the next tournament and I think a lot more players will be looking to come to Cayman in the future for the invitational.
‘I’m not one to hold a grudge, but I’m definitely coming back and trying to get the title.’
Cayman’s youth development coach Dean Watson may be 39 but the former pro found enough finesse and energy to beat the Caribbean’s No.1 Shawn Simpson of Barbados.
‘It doesn’t seem like I am a champion although it’s completely true,’ says Watson. ‘We should be regarded very strong which is great news. We’ve got the tournament in Trinidad in August which we’ll be up against these boys again so it will be interesting to see if we can pull it off, not only as individuals but as a team as well.
‘But I’m sure they’re going to be stronger and more ready for us so we’ll have to do some more training and be sure that we’re ready for them.
‘Some of those guys are used to playing full-time and there’s a possibility that they came here just to have a nice time and didn’t realise that things are a little bit more difficult. It’s great for Jake and Cameron. We’ll have a very strong team in Trinidad and if we can prove a point again it’ll be great.
‘Athletically Jake and Cameron are there already. I’m just going to use every ounce of experience I have to keep them at bay so that when they win, they’ve earned it. I’m not going to give it to them.
Anna-Carin Forst Adius from Sweden is No.80 in the world. She too had a superb time here.
‘:It’s great, amazing. This morning we went to Stingray City and it was fantastic. I came because I wanted to visit the Cayman Islands. I looked it up on the net and it just looked like paradise and I needed to go. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.’ That’s what a lot of them said.