International squash has a new, permanent base in the Caribbean which is attracting worldwide kudos with every staging of its flagship event. It’s the Cayman Open, of course and the just concluded third annual event, sponsored by Cedrus Investments whose owner is Rani Jarkas, is going from strength to strength. Jarkas was a top player himself and provided $68,500 in prize money.
The winner of the men’s event was Alister Walker who surprisingly beat Ramy Ashour in the final at the glass court in Camana Bay on Saturday. Ashour is the former world champion, No.1 ranked player in 2010 and the best known male player on the planet.
The tournament also provided some invaluable experience for Cayman’s best senior and juniors who pitted themselves against world ranked players, inevitably lost but nevertheless gained from sharing the court with them.
Players like Marlene West, Cameron Stafford, Myron Blair and youngsters Eilidh Brigman and Kritina Myren will all improve.
Caribbean players like Gavin Cumberbatch, Shawn Simpson, Richard Chin and Chris Binnie got an insight too into what it takes to be the best.
This victory was Walker’s first in eight meetings between the two.
Walker said after the match: “It hasn’t set in yet that I won. I’ve had a lot of top guys to play this year and I shot my way through. This was a splendid event.
“It was a good atmosphere, great setting and I’m delighted with it. Yeah, there is always the extra-curricular stuff like fishing that is great and you get to be on a beautiful island like this.
“I did clinics at South Sound Squash Club back in 2007 and I’ve been looking forward to coming back. The final was the highlight of it all for me.
“Ramy being No.1 made the victory sweeter. He is only 23 and I’m 28. He will leave the game with a great legacy. The world has seen a lot from him but clearly there is more to come. The guy’s a truly great player. Beating him in a great tournament like this makes it so brilliant in my mind.”
After a good night’s sleep and basking in the glory, Walker was all smiles again as he prepared for dinner at Michael’s Genuine restaurant beside the glass court.
“It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t expected to win but I won’t hold that against anyone personally,” he beamed. “We’ve always had close games and considering it wasn’t hugely important in terms of world rankings, I thought I had a good chance if I caught him on one of my good days.
“I managed to play really well and we played some good squash. He is obviously a great player, great champion so it was nice to get a win over him.
“I think I can take a lot from my mental approach. I’m more relaxed and it’s something I’ve been working on and hopefully will improve and take into my tournaments in the coming season.”
Squash players at 28 tend to be seen as veterans, but Walker is adamant that he has not peaked yet.
“There’s definitely more to come. I’ve always been a late developer. With a bit of luck and keeping injury free and good training which is all down to me I’m pretty certain I can break into that top ten.”
He recently moved base from Leeds in the UK to New York and feels it will propel his career. “You’ll definitely see more of me here in Grand Cayman. I already feel pretty settled in New York. It’s a great place, nice energy and a lot to do so it keeps me stimulated. There are some good people to train with and sound advice. So, yeah, I can’t see anything wrong with the situation.
“In the last few years a lot of players have moved from their traditional bases in Europe to the States, more towards the end of their careers.
“I’m unusual in going there during my peak years but that’s because those players who have already moved there provide plenty of training partners for you, so you are not necessarily at a disadvantage.
“But even in England the players are spread out across the country, so New York is a really good base. I was based in Leeds because my coach, David Pearson, who was the national coach, was based in Harrogate, in Yorkshire, which is about 11 miles from Leeds.
“It’s a nice city with a thriving squash club who asked me to be based there as the residential touring pro. Transport and communications wise it was good and Manchester Airport was close by, so it made sense.”
When here before Walker stayed with Mark Chaloner who was a world ranked player at the time. Walker loved it so when he got the invitation for this year’s Cedrus Open he jumped all over it.
“The women definitely see the Cayman Open as one of their favourite events. So far it’s been exclusively for the girls so that’s made it really special for them. And it’s still growing. They really appreciate it here in terms of the venue and being a great country to be in. People here are so friendly and welcoming. They always speak very highly of this tournament.”
Naturally, Walker intends to come back and will train again with the juniors and will make more of his down time; the weather, marine life and water sports.
Highlights for him were going to Stingray City and fishing with Guy Harvey. “To pick out one thing in particular is pretty tough. As a package it’s a great place to come.”