Squash took centre stage in the Cayman Islands two weeks ago with the World Open sponsored by BDO and one of the exhibition matches featured the former world No.7 Mark Chaloner who played novice pro Cameron Stafford.
Chaloner won that jokey encounter narrowly in Camana Bay but by the next evening he was in serious action in Jamaica against the local favourite.
Jamaican star Chris Binnie lost to former Commonwealth gold medallist Chaloner in an epic five-setter at the Liguanea Club in Kingston.
In a battle that lived up to its billing, the reigning All-Jamaica and Caribbean men’s champion put up a courageous fight but went down to the more experienced Chaloner, 40, who is still playing at a high level and now coaches aspiring champs like Stafford.
The sold-out Kingston crowd had plenty to cheer about as the players put on a splendid contest, fighting their way through explosive rallies, battling for every point. And in a masterful display of skills, the visiting Englishman pulled off the victory, 4/11, 14/12, 11/13, 11/1, 11/7.
Binnie, who joined the professional squash tour last year, said Chaloner was among the toughest opponents he had ever faced. Binnie has played in the Cayman Open and is very familiar with the Caribbean’s best players.
Binnie, 24 in three weeks’ time, said: “It was a hard fight. I took nothing for granted coming into this match and Mark played extremely well, just as I expected.”
Chaloner was pleased with his triumph. “I was asked if I wanted to go over and play Chris when he was back home as the Jamaica Squash association wanted to organise a big squash evening as a fundraiser for their junior programme,” he said.
“It was quite an event, with a billing similar to a boxing match. He hadn’t lost in Jamaica before.”
Chaloner thoroughly enjoyed the World Open, won for the seventh time in eight years by the dominant Malaysian Nicol David against England’s Laura Massaro. “I only played one long game against Cameron and I won 15/14,” Chaloner said.
“It was close, he played well and has improved quite a lot. His skills are good, but his fitness needs much closer attention. This will take time, but if he has the drive and dedication he can improve his standard in leaps and bounds.
“I have been asked to work with Cameron, so I will be able to help him improve all aspects of his game and keep him on the right track. Help him to plan his tournament schedule and pass on all of my knowledge and experience.”
Stafford said: “Against Mark I was overall happy with the way I played but he was just too good for me on the night. Great fun and wonderful experience for me.”
Still fit and trim, Chaloner is looking forward to the New Year and maybe help fill the void left by tournament designer Dan Kneipp who is leaving this week to return to his Australia homeland.
“I am still competing in some hardball doubles events and would like to be much more involved in Cayman squash whether that be helping the national teams and players, being more active as the club professional or perhaps helping to continue the successful tournaments which have been held here,” Chaloner said.
“It is very important for Cayman to keep active in the squash world as it’s a fantastic way of promoting the island with all the trappings it has to offer.
“It is also a key squash nation within the Caribbean and should be kept in the forefront of the minds of Caribbean nations when it comes to competing in any events.
“I am attracting more teams and individuals down to Cayman from the international squash scene, especially from the US, as they see Cayman as a perfect destination for a squash vacation.”
Chaloner has a point about maintaining the already high standard of the junior programme, which greatly benefited from the World Open in terms of profits made and Dunlop equipment donated.
Egypt’s current World Junior Champion Nour El Sherbini played top Cayman junior Julian Jervis. She was doing a workshop with a group of local juniors and went out of her way to point how good she thought one of Cayman’s youngsters is.