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Open Squash

Jan 25th 2024

"I can bagel dad, now." "No, he can't." "Yes, I can."

The Kapoor family enjoys a (very) competitive game of squash.

Kapoor Family Photo Patch

Rahul Kapoor (left) with his mom, Mrs. Kapoor, and his wife, Irina, and their sons Shaun and Max, before a very competitive game of squash at Bryant Park recently. (Open Squash)

The Kapoor family have been coming to Open Squash at Bryant Park, since the pandemic when Open Squash was one of the only gym facilities in Manhattan to stay open.

“We came every day,” said father, Rahul. “It was fantastic.”

At the time, older son Max, who is now 16, and rated 5.2 on the U.S. Squash index, was just getting good enough to beat his father, whose rating is a little lower, at the occasional game. But playing every day through 2020 while other facilities were locked down meant Max got a lot better. During our recent interview with the family, Max made a bold claim when he was asked if there was anything else he’d like people to know about his squash game.

“Now I can bagel dad,” he said, meaning he can beat him 11-0 (the 0 is the “bagel”) in a game of squash.

“No, he can’t,” said his father.

“Yes, I can,” said Max.

So, we decided to test the claim and booked a court for the father and son. Younger son Sean, 12, also came along to referee the contest. And mom, Irina, who plays squash occasionally but describes herself now as “more of a coach” for her two sons, also came along to see if Max’s could back up his, er, big talk. Rahul’s mother, Mrs. Kapoor, also came along. She was rooting for her son and advised him to “stay focused” before the big game. Rahul accused the referee of cheating and it all got pretty tense, especially when Rahul’s mom yelled at him to “kill” his own son on a key point.

Read on if you’re curious to find out what happened!

The family lives on 38th Street and 1st Avenue. Rahul and Irina run Rahul’s parents’ wholesale jewelry business on 46th Street. The family can walk the six blocks to Open Squash at Bryant Park. Although as the boys have got older and more interested in squash, sometimes they still ask Irina to give them a ride to practice. “They’re teenagers,” she said. “I pick my battles. These days I joke that I’m part Uber driver and part chef. But I do love to come and watch the boys playing squash. It’s a huge part of our family life.”

Irina loves the impact playing squash has had on the family although she says the tournaments can sometimes be stressful. “Some of these juniors have a lot of pressure on their shoulders,” she said. “Our boys both love playing squash and they’re there because they love to play the game. That’s the ethos at Open Squash. Young people are there because they want to be and because they love their game. But some parents teach their children some bad habits and it can be difficult to watch your sons having to deal with that during tournaments. We go along and support and it’s enjoyable. I’m glad they have a good home club to come back to where they’re supported and encouraged.”

Rahul says it’s very important for the family not to pressure the kids too hard. “We never shout at the boys while they’re playing, that’s a rule,” he said. “You see some parents and they can go over the top. We’re just there to watch and support.”

That’s not to say the family doesn’t love a bit of…healthy competition. Amongst themselves.

Max will be 17 in April and attends the Bronx High School of Science. He began playing the game on 50th and Madison with his father at the New York Health and Rackets Club, when he was eight.

“The first few years I was just hitting the ball and it was a fun activity,” he said. “It wasn’t anything serious. Then when I was 12 or 13, I started getting more serious about it. I started playing in the New York Squash 3.5 league and I realized that I really like to compete. And that’s when I started ramping up the tournaments a little more. It was tough because I didn’t win many games, but I started to do better when I was around 13, 14.”

Colleges are now talking to Max about recruiting him to play squash. He’s flattered by the attention and may well take them up on their offers. But he says squash has always been about fun and enjoyment, first, for him and the family.

“A lot of kids are just using squash to get into college,” he said. “That puts a lot of pressure on them. But in the beginning, it was just a fun activity for me, and it still is, to an extent. I’m very competitive and I like to win. But there’s not as much pressure on me as I see on some of the other youngsters in New York who are playing. Open Squash has that spirit too. It’s very important.”

Max and his younger brother Sean, 12, still play together occasionally, and Max looks forward to the days when Sean and he can play competitively again. Sean is now playing in the 3.5 league, too, and won a recent game against a player who was a foot taller than he is. Shawn got injured during the game and had to contend with the injury to play through and still win the game. He drew plaudits from his family and teammates for keeping a cool head and gritting it out.

“I’ve been playing for about four years; I play for fun, but I enjoy the competitive play. I think in a few years’ time I’ll be as competitive as my brother,” he said, highlighting the El Shorbagy brothers, Mohammed and Marwan, as a competitive pair of siblings on the PSA World Tour as a positive example.

Max says he expects Sean, who’s at Yorkville East Middle School, to beat him when he gets older.

“Even when we’re making up games to play in the living room, it always gets competitive,” Max said. “Like it gets heated even when we’re just playing ‘ping pong baseball’ in the living room. Or when we play football in here. So, I do expect us to be very competitive with each other when Sean gets a little older, when we’re playing squash.”

Dad Rahul played tennis with a friend in college who played in the number one spot at CUNY Binghamton. He loved the game, and then when he came to New York, he met a couple of guys from India who played squash.

“They told me how good they were, and they asked me to come along and play with them, and I beat them,” he said. “They were shocked. So, I picked up the sport and took it from there. I never got any training; I just went out and learned to play on my own.”

Rahul describes his game as instinctive, choppy, and irritating. He specializes in breaking up the rhythm of seasoned squash players, and combining tricky tennis shots with his squash shots, occasionally.

“A guy told me how irritating my serve is, and then he said, ‘that’s a compliment’,” he said. “So, I tend to get under people’s skin and that’s a thing I really enjoy about the game. A lot of it is mental.”

Max won his first match against his father in 2021. Now he plays on Open Squash’s 5.5 league team. Sean is yet to beat his father in a full match, although he has won the occasional game off him.

“When Sean is good enough to beat me, he’ll get there,” Rahul said. “But I’m not going to let him win. He’s got to come and take it!”

Max describes the benefits of the game as physical fitness, but also mental confidence.

“And there are so many life lessons, too,” he said. “It teaches you sportsmanship but also discipline, like when I’m running treadmill sessions, I come out of those feeling they’re more of a mental challenge than a physical one, and you feel so good afterwards.”

Max managed to back his big talk, to an extent, beating his father 11-3. It’s not disgraceful for Rahul, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Max, either. Rahul chopped things up and at one point, vehemently accused the five spectators and his other son, the referee, of conspiring against him. But he did take his loss gracefully, in the end, and Max deserved to raise the hand of the winner.

Sean played his dad next, too. And the father beat the son by about 11-5. So it won’t be too long before both sons might be able to win against their father.

Thanks for sharing your story, guys!

Max and Sean Kapoor at Open Squash (Patch)

Father and son sharing a gracious moment of post-squash bonding. Aka Max won.