• Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps! • Sign up for Summer Camps!
Navy with Electric green logo Open Squash

Open Squash

Feb 15th 2024

Clash Of The Titans On A Monday Night

Squash Offers A Great Competitive Outlet For New York's League Players

At nine p.m. on a Monday night in February, a snow warning is in place for the following day in New York. The streets are quiet, and most people are home in their warm apartments. On court four at Open Squash in FiDi, though, high drama is in full effect. It's league night for the five-five division, and somebody's heart is about to get broken. There will be some cursing. There will be a touch of shame. And whoever wins or loses? It's going to matter to them both, a great deal.

James Hill, captain of his league squash team, is playing his opponent, Tarit, in the top spot. Both men have played squash for more than 20 years, and at a high level. Open Squash's nonprofit mission is to open up the game to everyone. But for James and Tarit, who are playing on different teams in the downtown club, tonight, one thing counts. Winning.

The game shouldn't matter. Tarit's teammates Jonah and Charles already beat James's teammates Cal and Marwan in two matches. They've taken the points and drawn level for the third place in the league. They've showered. They're in their street clothes at the back of the court, and they're ready to leave. The night is over.

Tarit's victory over James, then, is only a formality. As he steps on court with a shirt that reads "Tarit" on the back, and in a red bandana, he is all business. Stepping up to serve, his intent is clear. He's going to stick it to James. And he does so. Winning the first game 11-8 with a series of deft drops, he probes James's resolve. He watches his opponent's movement and counters it. He wins the second 11-6. This is looking like a done deal.

Squash, of course, is the best of five games. Being up two-nothing can give you a sense of confidence but it can also make you edgy. James, despite being down two games, still seems "in it."

"James is a big smack talker," says Tarit's teammate, Jonah. Before the game, James had offered to "bring last year's trophy" for Jonah "to touch," in a WhatsApp chat.

"Or the year before," he wrote.


So...the game is on. This is about ego and bragging rights. And the third game is where things start to get interesting. Down two-three, Tarit fakes a couple of shots in the front court before hitting into the back. He draws level at 3-3. They go point-for-point to 5-5. Tarit goes down 6-7. Then he dives for a ball. He makes it. Gets back up while still in the rally. Runs to the back of the court and gets it. Wins the point and draws back to 7-7.

Something has shifted, though. Tarit looks desperate to win the game and close it out. Instead, he only wins one more point while James finds a second wind, pushing to win the third game 11-8.

That's when James changes his shirt. As a psychological statement, doing so implies to his opponent that he is ready for two more games. It's devilish. It's like his WhatsApp smack talk, but a physical gesture.

"I need new legs, too," James says, sweating hard. He chuckles. Gets back on the court.

Jonah tells Tarit to "reestablish the structure of the game."

It almost works. But James takes the game 14-12, after the men trade long exchanges, shot for shot, all the way to the line. Both men look exhausted as they come off the court, locked level at two games apiece. It's electrifying. It’s hard to believe this is happening in a nonprofit squash club between amateur players on a Monday night.

Jonah offers Tarit some more coaching, but Tarit…declines. Jonah takes his teammate's brushoff with good grace. Even at the highest levels of the game, players sometimes get touchy at the big moments.

"I saw Nour El Tayeb wave Ali Farag away from her at Grand Central, once," Jonah says. Nour still ranks world number six after returning from having a child with her husband, Ali, the best men’s player in the world. "When you're married to the world number one in the men’s game and you wave him away from coaching, that's a thing," Jonah says.

Tarit may regret his choice, though. Down 8-1 in the deciding game, he cries out.

"You've got to be kidding me, man," is the fit-for-print version of what he says. And there's no fit-for-print version of what he says when James wins the decider, 11-2.

"I went way too passive," Tarit says, slumped on the floor behind the court, afterwards. Sweating. He also throws in a few other words for good measure. It's a good job the club is quiet now, and there are no impressionable juniors around.

"It's all about ego," says James. "I can lose to anyone. But I can't lose to Tarit, and I can't lose to Jonah. I had to win."

The good news is, it's nothing personal. Somebody mentions the pub. The biggest games in squash happen when the stakes are low, it turns out. And you wouldn't want to miss them for the world.

Open Squash is one of dozens of participating centers in the thriving New York Squash league, which offers competition for all levels in the men’s and women’s game.