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Open Squash

Jun 12th 2024

“Should I Be a Gentleman?”

Playing Squash with Vintage Rackets

Vintage Racquets Featured Image

Marketing guru Matt Poveromo, 33, left, and journalist and editor Matt Williams, 47, right, after playing a game with vintage rackets this summer.

Two Open Squash players had a bit of fun this summer, playing a match with old-fashioned wooden squash rackets at Open Squash on Bryant Park. 

Marketing guru Matt Poveromo, 33, has been playing squash for two years. Meanwhile journalist and editor Matt Williams, 47, has been playing since he was 13—longer than his opponent has been alive! 

Despite their modest and barely perceptible age difference, (squash is the best form of exercise and keeps both players in tip-top shape) the two players are fierce competitors and often play regular squash together at the club. But the idea for a vintage rackets match came up when Mr. Williams mused into the middle-distance about how it might be different. 

Mr. Poveromo dug his vintage racket, acquired while he was in college, out of storage. It has the word "Harvard" written on the bottom but is hardly in elite condition. Mr. Williams then went on eBay and found a 1970 "Bancroft" racket a few weeks before the big game. That prompted Mr. Poveromo to get his own racket restrung using Open Squash's in-house restringing facility. The match was definitely on. 

People often ask, "which squash racket should I use?" And with advances in technology there are various answers. Some players choose a brand and stick with it. Others hop around, opting for different head shapes, weighting, and stringing tensions. Mr. Williams, whose highest U.S. squash rating is 3.74, plays with a Dunlop racket, usually. Meanwhile Mr. Poveromo, currently rated 3.7, chooses to play with a Harrow squash racket bought at Open Squash. Why? "For the branding," he said, his marketing mind constantly at work. 

The major difference between vintage and new rackets, said the men on court, was the weight. 

"It's like carrying a heavy weapon around the court," said Mr. Poveromo, who noted that even with his well-developed forearms, with his racket weighing a few pounds, it was impossible to generate power “through the wrist”. Those who picked it up to play a few points as a try-out noted that their arms also felt exhausted afterwards. 

"I think it does encourage sound, fundamental technique," Mr. Poveromo said. "You have to swing slowly and through the whole body. You can't just snap a boast out of the back corners with your wrist. Unfortunately, that neutralizes one of my most effective weapons during a match."

Nevertheless, Mr. Poveromo, with his "neutralized boast", won the first game, 9-3. The men played old-fashioned rules where a game goes to nine, instead of 11, and you can only "score" on your serve—effectively doubling the pressure of a service point and lengthening the games. Both men wore vintage fashions for the game, finding tight shorts and headbands. They neglected to shave their facial hair into Jonah Barrington-style mustaches but suggested they might go further next match. Mr. Williams, for his part, wore a nice vintage top with green embellishments reminiscent of the 1970s. He also wore a pair of white shorts, but only because he had been forbidden from wearing a tighter vintage pair of green ones. 

"Looks-wise, I was trying to channel one of my favorite musicians, John Cale, [of the band, The Velvet Underground], who took up squash in the 1980s when he got sober," Mr. Williams said. "I did buy some vintage green shorts with white piping on them on the Internet to play in, today. But my wife made me try them on first and forbade me from leaving the house!" 

Mr. Poveromo, for his part, hoped that Mr. Williams wouldn't channel too many of Mr. Cale's "velvet drop shots" from his days in the Velvet Underground, despite his vintage attire. Although in the second and third game, Mr. Williams found his touch, coming to 8-0 in the second game, before asking the gallery, "should I be a gentleman?"

He then served the ball out, deliberately, at 8-0, and granted Mr. Poveromo a "gentleman's reprieve" from a "bagel" (winning 9-0, with the 0 the shape of the eponymous “bagel”), before taking the game at 9-1. It was a remarkable piece of sportsmanship that might have been more at home in the 1850s, let alone the 1970s. A throwback to a gentler time. 

"My dad used to play with an old wooden racket like this," Mr. Williams said. "It had a handle made of terrycloth and I remember hitting with it. Once I found my touch, though, it wasn’t about the racket. It felt quite similar to regular squash."

Indeed. Mr. Williams went on to win the third game, 9-5, and take the best-of-three match. The third game seemed much like a regular squash match with both players finding comfort with their rackets. Playing with a single-dot ball, instead of a double-dot ball, both men preferred the slightly higher bounce on offer, given the handicapping of their playing implements. 

"I think we can all agree that my victory was a matter of superior skill," Mr. Williams joked afterwards, his voice dripping with a wealth of greater experience. 

Afterwards, they swapped rackets and then played another regular game with regular rackets, in which Mr. Poveromo prevailed both times. Some in the gallery noted that Mr. Williams' racket was considerably lighter than Mr. Poveromo's, prompting suggestions that they buy equally matched vintage rackets for the inevitable rematch. Although the details are very much “TBD”, at this point. 

In the end, of course, the fun vintage game showed that whatever racket you're playing with, squash is fun, it builds fitness, and brings you into a fantastic and thriving community. If you'd like to play a game with vintage rackets, the two men are excited to play another vintage match with any willing opponents. So, get in touch via the front desk at Open Squash!