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Open Squash

Jun 25th 2024

The Art of Squash with Anders Wahlstedt, former Swedish Number One

Anders Wahlstedt Featured Image

From Swedish squash champion to New York art maven, Anders Wahlstedt embodies resilience and reinvention, inspiring a journey where passion and possibility converge.

Swedish Squash Player and art gallerist Anders Wahlstedt is an inspiring figure for anyone who might be considering their career options. As a former pro squash player and now successful art gallerist in New York, he brings a spirit of abundance and optimism that’s infectious to be around. 

“My first chapter was a passion for squash, and chapter two has been a passion for art,” he said. “And I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work in those two fields.”

He first came to the U.S. in the 1990s and worked as the pro at the Printing House, a fabled squash community in New York’s West Village which closed in 2012. Some of the players from the Printing House went on to start the organization which became Open Squash, a nonprofit community squash center in New York, today.

We caught up with Anders recently to find out more about being Swedish number one, and his squash playing and art dealing life here in New York City.

Anders was number one in Sweden and became U.S. National Champion his first year in this country, in 1994, but the following year, was excluded from the event as he was just a green card holder, and they changed the rules so that you needed citizenship. Still, one could describe him as “undefeated” as U.S. National Champion, in some ways! He reached a highest world ranking of 18 in 1988. 

“I played on the PSA tour from 1985 to 1990, and it was an incredible time not just for the playing, but also to be able to travel to all these interesting places,” he said.

On tour, he played amongst a very strong group of players including Chris Dittmar, Rodney Martin, Ross Norman, Chris Robertson, and of course, both Jahangir and Jansher Khan.

Anders played both Khan brothers multiple times, getting within one point of winning a game against Jahangir, once—Jahangir is commonly acknowledged as the greatest player ever to step on a squash court, winning 555 matches in a row.

“I was going to say it was so much fun to play them, but not really,” he said. “Playing Jahangir, although he was incredibly good, I always felt a little hope that he could make a mistake, or that I could put the ball away from him. But playing Jansher it was a nightmare. He just got to every ball and his unforced error count was next to nothing, that you really, really, had to work hard if you wanted to get one point.”

There are some big differences between the game in the 1990s and the modern game in 2024, Anders said.

“The players take the ball so early now, and they cut the ball off in the middle of the court with volleys so frequently that you really have very little time to recover, or in between points,” he said. “During my ear it was more of a game up and down the walls, and more of an endurance game. Speed has increased tremendously, and I thought players in my era were very fit, but these guys are both super fit and super-fast.”

Squash rackets are also different—Anders played with graphite before the titanium and carbon rackets of today.

“It was just not possible to be as aggressive and play as fast as you can today,” he said. “With the modern rackets, you don’t need to put a full swing behind it to hit a volley to the back of the court. You need shorter preparation, and it makes for a faster game.”

Anders thinks squash is more fun to watch, now, with the pace, tempo changes, and so on.

“The intensity is so high, as opposed to when I played, a lot of matches, it often came down to endurance, and not necessarily as interesting in terms of angles, and stuff, these days,” he said.

Anders then made a left turn into the art world when he went to play a squash tournament in Chicago, and went to an exhibition of German expressionism at the art institute of Chicago, which made a huge impression on him.

“I was really taken back by what I saw, and I really had no prior experience in seeing modern art,” he said. He was giving squash lessons to two artists, then met modern artist Frank Stella in New York. Frank, who recently died, was a keen presence in the U.S. squash world, and helped Anders get established as a gallerist.  

“He loved the game and loved to support squash,” Anders said. “And I was very fortunate when I opened my gallery nine years ago, I was consigned some prints by Frank Stella. He helped launch my career as a gallerist and that was incredibly helpful to have my first exhibit with his works, and that relationship has continued over the years.”

Anders still plays squash.

“And I love squash,” he said. “I have a gym round the corner where I do general workouts, and that’s just fine. But it’s nothing like the game of squash. I’m talking about the feeling after a game of squash, it’s like a recharge for me. And of course there’s the social aspect, even if I run into one person who’s an acquaintance, there’s always this nice camaraderie, and it’s very supportive.”

Recently Anders was hit by an e-bike in Manhattan. He spent 12 days in intensive care in hospital. Now he’s recovering.

“A step at a time, I’ve played a couple of games of squash,” he said. “But just to get on court and run around for a couple of games, it’s a true joy. Nothing is going to keep me off the squash court, even if I must roll in there.”

Anders, thanks for sharing your squash experiences with us! We wish you all the best with your continued recovery, and with your gallery pursuits, and your squash game. You’re an inspiration.