BY Alan Thatcher
To say that Chicago is proving a popular location for the Aon US Open would be a staggering understatement.
The event has been playing to sell-out crowds around the glass court set up in Pioneer Court, just off Michigan Avenue, which is known as the Magnificent Mile.
And magnificent is a tribute heard often at courtside as spectators familiar with the sport and those watching it for the first time gasp in admiration at the speed, skill and athleticism of the world’s leading players.
Photographs of the glass court in front of the architectural splendour of the Chicago skyline provide iconic images of squash’s location-driven potential as a money-spinning spectator sport.
Squash enthusiasts unable to secure a seat around the courtside have been able to take advantage of the free view through the front wall. Several hundred passers-by stopped to watch the quarter-finals and organisers were considering the option of installing more seats for the semi-finals and final this weekend.
Following the disappointment of the IOC vote that banished squash into the Olympic wilderness for a further four years, this Chicago success story has given the sport a timely boost.
The players have underscored their entertainment value, which has to be their greatest priority and a path which leads to commercial rewards, and reinforced the view that no further tampering with the rules is necessary.
The package they can deliver is a high-quality product that has attracted significant sponsorship interest from Windy City corporations for this year and future editions of the tournament.
The success of last year’s Sweet Home Chicago Open, played at the same open-air location, resulted in the the organisers securing the rights to the US Open.
The local media are gradually taking an interest, with TV, radio and newspaper coverage gradually taking shape and adding further value to the efforts of US Squash, the sponsors and Imran Nasir’s brilliant team of volunteers.
Alan Thatcher is a journalist, Squash’s No.1 TV commentator, a tournament promoter and a club coach. He is also busy with a sports club he recently co-founded in England (called TriSports) which provides sporting opportunities for young people, especially those who are homeless, unemployed or disadvantaged.