Over three days this past weekend (Fri/Sat/Sun), I watched 17 hours of college squash at the national tournament in Princeton. You would think I’d be saturated, blurry-eyed and ready to take a rest…NOPE. Yesterday I drove to the squash courts at the Millbrook School in New York State and watched an incredible exhibition match between Baset Ashfaq Chaudhry and Gustav Detter.
Both were top players at Trinity College, where I followed their contests for three and four years. Baset was the #1 college player in the country. Gustav was #1 in Sweden, was 4-time All American, and is now the #1 amateur player in the U.S. This match promised to be sensational.
And it was. The level of play was way beyond almost all of the games we had just seen at the Nationals. Gustav is working out on the courts 3-4 times a week. Baset is not quite as fit, but still a powerful and amazing competitor. It took five games to determine the winner, so you know it was close. But I was in awe of what I saw. Gorgeous, rough, athletic, nimble. Astonishing gets and terrifyingly hard hits. Some reports from the old days suggested that no one hit the ball as hard as Baset. And few were as quick and anticipatory at Gustav.
Of course there have been plenty of great college players over the years, and I have only seen a few of them in action. But after four or five years of watching top college squash, I have some appreciation for really outstanding play. And I feel privileged to have watched today’s match between two squash stars and giants.
I also want to mention that during all the matches I saw at Princeton, some were dull, uninspired, lacked subtlety, nuance and finesse. Still great competitors, with determination and heart. But true brilliance in sport really stands out. At the Friday session, we watched a Trinity player decimate his opponent with cross court backhands and gentle drop shots that were positively poetic. It was lyrical to watch such skill, craft and beauty. The game soared toward its potential. It was divine.
The next day, this same player was quickly beaten by a different competitor who raised the bar even higher. We were mesmerized and dumbfounded. How could a level of play so high the night before now appear so much lower? But it did. And the game was magical, grander, subtler, even noble. OK OK, I am getting a little carried away with superlatives. But it was startling to watch…and then be uplifted even more by today’s match.
Just goes to show you that you never know when someone will come along who can do it better, more skillfully, deftly, winningly. The memory of these three matches were among the many highlights of the weekend. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed such exalted athletic prowess, been part of the crowds, and enjoyed the passion of watching thrilling sport.