Ashour will enhance rep

Squash enthusiasts in the Cayman Islands have been spoiled by the raft of the world’s best players regularly playing here over the last few years and that is set to continue next month with the third staging of the Cayman Open, sponsored by Cedrus Investments. 

The Cayman Open was first run two years ago on short notice at the squash club in South Sound and was so well received by the world’s top females who were all coming for the first time that last year there was no problem in attracting them again – plus those who regretted missing the first one – that it moved to a glass court in Camana Bay. That too was a huge success.

At the 2011 Cedrus Cayman Open, most of the top 20 female players in the world will compete again, plus the former current world No. 1, world champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Ramy Ashour, in the men’s competition, again in Camana Bay. 

It runs from 3-9 April and since Ashour confirmed he was coming last summer, there has been a tremendous buzz in the squash fraternity. On top of that, the 2012 World Open will be played in Cayman from 1-8 December, the first time in the Caribbean. 

Nikki Callender, senior events manager at Camana Bay, said: “As the home of the Cayman Squash Open, Camana Bay is excited to see this world class event go from strength to strength, not only through the calibre of the international players competing but also with the benefits and opportunities it affords Cayman’s youth.” 

Working with government and sponsors, the Cayman Islands National Squash Association is focusing on growing the junior programme, which has already developed players of the calibre of Cameron Stafford, the Caribbean junior champion. 

Jeff Broderick, director of the squash association, said: “We have used the Cayman Open as a funding and promotion tool to increase our junior programme. This has allowed us to hire a full time junior squash coach and greatly increase the number of juniors that get squash coaching.”

The junior squash programme offers free school and after school programmes and heavily subsidised intermediate and elite coaching. 

Dan Kneipp, Cayman Open tournament director, said: “The Cedrus Cayman Open is one of the largest tournaments on the pro tour and is regarded as one of the best in the world. 

“An indication of how respected the event is, two years ago we were given the rights to bid to host the World Open in 2012. This was before we had achieved our glass court event, which is one of the requirements to bid. They saw how professional the event was, even back in 2009 and were happy to give us the World Open based on this.”

Egyptian Ashour is so respected that Cairo has become a magnet for many players, including Cayman’s former top junior, Alain Mudeen, who is studying for a degree there as well as improving his world ranking. 

“Ashour is very excited about coming here,” added Kneipp. “He has said that he has heard a lot about the tournament already and a lot about how beautiful Cayman is. It wasn’t hard convincing him to come!

“The world ranking’s change every month and he has been bouncing back and forward between No. 1 and No. 2 with a player from England, Nick Matthew. Ramy was ranked No. 1 in December, he is back at No. 2 for January. Depending on how the next tournament goes determines if he goes back to No. 1 for March and April.”

Nicol David is the world’s dominant female. She always loves coming here and admits Cayman is one of her favourite spots. In fact, the first time she competed here, two years ago, the Malaysian changed her flights to stay longer and do the touristy things like visiting Stingray City. 

David said: “The Cayman Islands is one of the most spectacular islands I’ve ever been to. Instantly there was a welcoming feeling the moment I arrived here and the tournament has been extremely well organised.”

Glenn Stark is the recently appointed national coach. He will be heavily involved in the event. “One hundred per cent of the Cedrus Cayman Open’s profits will go to the junior squash programme,” said Kneipp. “Glenn is in charge of the programme. Over $32,000 worth of squash equipment will be donated to the programme and during the tournament over 300 Cayman juniors will get a chance to get on court and play with the pros.”

Such is the burgeoning reputation of the squash scene here that international media attention is inevitable. “This year’s event will be covered by a British TV crew. The marketing value of this event alone is worth over US$900,000. 

“This has been independently analysed by a Dutch marketing company. As promotion for the tournament we spent a week in Grand Central Terminal in New York with a large Cayman Islands booth during the pro squash tournament they host there. Over 200,000 people went past the Cayman stall during the week. 

“The marketing value that has been estimated for an event this size is between $2 million and $3 million. For next year this will be over double because we host the World Open. The challenge we have is ensuring this extensive exposure turns into people flying to Cayman and with the extensive coverage the event has we are achieving this. We also have the Junior World Championships in 2013.”

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Ashour is a charismatic figure in world squash. – PHOTO: FILE

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