History of Squash
The Roots of Squash
Squash was born in the early 19th century in the unlikely place of Fleet Prison in London. Limited facilities saw the prisoners take to hitting balls against the walls with racquets, so starting the game “Racquets”.
The game made its way to Harrow and other select English schools around 1820, where the pupils discovered that a punctured Racquet ball “squashed” on impact.
This created a game with much more shot variety and demanded much more effort from the players. Squash proved very popular and in 1864 the first four squash courts were constructed at Harrow school and Squash was officially founded.
In 1912 the Tennis, Rackets & Fives Association was founded at Queen's and a sub-committee issued a preliminary set of rules. Court length and width was considered a matter of local opinion. Cement or stone were preferred to wood for the materials of the court.
Two types of balls were the best; “either a fast ball that bounces well but not too high, and does not fly about, or a very small hard solid ball or a medium-size thin rubber hollow ball, without a hole."
As far as the rules of play were concerned, the sub-committee recommended flexibility. Serving could be either one serve or two, courts could have a cut line on the front wall or not and most delightfully, the man returning could have the right of "refusing a service he does not like".
The sub-committee had no power to enforce its recommendations and another eleven years passed without any official standards. In January 1923 the Royal Automobile Club hosted a meeting of delegates from English clubs where squash was played and formed a "Squash Rackets Representative Committee." The committee chose the slowest of the half dozen different kinds of balls then in vogue as the standard ball and declared the Bath Club court, thirty two by twenty-one feet, as the standard for English squash. In December 1928 the Squash Rackets Association was formed to run squash in Great Britain.
The Squash Racquets Association immediately began slowing the ball down further. While the Bath courts served as the model for English squash, the Bath ball, as large and fast as an American ball, was deemed far too large and fast for English sensibilities. The officials chose the most inert ball available and then in a series of incremental changes, reduced it even more. Between 1930 and 1934 the association cut the standard ball's speed almost by half.
Without international standardisation variations developed between the game in England and in North America. The English preferred the “soft” ball on a court 21 feet wide while the Americans preferred the “hard” ball and continued using a court 18.5 feet wide right up until the mid 1980’s. Around that time exposure to the international game saw the majority of North American squash players convert overwhelmingly from “hard” ball to predominantly “soft” ball.
The point-a-rally scoring system to 15 was used until 1926, when the current hand-in, hand-out system to 9 points was introduced outside North America.
Around the Globe
The rapid international growth of squash was due mainly to the deployment of British forces around the globe. Countries such as India, Pakistan, Egypt, Australia and New Zealand learned squash from the military and were quick to adopt the game.
Many other nations experienced tremendous growth in Squash, starting slowly at the beginning of the century and then gaining momentum over the past forty years. In each country the basic story is the same. A group of enthusiasts start to play and promote the game which, because of its inherent qualities of intense exercise coupled with all-absorbing competition, grows rapidly and becomes a major sport in the land. The formula which made Squash grow in its traditional homelands is now being seen again in Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Korea and many new Squash nations, worldwide.
Squash Rackets Association of England and the United States Squash Rackets Association were the original administrators of Squash, but in 1966 representatives of the sport from Australia, Great Britain, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, USA, Canada and the United Arab Republic agreed to form the International Squash Rackets Federation (ISRF).
The ISRF was amalgamated with the Women's International Squash Federation in 1985. In 1992 the name of the Federation was changed to the World Squash Federation (WSF), finally recognising that the sport had been universally referred to simply as "Squash", rather than "Squash Rackets". It is the sole International Federation for the sport, as recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and maintains responsibility for the rules of the Game, Court and Equipment Specifications, Refereeing and Coaching. The WSF maintains a World Calendar of events and organises and promotes World Championships for Men, Women, Junior Men, Junior women and Master age groups in both singles and doubles Squash.
The Federation leads its Member Nations in programmes for the development of the sport and is currently working with the IOC towards the target of having Squash included as a sport on the programme of the Olympic Games in the year 2016.
Doubles began at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia in 1907 when Fred Tompkins, the tennis and rackets pro at the club, erected a forty-five feet by twenty-five court. In the 1930s dozens of clubs across America built courts and an amateur circuit of tournaments sprung up. Pro doubles started with the founding of the Heights Casino Open in 1938 in Brooklyn, New York, but it was not until the WPSA tour began in the late 1970s that it took off.
In 2000 the tour's players formed the International Squash Doubles Association. There are more than one hundred proper hardball doubles courts in North America. There is one in Tijuana, Mexico and three in Asia at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club in Thailand, the Tanglin Club in Singapore and the Raintree Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Today softball doubles is the norm outside North America. The courts are thirty-two feet by twenty-five, which is proclaimed the standard softball doubles width. In 1997 the first World Softball Doubles Championships were held in Hong Kong, with the biggest showcase being the Commonwealth Games. At both Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and Manchester in 2002, men's, women's and mixed doubles were medal events.
Champions of Squash
In 1933 Egyptian player F.D. Amr Bey, won the first of his five British Open Championships (then viewed as the World Championships). He was followed in his achievement by M.A. Karim of Egypt who won the title four times from 1947 to 1950.
No history of Squash can be complete without mention of the amazing exploits of the Khan dynasty, starting with Hashim, who won the first of his seven British Open titles in 1951 at the age of 35 years. Hashim was the first of a line of great Pakistani Squash Champions - Azam Khan, Mohibullah Khan, Roshan Khan, Aftab Jawaid, Gogi Alauddin, Mo Yasin, Qamar Zaman, Mohibullah Khan Junior, Hiddy Jahan and the two greatest players of the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps of all time, Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. Jahangir, now President of the World Squash Federation, dominated the sport for 14 years, winning the British Open 10 times and the World Open 8 times and was undefeated for 5½ years.
It is amazing to see such a succession of World Champions emerge and dominate squash for so long, from a country that boasts no more than 400 squash courts.
The first Women's British Open champion was Miss J.I. Cave, winning the title in 1922. Until 1960 the title belonged solely to English players, with Janet Morgan (later Shardlow) winning 10 times between 1950 and 1958. She was followed by the most famous woman Squash player ever, the Australian Heather McKay, who dominated the sport from 1966 to 1977 and remained undefeated throughout her 19 year playing career. Her successor was New Zealand’s own Susan Devoy, who won the title 8 times between 1984 and 1992.
Perhaps the players who had the most impact on the development of the sport were Jonah Barrington (Ireland) and Geoff Hunt (Australia). They dominated Squash between the late 1960's and early 1980's, capturing the imagination of sportsmen and women everywhere and starting a boom in the sport which raised the number of courts to 46,000 worldwide and the number of players to over 15 million by 1994.
Other dominant pros were Australians like Ken Hiscoe, Dean Williams, Rodney and Brett Martin and Chris Dittmar, New Zealand's Ross Norman and Englishmen like Gawain Briars and Phil Kenyon. No doubt though, the most exciting group of players came from Pakistan.
The future of squash has never been brighter. Technology has forever shattered the inherent limitations of this racquet, ball and wall game. Racquets are much lighter and stronger today, making the game more exciting. The ball is now consistent throughout the world.
Canada adopted softball standards in the late 1970s and the U.S. and Mexico changed in the early 1990s.
The all-glass portable court came into existence in the early 1980s. This greatly expanded gallery size for pro events which helped fuel more sponsorship. Television also became a reality with the glass walls. Because of portable courts, squash tournaments have been staged in stunning locations: in Grand Central Terminal, New York's famous train station; in Canary Wharf, London's flashy shopping center; in Royal Albert Hall; at Symphony Hall, the landmark auditorium in Boston; and most famously at the base of the Pyramids at Giza outside Cairo. These high-profile events are the leading edge of the twenty-first century squash juggernaut. The game is global. A company from Washington, D.C. is building courts in St. Petersburg. Germany has gone from a dozen courts in 1973 to six thousand and boasts two million active players.
More than twenty nations have players ranked in the top one hundred in the men's world rankings.
In just over 150 years squash has gone from a schoolboy pastime to the most exhilarating, exhausting and explosive game in the world.