The Squash Spirit of St. Louis

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Professional singles squash returns to the Racquet Club of Saint Louis in the form of the $10,000 Emerson Racquet Club Pro Series 2014 January 15-18, the city’s first Professional Squash Association event since 2011 and first of the 2014 U.S. Pro Series.

The sixteen player draw includes one 2013 U.S. Pro Series event champion—twenty-three-year-old German Raphael Kanda who won October’s Champion Fiberglass Open in Houston. Kandra slots in as the two seed and faces twenty-four-year-old Canadian Fred Reid—who also plied his trade as Squash Doubles Association world No. 18—in the first round.

Pakistani top seed Nasir Iqbal is seeded to meet Kandra in the final as the nineteen-year-old makes his U.S. Pro Series debut.

2013 Qatari national and junior champion Abdullah Mohd Al Tamimi returns to the U.S. Pro Series as the four seed after making waves in 2013. The nineteen-year-old stunned inaugural U.S. Pro Series champion Julian Illingworth in the first round of the 2013 ilex Construction Charlottesville Challenger and picked up a first round win against higher-ranked Mexican Arturo Salazar—seeded third in St. Louis—in the Betty F Griffin Florida State Open.

Due to withdrawals, Al Tamimi faces Racquet Club of St. Louis professional, tournament promoter, and former world No. 104 Mike Puertas.

Puertas, forty-five, says his body will be tested in the first round against the Qatari teenager.

“We’ve had a few withdrawals so I’ve been thrown into the main draw, which is really going to hurt. I haven’t been training so it’s going to be painful!” Puertas said.

Puertas (pictured left), a former touring professional, has run professional squash events in St. Louis since 2004, which have included hardball, doubles, and glass court events. The $10,000 Racquet Club Invitational was the most recent PSA event to be held in the gateway to the west, the winner and finalist of which were current world No. 36 Henrik Mustonen (pictured middle) and world No. 25 Mathieu Castagnet (pictured right).

“The goal is to expose professional squash to our club members, and they love seeing these pros come in,” Puertas said. “We actually love the developmental prize money level, more than the big events. We know the aspirations of all the big events; we’ve done that already. It’s actually more fun holding these small events with new guys coming up. Every year there’s a new group of players trying to make it on the tour so it’s fun seeing that happen.

“The racquet club has a history of backing squash whether it be national events or international pro events and is really one of the most generous clubs in the country to squash. For this tournament, all of the players are being housed by club members and, if there’s ever any cause like the Olympic fund, the members always donate. They’re always backing squash. We have more than two-hundred US SQUASH members based out of our club. We’re stuck in the Midwest here, but the club really supports and loves the sport.”

The Racquet Club’s history includes much more than supporting squash, most notably the club helped fund Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean in the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

Having experienced the toils of the professional squash tour’s lower tiers personally, Puertas looks forward to providing opportunities to up-and-coming players.

“When I was first on tour, one of the things that really benefitted me was the Squash News tour that Tom and Hazel Jones put together,” Puertas said. “It was an opportunity for players like me who were starting out to come over and play ten or twelve tournaments in a row in the U.S. over the summer. On average it was five thousand dollars per tournament, but it was the perfect spring board for players like Peter Nicol to start picking up points and playing bigger events. So tours like the U.S. Pro Series for developing players is huge.”