- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

“No respect,” comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to complain. “No respect!”

The Washington squash community can sympathize with that sentiment. Often confused with its more popular cousin racquetball, squash in America has struggled for years to attract the attention and gain the respect it enjoys abroad.

Stop any Briton or Pakistani on the streets of the District and ask who the top-ranked squash players are. If that person can’t rattle off the names of the current top three, he’ll at least be familiar with legends of the game like Jonah Barrington and Jahangir Khan.

But pose that question to an American — outside of Ivy League grads or the area’s 500 squash players — and you are likely to get a blank stare.

That response may change between now and Sunday afternoon, when the nation’s capital plays host to the Kozitska, Wicks and Co. Washington Summit at the Sports Club L.A.

Some the globe’s top female players, including world No.2 and McLean resident Natalie Grainger, are in town to compete for a $15,000 purse. It’s not a fortune, but it’s enough to draw contestants from Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Spain and Malaysia.

Female pros in the world top 10 can expect to make five-figure incomes, with the top three breaking into six figures, said Grainger, a citizen of South Africa. Some of the contestants this weekend will walk away with nothing. Admission to the tournament isn’t inexpensive, however, with spectators paying up to $60 a match.

“You can make a living at it, but it’s a tough go,” said Grainger, who became ill this week and had to withdraw from the finals tomorrow and Sunday.

So what is the attraction? For many, it’s the grace, dexterity and — above all — fitness needed to compete at even a modest level. Forbes magazine last fall ranked squash No.1 among the 10 healthiest sports, ahead of running, swimming, basketball and rowing.

“For people just getting into the game, it’s almost too much to sustain, but once you get there, squash is tremendous,” Paul Assaiante told Forbes. Assaiante is coach of the five-time national champion men’s squash team at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Rallies can last for minutes, and staying alive means sprinting, lunging and dashing up and down the 32-foot court. Unlike tennis, squash provides very few breaks between serves and points. A half-hour on the indoor court, with a badminton-like racquet and an apricot-size ball, provides a world-class workout.

Squash long has been associated with the Ivy League, a reputation that stems from its origins at British boarding schools. But there are signs it’s breaking free of its blue-blood past with programs in Boston and New York targeting inner-city children.

“What it will take is more public courts,” said Grainger, a native of Britain who first picked up a racket at 3.

Until then, American squash will have to rely on a small but devoted following and efforts like the Washington Summit.

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