CHICAGO – This week, the Professional Squash Association’s largest event of the season is being held in the Windy City.
Competing in the ‘Windy City Open’ are the most talented male and female professional squash players from around the globe.
“We’ve gone from being a smaller event to being the largest prize purse in the world,” said Yoni Ellous, University Club of Chicago squash director.
The internationally acclaimed squash tournament has a rich history – it’s been held in Chicago for about 40 years.
“Every year it just gets bigger and better,” said Ellous.
Inside the University Club of Chicago’s Cathedral Hall on Tuesday, eight athletes — four men and four women — competed in the semi-finals to try and clinch their spot in Wednesday’s finals.
“I just like the fierce competition, the rivalry between the players. The athleticism is just breathtaking to watch,” said Aidan Harrison, who has attended the Windy City Open for the last 20 years.
The tournament is the largest on the Professional Squash Association’s World Tour with a prize purse of $500,000.
“To get to this level, it’s a lifetime commitment, most of them have been playing since they were five, six, seven years old. And it’s a lifetime sport, they dedicate their life to it, just like golf, tennis, etc.,” said Ellous. “They train two, sometimes three times a day to get ready for a tournament. When it’s tournament time, there’s a little bit of practice in the morning before their match on the glass court.”
This Windy City Open 2022 started with 96 players – 48 men and 48 women – and will end with one male and one female winner.
“Squash is fondly referred to as physical chess, so there’s so much strategy that goes into it,” said Haley Mendez, American professional squash player.
While the matches are a spectacle – so is the making of the court in Cathedral Hall.
“This is actually the only court in the world that fits, so it comes in small glass pieces, these are the only pieces that fit in our elevator,” said Ellous.
About 250 spectators attend in person, but the action reaches millions more around the world on Squash TV. Even making an appearance Tuesday – renowned tennis player, Billie Jean King!
“Definitely happy and really loving Chicago so being able to reach the finals today is really amazing,” said Hania El Hammamy, professional squash player from Egypt.
Following the tournament each year, the University Club of Chicago makes a significant donation to MetroSquash – a nonprofit organization that uplifts Chicago’s inner city youth by combining squash and academics.