I recently asked players at my club to name three professional tennis players. “Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic,” the answer came without hesitation. I followed up with another question – Can you name three professional squash players? Ramy, Nick Mathew and that French guy said my friend, looking up from his beer.
The answers were not a surprise to me.
The universal appeal of tennis and its players cannot be understated. Even my wife, who is not actively into sports, recognizes professional tennis players and roots for Djokovic every time he plays a tournament. Admittedly, squash does not have the same profile nor the media presence that tennis has. Ramy Ashour, Gregory Gaultier and Nick Matthew are names that have been heard in the PSA circuit for a while. But, how do they fare in comparison with their tennis counterparts?
Is the longevity of a squash player’s career a factor? Is there longevity in tennis when compared to squash?
After all, squash is supposed to be harder on the body, even at the amateur level. Rarely do you find a squash player over forty who does not use some kind of a brace or support for his or her knees and ankles.
However, a quick look at the profiles of some of the more successful players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Ramy Ashour, and Mohamed Elshorbagy showed that my assumptions were incorrect. Generally speaking, there is a pattern to how the players got to where they are today. Most started playing the game early – as early as when they were five or six years old. They all won junior tournaments before breaking into the professional circuits. It took them anywhere between three and five years as a professional player to reach the top echelons of the game and win a major tournament.
When Malcolm Gladwell said it takes ten thousand hours of practice to get good at something, he may have gotten it right.
But, getting there is one thing; staying there is a completely different matter. How long can a player hang around at the top?
Thanks to Wikipedia, here are some stats that may surprise you.
There is no player in tennis or squash like Nicol David!
She has maintained her number one ranking for 109 consecutive months. A record which I believe is not about to be broken by any player – male or female – that we currently see on the horizon.
The only player who has consistently remained within the top three rankings for the past eight consecutive years is not Roger Federer or Ramy Ashour.
It is Novak Djokovic.
The squash player who comes close to Djokovic’s record is Nick Matthew who made the top-three list seven times out of the past eight years.
And, on the question of longevity, squash players have nothing to worry about.
Nick Matthew, currently ranked number two in the world, has been playing professional squash for nearly seventeen years. Roger Federer who broke into professional tennis in 1998, also has seventeen years under his belt. Matthew is not an exception. The current number three ranked Gregory Gaultier, Nicol David, and retired players like David Palmer and Jonathan Power all have had careers than span fifteen years or more.
So, the relative obscurity of squash has little to do with the length of the players’ careers.
Inclusion in Olympics 2020 would have helped raise the profile of the game.
Meanwhile, let’s keep our fingers crossed…