Report by Tefft Smith
The US Squash Hardball Singles season got off to a GREAT start at the 12th Annual Cardinal in D.C. the weekend of November 8. There was a significant new hardball entry — Sabrina Sobhy — the reigning US Squash Women’s National Champion! So now, hardballers can count both the US Squash Men’s and Women’s National Champions as hardball enthusiasts and promoters of hardball singles play, as both GREAT fun and an enhancement to soft ball performance.
Sabrina rapidly and progressively evolved as a hardballer. She defeated several hardball veterans before falling to her brother, 23 year old Omar Sobhy, the Pro at the Metropolitan Club, a highly ranked 6.0 softballer.
This year’s opening hardball singles tournament was played on the Met’s magnificent glass back walled, traditional hardball court. Omar’s and Sabrina’s match came in the semi-finals. Not surprisingly, it attracted quite a crowd. 18 year old Sabrina was ultimately overpowered by Omar’s size and now considerable hardball experience. His hard serves, reverse corners and 3-walls overcame Sabrina’s consistently tight rails, deadly drop shots and speedy court coverage. The 3-0 score did not reflect the intensity of the sibling struggle.
Omar had much on the line, having lost closely in the 2013 Finals to Met Club Champion Willie Gaynor, the only hardballer to get a game off Julian Illingworth, when they played in the 2013 U.S. Hardball Championships, which Julian ultimately won.
Sabrina, like Julian, found playing hardball to be “great fun” and “good preparation” for softball, citing the faster pace, demanding even quicker racquet preparation and shot making decisions, and the thrill of blasting winners.
In the other semi-final, Willie Gaynor prevailed in overtime in the 5th over Bryce Harding, a longtime hardballer and recent 50+ National Champion. Willie cracked out one of his many 3-wall nicks, after miraculously returning Bryce’s near perfect length rail. The match was a classic demonstration of what great fun it is to play and watch hardball singles squash!
The Finals were even better. Omar and Willie had many long rallies, battling along both rails, with great length and impressive retrieving. Omar’s deft drops and Willie’s 3 walls were retrieved consistently, for extended points, ultimately won by one or the other, with a clean winner. There were many rapid fire, up front volley and drop exchanges, with crowd gasping gets. Omar won the first game at 12, with Willie coming back in the 2nd, rolling out a series of 3 walls, to win also at 12. Omar won the 3rd in overtime 17-14, coming from behind, and closed out the match at 12, with an impressive array of rails to length and cross court winners off phenomenal up front retrieving. A GREAT ending to a GREAT tournament.
Paul Chan defeated Tefft Smith 3-1 in the Consolation Finals. Their match was played on the Metropolitan Club’s wide, softball court with the Austral ball, demonstrating how all the shot making and other thrills of hardball can be enjoyed on the more prevalent, wide courts. Rick Taft of Cleveland won the Statesmen’s division over Kurt Johnson. 3-0.