Court Revival

Court Revival

With refurbished courts, a new interactive system and quality coaching, the Club’s squash hub is enjoying a bustling summer.

With a determined sweep of her racket, Member Emi Onuki propels the rubber ball towards a giant dart board projected onto the wall in front of her.

“It’s cool, right?” Onuki’s husband, Michael Richardson, exclaims.

The squash rookies are trying out the Club’s brand-new InteractiveSquash (iSquash) system, installed in Squash Court 3, on a Friday evening in July.

The supersized version of the pub favorite is just one of the many games and training tools available on the state-of-the-art system—the first of its kind in Japan—which combines immersive projection graphics and ball-tracking technology.

“You have to focus to control the ball and hit the right place, the right number,” Onuki explains. “It’s very fun, and if I don’t have someone to play with, I can play this.”

Although thanks to the Club’s hitting partner program, finding somebody to practice with isn’t a problem. It’s an initiative Squash Committee chair Jeremy Markwick-Smith sees as a way to “get people playing more, learning the game and meeting each other.”

The Club has long been a center of squash in Japan (where the global sport remains relatively obscure) and boasts a community of more than 130 players. Following last month’s iSquash launch—made possible by the generosity of one Member—and the recent renovation of the three courts, Markwick-Smith wants to grow the game further at the Club.

Image: InteractiveSquash system on Squash Court 3

“We’re offering a variety of free coaching programs, and we have club nights where you get to play with a coach and a lot of other people,” he says. “Then you go for a drink or, when it’s a bit cooler, sit outside, have a coffee or whatever at Splash! or on the terraces.”

Those who have never stepped onto a court can take a free introduction to the game (held on the first Sunday of each month) before honing their skills through lessons or practice sessions with one of the four squash professionals.

Players with a competitive streak can test themselves in the Club’s squash league of around 30 Members. Jack Yan, who joined the Club last year, says a league offers the chance to compete against a variety of playing styles.

“It’s interesting to see how the game is played differently by different people with the same result,” he says.

Squash provides one of the best cardio workouts, with players burning up to 1,000 calories during one hour of vigorous play. Yan recalls the intensity of the game during his first time on the court more than two decades ago at the age of 23.

“I was winded after five minutes,” he says. “But as I built up my squash stamina, I could last much longer and that was satisfying. You can break a sweat in a very short time, and it also requires mental skill to read your opponent’s game and pick your shots.”

Richardson’s 17-year-old daughter, Kylie, discovered the physical demands of the sport when she and her family took an introductory session with Club pro Rico Cheung. Hesitant at first, she was hooked after a few minutes.

“She loved it,” Richardson says. “She had a great, great, great time, so she’s excited to continue.”

Two young Members currently lighting up the courts are Daisaku and Harutoshi Yasui. Their sibling rivalry has helped them find success in national tournaments.

Nine-year-old Harutoshi won the under-9 title at the All-Japan Junior Squash Championships in March, while his 11-year-old brother, Daisaku, finished fourth in the under-13 category. The pair will next take part in the Club’s own TAC Premier Classic, which makes its return this month after a two-year, pandemic-enforced hiatus.

Image: Daisuku and Harutoshi Yasui

The boys’ mother, Mieko, says she is happy that her sons have found a passion they can do together at the Club.

“They give good feedback to each other, and their bond has become stronger and stronger through squash,” she says.

Markwick-Smith sees great potential in the brothers and compares them to Club rising star Ren Makino. Having been introduced to squash at the age of 8 by his father, the 14-year-old won the under-17 division at this year’s nationals.

Daisaku was introduced to squash by his older brother’s friend.

“He was so cool, so I decided to give it a try,” Daisaku says. “I really enjoyed it and now I’m totally into squash.”

Harutoshi picked up a racket for the first time a year later.

“At first, I played just for fun, but as I started to enjoy it more and more, I became very serious about the game,” he says.

Beating his brother for the first time also fueled Harutoshi’s desire to keep playing.

“When I play with my brother, I am nervous because I can’t lose. I have pride as his older brother,” Daisaku admits. “But it’s difficult because we know each other’s style. I can easily guess where he will hit the ball next. It’s also fun because I can be sneaky, since I know his strategy so well, but I feel pressure when he gets points.”

Markwick-Smith says he hopes that the iSquash system will attract more young players like Daisaku and Harutoshi to the Club courts. If last month’s rollout event is any indication, that just might happen. According to Markwick-Smith, the majority of those who turned out were young families. And there was plenty of young talent on display to inspire newcomers.

Image: 2018 TAC Premier Classic

“As it happened, that morning we had a two-hour series of matches with five Japan junior champions, a 12-year-old through to a 17-year-old, all playing us older guys,” Markwick-Smith says.

The Club’s more senior players, he stresses, can also benefit from using iSquash and its suite of functions.

“I think it’s very much valid as a training aid for good players to practice control of the shot as much as it is for being a bit of fun and a safe way for kids to hit their targets,” he says.

With Members booking iSquash sessions and the refurbished courts set to host top-level tournament action this month, it’s shaping up to be a breakout summer for squash at the Club.
As far as new squash converts Michael Richardson and his family are concerned, it’s no surprise.

“It’s really, really fun,” he says. “And if that’s what you’re looking for in a sport, it’s a win.”

Visit the Squash page of the Club website to book courts, including iSquash-equipped Squash Court 3, and learn more about lessons and free introductory sessions.

Words: C Bryan Jones
Images: Yuuki Ide
Top Image: Emi Onuki and Michael Richardson