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Friday, March 18, 2011

Q&A with Alister Walker


This is some of the best squash news I have ever had the chance to share:  A top British professional squash player, Alister Walker, moved his home base from England to New York two months ago. He is currently living in Harlem and is going to be training out of squash clubs all around New York.  The best part, Ali Walker is in the prime of his career - he is only twenty eight years old and has been in the PSA top twenty for the last two years.  As a point of comparison, his friend and training partner in England, Nick Matthew, reached the world number one spot for the first time last year at the tender age of thirty.  And Matthew is still there now, a year later, and is showing no signs of slowing down.  Perhaps Ali will follow in Nick's footsteps??

So, I got the opprtunity to ask Mr. Walker a few questions which he answered incredibly well, so thought I would just pass on his words directly in a Question and Answer format.  Enjoy! 

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"BE: Why the move to New York?

AW: My move to NYC was prompted by a feeling of "staleness". I felt as though I was in need of a change in environment to improve energy.  Within the performance section at England Squash there were many changes and I was not entirely happy with the way they were managed and the timing of those changes. My coach, David Pearson informed me he would be working closely with Chris Gordon and coming to the states quite frequently so things started to make sense for a move to the USA. More specifically NYC was the only city with enough players to continue to get the necessary sparring partners I need to continue to achieve my goals. On top of that what a great city with a powerful energy. There wasn't another option!

   Another good reason for the move to New York is one of my closest friends from the prestigious Wycliffe College is living not far from Harlem. Richard Wade is becoming a high achieving junior private coach mainly in Greenwich. We lived together in Leeds when we had both finished our schooling at Wycliffe. Good to have someone like that around.   I had an amazing conditioning trainer in England, the type that could not be replaced. Mark Campbell who still works with Nick Matthew and James Willstrop and I must admit it was hard to leave him but we are still in touch. Relationships like we had will go beyond just physical conditioning. I hope he will come to visit me in the Big Apple however I am working with Rob Marra who is based in Baltimore but comes up to NYC and I travel down at weekends now and I have enjoyed the sessions and look forward to them.  And with smart training and a bit of luck hopefully staying injury free and feeling fit and strong.

BE: Understand you are living in Harlem; do you know about StreetSquash?

AW: I am living in Harlem for the time being. I have a cousin, Lesego, from Botswana that is my age living there. We actually grew up together and learned our squash at the same time and place. He works for the prominent businessman Russell Symonds now but was keen for me to come over and we are living in an apartment together in Harlem. It's great for us with the huge African influence. There is plenty of African restaurants and styled bars in Harlem not to mention you get considerably more for you money than any other part of Manhattan to my knowledge!

   I am aware of the Streetsquash program and I am very keen to be more involved. I met with Katie Siegel there and she showed the program and how it works. As of yet getting on my feet sorting out my residence, trying to train and get some work around that in order to make up for lost support from England Squash it has been a struggle to get over. It's on my radar to do my part for the kids and StreetSquash! I hit with a few of them at the Tournament of Champions and we had a good time.

BE: Given you are a PSA touring pro how much time will you actually be in NYC and where will you train?

AW: I am really happy being in NYC so I will be looking forward to getting back "home" when I have finished playing overseas. A feeling I did not have in 2010. I will be spending the vast majority of the time from January to August in New York I hope as that will be my off season and there are enough events in North America for me not to have to leave too far for too long. Of course I will need to get back to see my folks in Botswana for a couple of weeks once the traditional seasons ends. Apart from that I hope to be around plenty!

   New York Sports Club have kindly given me free membership to do much of my physical training in there. I will be hitting at the clubs that have courts, like at 86th Street and Lexington.

   Bradley Ball and I are getting on 2-3 times a week at the Union club and Bradley has been very helpful for my game. Julian Illingworth and I will hit at his base NYAC and I will travel up to Connecticut to train the Australian boys based around there. Wael El Hindi and myself will start to hit and I am extremely excited to hear Amr Shabana has moved over too and I will be on his case to hit several times a week!

BE: Do you think other squash pros will follow your lead and come to the U.S.?

AW: It's hard to know if players will follow my lead from Europe. To a large extent it depends on my success as to whether they see it viable for a young pro wanting to make the most of their best coming years. It has the tag of being the country to come to at the twilight of your career to cash in on your name. I hope this may be the start of a change to that tag. With the likes of Ryan Cuskelly, Amr Shabana and myself fully based in NYC it may seem more appealing. It's expensive place to live for a squash pro though!"

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Is it not awesome that a bunch of the world's top professional players have moved to New York?  The first to make the move was actually another top Egyptian player, Wael El Hindi, a few years back.  He has quite a following in the U.S. and can regularly be seen on the court at Cityview training some of the city's most promising youngsters.

And now we all get the privilege of seeing a few more professional players of his calibre (both on and off the court) in action here too.  It's a great time to be a squash fan in New York.

2 comments:

  1. That's great news! Love to see great squash players coming to the States and NYC in particular.

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  2. Nice article, Ally seems like a top guy. Hopefully we can see him reaching close to the top 10 again this year.

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