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Squashed by a pro

Pranav Soneji faces up to Lee Beachill - and faces the dire consequences
Mental note if you ever play a squash pro - do not big yourself up or you'll end up on your backside in no time (picture courtesy of David Barry)

By Pranav Soneji

"Squash," said Noel Coward, "that's not exercise, it's flagellation."

That all-round raconteur had a very prescient point, which I found out to my regret after I stepped on court with world number eight Lee Beachill at London's Broadgate Circle, the venue for the Super Series Finals this week.

The tournament is squash's end-of-season finale, like the Masters Cup in men's tennis, which features the best eight players in the world battling it out for a £50,000 payday.

The temporary venue in the heart of the City is a seriously impressive structure - a marquee with a singular squash court plonked bang in the middle, along with 300 seats for spectators.

For your below-average squash player like me, it's like playing cricket at Lord's when all you have been used to is the dog poo-strewn council pitches of north London.

And it's not just the venue that's world-class - my opponent Beachill is a former world number one. And there is a very good reason why.

I had "conveniently" left my racket at home, but within two minutes tournament director Paul Walters has a spanking new replacement in my hands, which made my own look like something Tony Robinson would dig up in an episode of Time Team.

Beachill then unleashed a shot of such venom, it would have left a squash ball-sized hole had it touched my body

After a few choice warm-up forehands and backhands, Beachill, an affable, rugby league-loving Yorkshireman, dispensed with the pleasantries.

Beachill just stood there hitting shots like Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in The Matrix - absolutely nothing seemed to get past him.

While I was busting several blood vessels chasing down improbable balls into the corners, he casually strolled around majestically stroking and dabbing without the merest hint of breaking sweat.

I managed to nick five points in the first game, but I had the feeling Beachill wasn't quite playing to his full potential.

So I thought I would test his resolve a bit.

A winning forehand, which made more contact with frame than strings, earned me a point against serve during the second game.

"Lucky," said Lee. "Yeah right, lucky." was my not-too-clever retort. That, it seemed, was the sporting equivalent to suicide - like blowing kisses to Sir Alex Ferguson in full hairdryer rage.

Pranav Soneji gets down to the corner against Lee Beachill
The Soneji v Beachill epic was hardly box office stuff (picture David Barry)

Beachill then unleashed a shot of such venom, it would have left a squash ball-sized hole had it touched my body.

Needless to say, I got nowhere near it. The second game finished 11-6 in Beachill's favour, a sweaty handshake (my hand, not his) later and my ordeal was over.

For Beachill, the real business started the night before in his first match in the eight-man Super Series as a late replacement for injured defending champion Ramy Ashour.

The tournament is sold out and organisers have installed extra seating to accommodate the excess demand.

Although the event may not hold the prestige of the British Open - the Wimbledon of the squash world - or offer the financial rewards of the Saudi International, it pits the world's best eight against each other.

"It's a quality tournament that all the players look forward to playing - anyone who is anyone in our sport has made the final or won the event," said Beachill.

The 31-year-old admitted the sums involved in squash are rising thanks to its growing corporate profile, especially in the Middle East.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Pranav Soneji

Egyptian world number one Amr Shabana leads the way, along with compatriot Ashour, while tournaments in Cairo and Kuwait have boosted the tour's coffers.

"When I was world number one in 2004, the tour was worth about $1m," said Beachill. "Now it's closer to $3m, so it's going in the right direction, no question."

And the beauty of squash's growing popularity is its mobility - how many other sports can say they have played at the Pyramids of Giza or New York's Grand Central Station?

Beachill admitted squash has given him a "wonderful life", but the lack of media profile is one aspect he would like to see improved.

"Squash doesn't get the attention it deserves, but that is getting better," he said.

Flagellation has never been more appealing.



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see also
Squash calendar
17 Oct 00 |  Squash
Duncalf loses British Open final
14 May 08 |  Squash
Willstrop stunned by Palmer win
12 May 08 |  Squash
Hinds beaten by ex-champ Beachill
13 Feb 08 |  Squash


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