Professional squash players from across the world are suiting up — masks optional, of course — for what’s hoped will be a smashing return to Calgary courts after a year away.
That’s thanks to the Professional Squash Association swinging through the city for the first time in 24 months after COVID squished the annual stop in 2021.
“This will be our eighth year hosting the event, and we are known quite well on the international pro tour for our Calgary hospitality,” said Meghan Glenday of the Calgary Women’s Squash Week committee. “It’s been a bumpy ride for the pro players these past couple of years … with travel restrictions, visa delays, billeting restrictions and tournament cancellations, in general.”
But it’s a go in 2022.
The Calgary CFO Consulting Services PSA Women’s Squash Week serves up play beginning Wednesday at the Calgary Winter Club, one day after COVID masking protocols are being lifted in Alberta.
The PSA Challenger 20 level tourney — one of five worldwide this week and the only one scheduled for North America — runs through Sunday. The Calgary stop is the biggest of those events in terms of prize money, with a $20,000 purse up for grabs.
“We usually have an amateur women’s tournament alongside the pro event,” Glenday said. ”But with club capacity restraints leading up to this year’s event, we had to drop the amateur side, which brings in approximately 70 amateur women players. We’re hoping to host the full pro-am event in 2023.”
For this year, however, the spotlight is solely on the 24 high-profile players in pursuit of PSA glory.
And topping that list of world-class women is Calgary’s own Danielle Letourneau, the world-ranked No. 20 talent. Fresh off finishing top 20 in a Chicago tour stop, the Cornell University graduate gets a bye through the first round in her bid to defend the crown she won 24 months ago at the Calgary Winter Club. The local hope is Letourneau is — at very least — in Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship match.
“We are thrilled to have Danielle as our top seed,” Glenday said. “Seeded fourth back in early March 2020, Danielle managed to win our tournament title, and since then her world ranking has moved from No. 39 to now No. 20.
“She has been training in Egypt, so it will be interesting to see how her style of squash and techniques and strategies have evolved since then.”
Australia’s Donna Lobban — the No. 2 seed here and ranked 29th on the world list — and the Hong Kong duo of Tze Lok Ho — at No. 3 — and Liu Tsz-Ling round out the rest of tourney’s top four seeds. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old hometown star Letourneau will be joined by three fellow Canadians — Regina’s Nikki Todd (No. 99), Winnipeg’s Hannah Blatt (No. 154) and 17-year-old Calgarian Jana Dweek, who is ranked fourth among under-19 Canadian phenoms.
“For us, this week is all about celebrating and promoting women in squash,” Glenday said. “And what better way to inspire and motivate everyone in the squash community than watching some of the top female players in the world.”
PSA Challenger tourneys are entry points for up-and-coming squash pros looking to a more international level of competition.
“The Calgary Winter Club and the city-wide squash community look forward to this event every March,” Glenday added. “Being absent for the last two years has everyone excited, including the players, to see top-level squash back in town. Players from around the world — as far from England, Egypt, Australia and Hong Kong — will play in this tournament.”