To help you understand the background of the event, I thought it best to speak with the two people who brought you the Optasia event – apart from Bassim Haidar, Optasia CEO and Sponsor of the ChannelVas/Optasia events since 2016, OBVIOUSLY.
Also, For those who do not know, the Wimbledon Club is situated right in front of the All England Mythical Tennis Club, and their cricket ground is used as parking during the tournament.
So, on my left, Stacey Ross, former PSA player, Squash Director for the Wimbledon Club for a few years now (over 15 years, I would say?), who first brought PSA events to this part of the world.
And on my right, Danny Lee, also a former PSA player and promoter of many events while he was at St George’s, Weybridge.
Danny is at the moment waiting for his hip surgery to be able to decide what is going to do with his “free electron” life, as his 33 year long contract came to an end last year.
“As often in life, one door closes, and another door opens” he smiles. “I went out to America to look at jobs that people had asked me to do, but there’s a little bit of uncertainty because of my hip operation, which now has been set for the 24th May, which gives me the summer to recuperate.
“Some of those jobs were with nice lifestyle and nice work, life balance and some which were really, really amazing ones, but probably just a bit hard in terms of the commitment and the number of weekends. I will rethink the situation once my hip is sorted.”
JOE AND CHARLIE
One of Danny’s greatest achievements are his children: Joe, now married and coaching a lot more, is the proud father of Melody, 20 months old.
While Charlie, well, we’ve seen this week how well the boy is doing!
Life wasn’t plain sailing though for the past 5 years, as we all remember well.
“As you remember, Covid was a disaster for everyone, I appreciate how fair the club was during Covid to me and still to date. It was difficult to know if squash was going to bounce back. And fortunately, the club took the view that squash was going to come back eventually, especially for squash, being the nature of the sport, closed space, people sweating and breathing over each other! Not exactly COVID material…!
“Due to the strong ties between the club and All England Club and the strong membership across all the sports, the club took a view that it wanted to be in a strong position when squash was going to come back, decided to refurbish all the courts, re-plastered all the walls, put some new floors in, took the balconies out, and decorated the whole area upstairs downstairs. So basically, it was like new.
Stacey: our target was always to have a major event
HOW IT ALL STARTED
I remember very well the first PSA’s the Wimbledon Club organised as I covered them for SquashSite a few years back.
“We started with 25K, then 35K, then a 50K. But our target was always to have a major event. Going from 50,000 to 100,000 in terms of prize money is a lot anyway, but then when you start to look at the cost of the infrastructure, the staff, getting the court in, getting the court out and all the other add-ons that the that you need, all the extra publicity you need to create. To move to the next level, you need a serious backer.
“A few years back, I had a chat with Danny ‘if he was ever going to move it, let me know as it would be great for the club’. And the club has been really lucky in the fact that Danny decided to bring it here. And it worked well on all fronts.
Danny: Channel Vas and Optasia are the same company, just rebranding
As we missed the event last year for scheduling problems, I asked Music Man Danny how it all changed from Channel Vas at Weybridge to Optasia at Wimbledon Club.
“Channel Vas and Optasia were the same company, just rebranding, and same fantastic sponsor in the person of Bassim Haider. And for this tournament,” explains Danny, “I’ve done a lot of preparation, your brain, your headspace is taken in a good way. “
“Stacey was very supportive during the transition. We’d already talked about the possibility of using Wimbledon for an event, and when Bassim decided to change the whole set-up of the event into a bigger environment, Wimbledon and Stacey sounded like an excellent option.
“It was a bit of a short turnaround for the first edition, as we had 6 weeks to do it. Stacey has the facilities and very welcoming Board and Members. It’s a more laid-back club, genuinely excited to have a major squash event on its doorstep.“
Stacey: “the players have got the best of both worlds”
Although I always loved the St George’s setting – who wouldn’t ! – I had to admit I enjoy the closer to London feel, plus having restaurants and shops on the doorstep, not to mention walking every day in front of the All England Club, seeing that “Centre Court” banner gives me goosebumps every time.
“Danny has a nice venue,” confirms Stacey, “a bit closer into London, I think it works well for the players, who are happy it’s a bit more central. So the players have the best of both worlds. They’ve got like a glass court arena that they can go and practise on and then they’ve got, you know, the club environment, which obviously the players like.
“They are staying in Wimbledon village, shops, bars, restaurants, Wimbledon station down the road, Southfields up the road, and like 7 minutes into Waterloo.
Stacey: “anyone who’s anyone in squash is here which is fantastic”
“We’ve seen in terms of the calibre of this year’s draw versus the first year, 7 out of the 8 top players, which is a fantastic draw, plus out of the 24 players in the draw, 22 of them from the top 25 in the world, so anyone who’s anyone who’s anyone in squash is here, which is fantastic
So it works well, and the members absolutely love it. They all are very excited about it and a lot of them have bought tickets as well! As it’s on an outdoor court, it doesn’t affect the members’ courts.
Stacey and his team were relieved to have a bit more time to prepare this time round!
“Last edition, only five weeks to prepare it, this year, a bit more time. We are also able to offer Danny a little team – our Operations Manager, Dean Hughes, coordinates with Danny, for example, Danny books the truck to come in and out, Dean deals with any onsite issues. I manage all the communication to the members, the brochure, Danny does all the tickets, so a little ready-made team with the experience of organising 30 to 50K PSA’s.
One of the things I personally appreciated immensely here, to be welcomed by the members as part of the club. We never were made feel we were disturbing the members or the club, quite the contrary in fact.
“Here, we really welcome the players and officials as part of the club, not just guests”, stresses Stacey. “It’s a nice kind of fit, the court fits over there nicely, like a bit tailor made, enough room for the physio, the commentary to go on.
“And our Board is ready to invest much more if Danny and his sponsor wish it so, in particular we would love to add a Ladies’ event.
LE MOT DE LA FIN: DANNY
Danny couldn’t stress his gratitude to Bassim, the volunteers and Wimbledon Club enough:
“The Wimbledon Club has been great, right behind us and that’s nice to see, as it’s an event that could be seen as a little bit in the way.
“And obviously, we wouldn’t be happening without our Sponsor Bassim Haidar, also thanks to absolutely all the volunteers, every single one of them. Also, there’s been amazing support from the squash community at large.