Walking through Grand Central Station in New York City can elicit a variety of views, from people rushing toward their trains to tourists snapping selfies among the breathtaking Beaux-Arts architecture.
Though during one week each year, the terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall welcomes a few more puzzled looks from passersby. Onlookers need a double take when they view the erected glass court surrounded by stadium seating for the Squash Tournament of Champions.
The ToC, in its 21st year, draws more than 200,000 viewers and is the largest squash spectator event in the world. Matches are played underneath iconic chandeliers in the hall, named for railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Not surprisingly, the tournament and venue is a favorite among the competitors.
Camille Serme (France)
Women’s world No. 3
“I was just saying to my coach how excited I am to be back here; I just want to play. I remember watching the men before it became a women’s event and I was so jealous because I wanted to play here as well. It happened and it’s amazing. Every time I get on that court or if I’m in Shanghai or other iconic places I try to forget about the stress of the match and just tell myself, ‘Wow, look where you are, just enjoy it because not many people have the chance to experience this.’
“I’m a big fan of New York. I love this city. This place is very historic. I just love it.”
Ali Farag (Egypt)
Men’s world No. 3
“It couldn’t get any better. It’s one of the most iconic venues on the PSA World Tour. We play in front of the pyramids (in Egypt) sometimes but it’s not a consistent tournament. Of the consistent tournaments this is by the far the best venue you can play at. You’re playing inside Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station where millions of people are going across and watching you; it’s great exposure.
“The venue has a great history and so many champions have engraved their name on the trophy and to get that title is a dream for anyone.”
Olivia Blatchford (USA)
Women’s world No. 12
“I remember stepping on the court (for the first time) and thinking, ‘I cannot believe this is happening right now.’ The feelings—there’s an electricity in the air, there’s a vibrancy, and there’s so much going on around you. It’s so New York. Growing up in the city everything is full of life, it’s constantly go-go-go and the tournament is so perfectly New York. We’re in Grand Central Station: it’s so iconic, and there’s a life and beauty to it and it’s so mesmerizing. This tournament means everything.
“I go and play in amazing places—Shanghai, Saudi Arabia, in front of the pyramids in Egypt, on top of a mountain in Colombia—but New York is the best. It’s not just because I’m from here. I think if you asked every single player on tour what their favorite tournament was, they’d say Tournament of Champions every single time.”
Nour El Tayeb (Egypt)
Women’s world No. 8
“It’s very exciting. It makes me a little nervous because it’s a venue that’s always busy from the first round. It’s a venue that has hosted the best squash for the past 20 years. As someone who is still up and coming, it’s very intimidating to play in such a venue.
“I was just in Saudi Arabia for the first-ever women’s squash event. This is the exact opposite because no men were allowed to enter that venue, no officials were able to be men, and everyone in the venue was a woman, so there weren’t a lot of people and this is hundreds of thousands watching. It’s a little different, but it’s nice. Playing in Grand Central doesn’t get boring, it doesn’t get old, it’s always exciting.”