The Battle of Waterloo, Wellington claimed, was won on the playing fields of Eton. History failed to record how Eton's venerable scholastic rival Harrow received this bald statement, but around 1850 the Harrow lads devised squash racquets, a game of such speed and fascination that it has spread the world over, and no sports-oriented general has publicly claimed a battle for Eton since.
On the following pages squash racquets is caught at its modern and American best. Frozen into graceful and dramatic immobility on the red-striped rectangular court are National Champion Henri Salaun of Boston and Twice National Champion Diehl Mateer of Philadelphia. Perfectly balanced with racquet cocked (right), Salaun is about to whack a black hard-rubber ball which weighs an ounce and is a little larger than a golf ball. When Salaun does whack it he will do his incomparable best to whack it where Mateer isn't—or can't be—before the ball bounces on the floor twice. He may play a hard rail shot which will crack against the front wall and streak back low, hugging the side wall. He may play a deftly soft drop shot, or a crisp three-wall corner shot. For, in squash, the ball may be hit off any and all walls so long as it eventually reaches the front wall on the fly.
It is this multiplicity of possible shots that makes squash racquets so uniquely exciting, and there are few players who can hit or retrieve such shots with the brilliance of Henri Raoul Salaun and G. Diehl Mateer Jr. Fortunately for the rank and file, the brilliance of a Salaun or a Mateer is not required to play and enjoy the game. The ball does not have to be hit over a net or into a hole and it never gets lost. Tennis clothes serve as squash clothes. A racquet costs from $10 to $20, a ball about 85¢, and both will survive a year of average abuse.
Those are some of the reasons why there are more than 50,000 squash players and 2,000 squash courts tucked away in schools, colleges and clubs across the U.S. And that is why squash in one form or another is played on Bahrein Island in the Persian Gulf, in Rhodesia, Malaya, Peru and in 30 other nations, including Australia, which has gone squash whacky. Last year 70 courts were built in Sydney alone, and even Hoad and Rosewall have tried the game.
It is mainly in courts at eastern colleges that young American squash players learn to play the game. The Ivy League alone has at least 175 courts but, all in all, 44 colleges and universities now carry squash on their athletic rosters. The new Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs will have 12 singles and four doubles courts when it opens for fledglings next fall. The U.S. Naval Academy is another hotbed. Navy has 32 courts. Every year 3,800 midshipmen take at least two squash lessons and academy teams compete on the intercollegiate circuit with harrowing effect. From February 21 to 23 Annapolis will cap a remarkable squash decade by playing host to the National Singles Championships. On five spanking new courts which seat 500 spectators, some 150 players hailing from all parts of the U.S. will whack their way toward national team and individual titles. Among them will be Henri Salaun and Diehl Mateer. Each has won the Nationals twice, and has met the other in the finals three times. In both 1954 and 1956 Mateer whipped Salaun in three straight games. In 1955 Diehl was tripped in the round of eight by Henry Foster of Boston while Salaun went on to win singles honors by defeating Ernest Howard of Toronto. Last year in one of the most thrilling squash matches ever played Salaun finally prevailed over Mateer in a national finals 15-12, 18-14, 14-16, 15-11. If form runs true they should collide again in the final this month to give another epic demonstration of championship squash racquets.
Except for the fact that they are magnificent competitors, two men could hardly contrast more. Mateer, 29, took up squash 14 years ago at the Merion Cricket Club on Philadelphia's Main Line. Merion had, and has, a fine squash tradition and one of the most accomplished professionals of all time in the late Bill White. It was overwhelmingly apparent from the moment Mateer picked up a squash bat that he was a natural.
In 1948, the year he played tennis on the Junior Davis Cup squad and the year he turned 19, Diehl began a peerless squash career by winning the Gold Racquets tournament at the Rockaway Hunting Club in Cedarhurst, Long Island. Since then he has taken the intercollegiate championship twice (he went to Haverford College, half a mile from the Merion Cricket Club), the Harry Cowles Invitational five times, the Ticknor-Glidden Round Robin three times, the Gold Racquets six times, the National Singles twice, the National Doubles five times and the United States Open once. Even for the polished amateur the latter accomplishment is a formidable one since it involves meeting some of the world's best professional players, usually including one or more of the fabulous Khan family of Pakistan which visits the United States during squash season and customarily shellacks everyone in sight—despite the fact that the Khans are more attuned to the slower English squash with slightly different bats, balls, courts.
Salaun has also subdued a Khan or two and has won the Open once, but this year (Mateer did not compete) Henri lost in the finals to Roshan Khan 14-18, 15-7, 18-17, 18-16 at Detroit's University Club. The potential of squash as a spectator sport can perhaps be loosely measured by the fact that more than 100 Detroiters paid up to $75 a seat to watch the Open matches.
At age 14 (he is 31 now), Henri Salaun was showing promise as a young French tennis player. But then came the German occupation, and Henri and his mother slipped out of Paris, reached the U.S. He entered Deerfield Academy—and took up squash. In college (Wesleyan) he captained tennis and squash and co-captained soccer. But it was only after graduation, in 1949, that he began to perfect the squash game that has boosted him into national contention. In 1950 he played Mateer in the second round of the National Singles and surprised everyone but himself by losing a close match 17-14 in the fifth and deciding game. Since then, the two men have divided the honors of the amateur game in America.
A Mateer-Salaun match is a sight to see. It is invariably one which by its sheer power and virtuosity time and again lifts the gallery off its collective seat and drops it back limp. Mateer plays in the classic Philadelphia style, as have the great Philadelphia champions before him, like Donald Strachan, Stanley W. Pearson Jr., Charles M. P. Brinton and Hunter Lott. His strokes are sweeping and lovely to watch. His size (6 feet 1, 185 pounds) not only gives him the ability to cover court, but he can hit the ball so hard that spectators wince. He has little to say during a match beyond an occasional "good shot."