The Victorian Squash Championships is this country’s longest running state championships, and its honour roll contains some of the world’s elite amateur and professional players of our great sport over the past 86 years.

 

Early Men’s Open Years

In 1931, Fred Strickland won the inaugural Victorian Men’s Amateur Championship played at the South Yarra Club, defeating fellow Victorian George Grimwade, 9/2, 9/5, 8/9, 9/2. At this point in time, the event was also combined as the Australian Amateur Championship, and continued to do so until 1935.

In 1932, Robert Henderson (VIC) defeated Strickland in the final, with former Australian Davis Cup Captain, Harry Hopman annexing both titles in 1933 and 1934. Hopman also won the state championship in 1935, as well as being runner-up in the national championship.

In 1936, another Victorian Merv Weston, who was the brainchild behind the establishment of the ASRA and SRAV, won the first of his four ‘home state’ titles, with the others being in 1937, 1939 and 1940.

The 1938 title was won by Sir Maurice Nathan (knighted in 1963), who later went on to become Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1961 to 1963, the creator of Melbourne’s Moomba Festival and President of the Victorian Football League (VFL) from 1971 to 1977.

The Men’s Amateur event was not held between 1942-45, but in 1946 St.Kilda’s Charlie Griffiths made it a unique double by winning the last title before the war break in 1941 and the first title after it. 1947 saw LTAV’s Ian Carson, also a three-time Australian Amateur champion, capture the first of his three Victorian crowns (1947/48 & 1950) when he defeated Merv Weston.

Denying a running trifecta of victories for Carson in 1949 was South Yarra’s Eric Metcalfe, who was later destined to introduce to our great sport one of its most influential figures, Brian Boys.

1948 and 1949 national champion Frank Harris etched his name into his home state honour roll when he annexed the 1951-53 titles, followed by Brian Boys in 1954 and another Victorian, Ted Anstee, in 1955.

During this embryonic period of the sport, our elite amateur male squash players as listed above were primarily highly talented tennis players due to squash courts being built at tennis clubs such as Kooyong, Royal Melbourne and South Yarra.

I use the words ‘elite amateur’, as there were also a number of highly talented, so called ‘professional’ squash players who were banned from the amateur game, as they were teaching physical fitness or receiving payment for coaching.

These players played in professional events such as the Australian Professional Championships, which from 1931 to 1938 was won by Jim Watson (VIC), with fellow Victorian, Gordon Watson (no relation), being runner-up on three occasions. Gordon then won this event in 1939, defeating Jim, as well as from 1946 to 1948.

In 1939, the F.H. Broadhurst Cup was established and played for by the winners of the Australian Amateur and Professional titles, with Gordon defeating the Amateur champion Merv Weston to become the first Australian Open champion. From 1939 to 1949 Gordon was undefeated in match play, in fact only losing one game.

Watson in 1950 became the first Australian male squash player to tour overseas, reaching the semi finals of the British Professional Championship where he met the 1949 British Open runner up, Abdul Bari. An English journalist described this match at the time ‘as the most dramatically desperate a squash match as we have seen in this country’.

Bari eventually won the match, 8-10, 2-9, 9-7, 9-0, 9-7, plus later that year defeated Watson in the Australian Open. The world rankings around this time were: Karim (1), Bari (2) and Watson (3).

Interestingly, the two players who were to dominate the Victorian Amateur Men’s event from 1956-1961 (Brian Boys and Brian Stuart), were primary school classmates at Christian Brothers College in St. Kilda. Both hoped to play Test Cricket for Australia one day, and while they did get their wish to play for Australia, it was in the sport of squash rather than cricket.

One day in 1951, whilst waiting for medical attention on his knees at the South Yarra Club, renowned tennis player Brian Boys was trying his hand at hitting a squash ball, and fortunately for our sport, he was spotted by the then Australian Champion Eric Metcalfe.

Just two years later, Boys won both the 1953 Australian Amateur and Open Championships, beginning a run of victories in both of these events in 1954 and 1955. On top of this, he also took out the 1954, 1956 & 1957 Victorian Amateur Championships.

In 1958, Boys became a professional coach, so his distinguished whirlwind Championship career came to an abrupt end, but the beginning of an outstanding coaching career commenced. He also went on to become the owner of three heavily patronised squash centres.

As if pulling one player from obscurity to national champion was not enough for the sport, North Suburban Club’s Mat Breen, a C grade pennant player, in 1950 spotted a 22-year-old playing his first ever game of squash. His name was Brian Stuart, who was playing in the first round of the Novice section of the Victorian Amateur Championships, which he lost.

Breen encouraged Stuart to join his club and showed him the fundamentals of the game, starting in the D Grade pennant competition. After four years of learning his craft, without a coach for most of this period (although he did receive some coaching from 1930-31 British Open Champion Don Butcher later on in his career), Stuart went on to win four Victorian titles in a row from 1958-1961, the Australian Championship in 1958, plus runner-up three times, and also represented Australia.

Stuart was also runner-up on three occasions in the Victorian Men’s championship, the first time in 1955 to Ted Anstee, in 1957 to Brian Boys, then in 1962 to South Australian Doug Stephenson.

 

Women’s Squash comes to prominence

The first Australian Women’s Amateur Championship was won in 1932 by Mrs. Ross Grey Smith (VIC), defeating Miss B.Jackson (VIC), 9/1, 5/9, 9/6, 9/1.

Over the past fifty or so years, we have been led to believe that the Victorian Amateur Women’s Championship commenced in 1946, but in fact we recently discovered that it was first held in 1935 and won by that year’s national champion, Mrs. Robyn Traill (NSW), who defeated Mrs. Ross Grey Smith, 9/2, 9/4, 9/6.

From 1935 through to 1941, there were five separate winners of the Victorian Women’s Championship, including the first overseas winner, a Londoner by the name of Miss Mary Armitage (1938), who also won the national championship that year. Royal South Yarra’s Isobel Collingwood took out the title in 1939 & 1941, while there was no women’s event held in 1940 and 1942 to 1945.

It was not until 1946 in the women’s game when so called ‘pure’ squash players such as Betty Meagher, Val Watts and Joan Watson (Gordon Watson’s sister-in-law), all coached by Gordon, and asserted their control over the sport.

Meagher won the Victorian title in 1946-47 and 1949, with Val Watts taking the coveted crown in 1948, 1950-51 and Watson in 1952-53 and 1955. During this period, the trio also annexed seven out of the eight national women’s championships conducted.

Meagher also became the first Australian female squash player to tour overseas, when in 1950 she accompanied Gordon Watson to the UK. On her return, Meagher purchased the Flinders Lane squash courts from Watson, plus established both the Victorian and Australian Women’s Squash Associations, a breakaway from the male-dominated state and national parent bodies.

In 1954, the Victorian Women’s Championship was won by the world number one at that time, Janet Morgan (UK), who captured no less than nine consecutive British Open titles on the trot from 1950 to 1958.

In 1952, Judith Tissot (Fitzgerald) won the Australian Women’s Championship, then sailed off to England and Europe, returning in 1955 to capture the 1956 to 1958 Victorian and Australian Amateur titles. Marriage and six children then quickly followed which may have curtailed her on court playing exploits, but not her very successful coaching and squash venue career, which saw her produce two world champions (Sarah Fitz-Gerald and Carol Owens), who won seven world titles between them.

During the author’s investigative research on Squash, I have discovered that Judith Fitzgerald was an outstanding sportswoman, both in tennis and squash, and won numerous awards, but does hold another record not well known to this point in time.

On the night of her 1952 Australian title victory, Judith and three other Victorian players decided to stop off in Albury during their long drive back to Melbourne. Instead of a warm motel bed, they ended up spending the night in the cells of the Albury Police station, with Judith becoming the first and only Australian squash champion to do so. Our litigation laws preclude me from speaking any further on this matter!

Highlighting the complete dominance of Victorians on the game nationally in those formulative years, Victorian players won a staggering 64 of the 73 events contested in the first 25 years of the Australian and Victorian Men’s and Women’s Amateur Championships (1931 to 1955). Jim and Gordon Watson owned the Australian Open and Australian Professional Championships from 1931 to 1948, while Eric Metcalfe (1951) and Brian Boys (1953-1956) also won the Australian Open Championship.

 

 

Hunt & McKay era

Geoff Hunt MBE, AM, commenced his playing career at the age of 12, won the 1962 Victorian Junior title at 15, the 1963 Australian Junior at 16, and then in 1965 became the youngest player ever at 18 to win the Australian Amateur Championship.

Hunt won seven World Amateur/Opens, eight British Opens, was world number one from 1975 to 1980, overall winning 178 of the 215 tournaments he contested, including eight Australian Opens, plus 10 Victorian Amateur/Opens (1963 to 1971 and 1981).

Following his retirement from competition in 1982, Hunt became the Head Coach of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) squash unit when it opened in 1985, a role he held until 2003, where he helped to develop a new generation of Australian squash stars. Up until his return to Australia, Hunt was the Head Squash Coach at the Aspire Sports Institute in Qatar for eight years.

Heather McKay enjoyed a career of unparalleled dominance in squash and is undoubtedly the greatest female squash player of all time, plus quite possibly also this nation’s greatest-ever sportswoman.

During a career that lasted nearly 20 years, McKay won 14 successive Victorian and Australian Championships (1960 to 1973) and 16 British Open titles (1962 to 1977), which was universally recognised as the World Title in the period before the inaugural World Championship in 1976, which she also won in 1979.

During her career, McKay lost only two matches – once to Yvonne West in the quarter-final of the New South Wales Championships in 1960 and once to Fran Marshall, the reigning British Champion, in the final of the Scottish Championship in 1962.

McKay was also a great talent in other sports including Field Hockey, where she was a member of Australia’s national team in 1967 and 1971, plus won numerous Racquetball championships in the United States and Canada. McKay was inducted into the USA Racquetball Hall of Fame in 1997.

 

The 1970s

Oakleigh’s Leo Keppell, described by squash raconteur, Allen Minchington, as possibly the quickest man he has seen around the court, won the first of his four Victorian titles in 1972, following up in 1973, 1975 and 1976. In 1974, then British Open champion Qaman Zaman (Pakistan) became the first overseas player to claim the title, conquering countryman Mohibullah Khan 9/0 in the fifth, who had accounted for Keppell at the semi-final stage.

In closing out the 1970’s, Northern Territory journeyman Steve Bowditch annexed the Victorian title in 1977, followed by two Victorians (Len Steward in 1978 and Roger Flynn in 1979), both destined to have a resounding impact on the Australian coaching scene in the years ahead.

Steward was famous for his legendary squash camps at the Rosebud International Squash Centre and for producing many top players, whilst Flynn, who was recognised as one of the leading coaches in the world of squash, became personal coach of a myriad of Victorian, Australian, Commonwealth Games and World Champions. For 12 years, he was also the Head Coach of the VIS Squash Programme, before taking up the role of Scotland’s National Coach from 2006-2016.

With regard to the Women’s event immediately following the McKay carnage, another Brian Boys disciple in Margaret Zachariah, won the first of her four home state titles (1974 to 1976 and 1979), with another multiple winner Anne Smith taking the crown in 1977 and 1978.

Zachariah also forged a successful coaching career, as well as being a long serving Victorian and Australian selector, coach and team manager, plus Secretary of the Professional Squash Coaches Association of Victoria (PSCAV) for 29 years and the PSCAA for 20 years.

 

The 1980s

1980 saw the first Victorian Championships of the Open era and 16-year-old Chris Dittmar from South Australia burst on to squash scene with a bang, claiming the first of his three Vic Open titles, with the others in 1987 and 1991.

Dittmar was arguably the greatest player in the modern era never to capture a World Open, after being runner-up five times, on each occasion to either Jahangir Khan or Jansher Khan, both recognised as being in the top three male players of all time.

In 1982, the then world number two Dean Williams, who that year finished runner-up in the World Open to the legendary Pakistani player Jansher Khan, won the first of his successive Vic Open titles. To 2014, Williams remains the only Western Australian male to win a Victorian or Australian Amateur/Open Championship (1977).

The 1984 Men’s title was won by airline pilot, Ricki Hill, who was followed in 1985 by possibly Australia’s greatest shot maker of all time in Rodney Martin (although I can already hear the screams from players of the 50’s and 60’s saying ‘what about Ken Hiscoe you mug?’). Martin won three Vic Opens, with his other titles coming in 1992 and 1993.

The highlight of Martin’s great career came in 1991, when he won the coveted World Open crown in Adelaide, and creating a unique piece of history by becoming the only player to defeat the famous Pakistani duo of Jahangir and Jansher Khan in the same event.

Dual Australian Junior Men’s champion, Glen Brumby (1977/78), took out the 1986 Victorian Open, the first of a running double for South Australia, with Dittmar successful in 1987. This was followed by two highly talented ‘home state’ juniors in Phil Larmer (1988) and 1988 World Junior Men’s runner-up Anthony Hill in 1989 and 1990. Larmer was very much a home town favourite whenever he stepped on court, but cut short a promising international career because of the incessant overseas travel required to maintain a world ranking.

On the other hand, ‘Hilly’ as he is affectionately known, thrived on living out of a suitcase, reaching a career high world ranking of number five in December 1999, plus represented Australia at two World Junior Men’s Team Championships (winning both) and two World Men’s Team Championships. Hilly was a most entertaining, but sometimes controversial player - particularly with referees – and made world headlines at the 1994 British Open, when Pakistani player Mir Zaman Gul introduced him to the ‘Liverpool Kiss.’

Another disciple of Roger Flynn, Hilly became a world renowned coach based in Egypt for 12 years and producing many champion Egyptian players, including former world number one and twice World Champion, Ramy Ashour.

Lynne Ferry claimed the Women’s title in 1980, which preceded the entrance of the Adelaide tornado Vicki Cardwell (nee Hoffman), who virtually owned this event through the 80’s, excepting for wins by the second greatest female player of all time, New Zealander Susan Devoy in 1984 and 85.

Cardwell, who was world number one from 1980 to 1983, won a staggering seven Victorian Open titles (1981, 1982-83 and 1986-1989) and eight Australian Amateur/Open championships (1978-1980, 1982-1984 and 1988-89). She also won the 1983 World Open and four consecutive British Open titles from 1980 to 1983. Since her retirement from the world tour, Cardwell has forged an outstanding coaching career, plus claimed numerous masters titles.

 

The 1990s

In 1990, a unique piece of history was made when 21-year-old Sarah Fitz-Gerald won her first of five Victorian Open titles, making it the first time ever a parent (Judith Tissot) and an offspring had won the Victorian Championship. This was replicated at the national level in 1997 when Sarah won the Australian Open Women’s Championship.

Fitz-Gerald is recognised as one of the top four female squash players of all time; winner of 65 WISPA and world tour titles from 94 finals appearances, including five World Opens, two British Opens, four Australian Opens, six World Team Championships and a Commonwealth Games Singles Gold Medal in 2002. She also represented her country on 75 occasions and was world No.1 from 1996 to 1998 and again from 2001 to 2003.

In 1992, the Victorian Squash Federation changed the way the general public could view Squash forever through placing its transportable four-walled Perspex court in major public venues such as the 1300 seat John Batman Theatre in the World Congress Centre (in 1992) and the gigantic Melbourne Central Shopping Centre (1993 to 1996). From 1992 to 1994 the Victorian Open was held in conjunction with the substantially transformed Australian Open, and in 1992 more than 200 million people around the world viewed the final, with each of the 1992 and 1994 events being televised on the ABC in two hour packages.

Over this three year period, the Men’s and Women’s events were dominated by the Martin family, claiming five of the six titles; Rodney (1992-93), Brett (1994) and Michelle 1993-94. The only exception to this was in 1992, when then world number one Susan Devoy defeated Cassie Jackman (now Thomas) in the final.

The 1992 Men’s final between Rodney Martin (who had just recovered from a serious foot injury) and Jansher Khan (undefeated for the previous nine months), is ranked as one of the greatest matches of all time, highlighted by only a handful of unforced errors and the number of enormously long rallies it contained, which on most occasions Jansher bore the brunt of.

Rodney and Brett’s younger sister Michelle, who was another absolute legend of the sport, was introduced to squash at three years of age, had thoughts of giving up the game in early 1990. But after teaming up with her uncle Lionel Robberds, she went on to replace the retired Susan Devoy as world number one for 44 months from 1993 to 1996, and again in 1998 & 1999.

In addition to her two Victorian Open titles, Martin claimed three consecutive World Open titles (1993 to 1995), plus came runner-up on four occasions. Add to this six British Open titles, two Gold Medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in Singles and Mixed Doubles, four World Team Championships, seven Australian Women’s Open titles (1991, 1993-1996 and 1998-99) - all before her retirement at the end of 1999.

In 1995, for the first time outside of Melbourne, the Victorian Open moved to Wangaratta, where it remained for a remarkable fourteen years under the hosting of the Wangaratta Squash and Racquetball Club and became a great lead in event to the Australian Opens held in Melbourne.

During this period, the Victorian Men’s Open was dominated by a group of highly talented youngsters from across Australia who were forging a path towards the international stage:

South Australian Dan Jenson (1995-96), who attained a highest world ranking of five; David Palmer (1997) who went on to win two World Opens and four British Open titles and reached the world number one position in 2001 and 2006; Paul Price (1998) who reached the world number four slot in 2001; Michael Fiteni (1999), who was a three-time Australian Junior Champion; Raj Nanda (2000),who attained a highest world ranking of 40; and Cameron Pilley (2003) who is still currently Australia’s second-highest ranked player (number 18 in the world) as of 2017.

 

Into the new millennium

The second most prolific winner of the Victorian Men’s Championship since its inception has been 2004 World Doubles champion Cam White, who has held the prestigious trophy aloft on five occasions (2001-02, 2004-05 and 2007). White has also had a long-standing stranglehold on the Australian Open Racquetball Championships, with 14 titles next to his name.

Dan Jenson returned in 2006 to claim his third Victorian Open, with Steve Robinson puncturing White’s chance of a sixth Open in 2008.

For the first five years of its staging in Wangaratta, the Women’s spoils were shared by Fitz-Gerald (1995-96 and 1998) and dual World Open Champion Carol Owens (1997 and 1999). In 2000, another of Roger Flynn’s protégés Karen Morrissey annexed the title, with fellow VIS scholarship holder and Commonwealth Games representative Di Desira claiming a trifecta with wins in 2001-2002 and again in 2006. In 2003, New Zealander Tamsyn Leevey became the first non-Victorian to win the women’s title since Michelle Martin in 1994.

In 2004, Fitz-Gerald (who had retired from the world circuit in February 2003), powerfully demonstrated that she was still a major force to be reckoned with when she swept through the field as a qualifier to clinch the trophy for a fifth time over New Zealander, Louise Crome.

In 2005, dual Commonwealth Games representative and former world number 26, Amelia Pittock, added her name to the illustrious list of Vic Open winners, followed by Desira’s third title in 2006. Queenslander Lisa Camilleri broke the four-year drought for the non-Victorian contingent, claiming the final two titles held in Wangaratta (2007-2008).

The modern era

From 2009 to 2015, the event was housed at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC), where it attracted high quality international fields. Australia’s dominance of the Men’s event continued, and in 2009 South Australian Mike Corren (who in May 2014 made history to become the first 40-year-old to win a world tour title) overcame a tenacious young Victorian Rex Hedrick in the final. In 2010, Queenslander Zac Alexander defeated his AIS stable mate Matthew Karwalski, in four hard fought games.

Australia’s ownership of the Men’s event was then curtailed over the next four years; firstly by Hong Kong pair Leo Au and Max Lee in 2011 and 2014 respectively, as well as New Zealander Campbell Grayson’s double success in 2012 and 2013.

Australia’s current number one male player, Ryan Cuskelly, broke the international streak in 2015, before Joe Lee became the first Englishman to win the title in 2016.

In the Women’s Open, Joelle King reigned supreme in 2009, while Lisa Camilleri captured her third Victorian Open title in 2010. The popular Melody Francis got one back for the host state in 2011, while in 2012, 22-year-old Korean Song Sun Mi overcame Amanda Landers-Murphy (NZ).

Former world number one Rachael Grinham (also four-time British Open champion and 2007 World champion) claimed the title in 2013, before Donna Urquhart became the last Australian woman to win the Victorian Open in 2014. Joshanna Chinappa (India) and Millie Tomlinson (England) have been the last two champions of the event in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

 

Below is a listing of multiple winners of the Victorian Amateur/Open Squash Championships.

Name

Number of Titles

Years Won

MEN’s

 

 

Geoff Hunt

10

1963 to 1971 & 1981

Cam White

5

2001/02, 2004/05 & 2007

Leo Keppell

4

1972/73 & 1975/76

Brian Stuart

4

1958 to 1961

Merv Weston

4

1936/37 & 1939/40

Brian Boys

3

1954 & 1956/57

Ian Carson

3

1947/48 & 1950

Chris Dittmar

3

1980, 1987 & 1991

Frank Harris

3

1951 to 1953

Harry Hopman

3

1933 to 1935

Dan Jenson

3

1995/96 & 2006

Rodney Martin

3

1985 & 1992/93

Campbell Grayson

2

2012/13

Charlie Griffiths

2

1941 & 1946

Anthony Hill

2

1989/90

Dean Williams

2

1982/83

 

 

 

WOMEN’s

 

 

Heather McKay(nee Blundell)

14

1960 to 1973

Vicki Cardwell(nee Hoffman)

7

1981 to 1983 & 1986 to 1989

Sarah Fitz-Gerald

5

1990, 1995/96, 1998 & 2004

Margaret Zachariah

4

1974 to 1976 & 1979

Lisa Camilleri

3

2007/08 & 2010

Di Desira

3

2001/02 & 2006

Susan Devoy

3

1984/85 & 1992

Betty Meagher

3

1946/47 & 1949

Judith Fitzgerald(nee Tissot)

3

1956 to 1958

Joan Watson

3

1952/53 & 1955

Val Watts

3

1948 & 1950/51

Isobel Collingwood

2

1939 & 1941

Carol Owens

2

1997 & 1999

Michelle Martin

2

1993/94

Anne Smith

2

1977/78

 

Image above: Joshanna Chinappa and Ryan Cuskelly both joined a prestigious list of Victorian Open champions when they won the respective Women's and Men's Open trophies in 2015.

Share this post