Seven-Heaven For Optasia Championships

By RJ Mitchell

When it comes to providing a form guide for who might be unveiled as our next World Champion, the Optasia Championships have been amazingly accurate.

The 2024 event will be the eighth in the tournament’s history when it kicks-off on Monday at the Wimbledon Club, London and while the inaugural event in 2015 – won by Chris Simpson – lacked the big names which have since graced the event’s show court, in the six ensuing editions the Optasia champion has on three occasions gone on to seen his hand raised as World Champion later that year.

In 2017 it was Mohamed El Shorbagy, in 2019 Tarek Momen and in 2022 Ali Farag – while last year’s tournament winner, Karim Abdel Gawad, fell just short of doing the double when he lost out to Ali Farag in the final of the World Championship in what was an incredible week for the 2016 World Championship winner.

This year, seven of the current top-10 men are competing in Optasia and the big question has got to be can the magnificent seven produce the next world champion?

“We have four champions back next week and also Mostafa Asal, who we’ve never had before. So will we get a new champion?” tournament director Danny Lee asks with a laugh.

“Obviously we also have Joel Makin who is a very dangerous outsider while Asal is looking for a big win to back up his victory in Florida recently.

“So I think whoever wins the Optasia, whoever that may be, will have a good chance of going on to win the World Championships as so many of our winners have done.”

With the continued patronage of Bassim Haidar, Optasia CEO and sponsor of Channel Vas/Optasia events since 2015, firmly behind the tournament, it’s growth has paralleled the continual increase in quality participation.

As Lee, the former World No.30, explained: “Ever since 2016 when it was won by Paul Coll, the Optasia has been the equivalent of a $100k plus event, won in 2017 by Mohamed El Shorbagy followed by Tarek Momen and then Ali Farag in 2019.

“we have a women’s event for the first time and the hope is that we can raise it to equal status with the men’s next year which is very much the target”

Danny Lee

“During 2020 and 2021 we didn’t have it due to the pandemic, but then in 2022 Ali won again and then last year it was Karim Abdel Gawad.

“So now it is $110k and this year we have seven out of the top-10 with Diego (Elias) being the most notable absentee. Bassim, our sponsor, just loves squash and he helps us go the extra mile for the players and that makes a real difference.”

This will be the third year that the Wimbledon Club are hosting the tournament, which will have PSA tournament supremo Tim Garner at the helm as director for the first time as the event officially comes under the game’s governing body’s umbrella as a Gold event for the men – and for the first time a women’s event will be staged in parallel at bronze level.

All of which have left Lee a very happy man: “Firstly I’d like to say that the Wimbledon Club is hugely hospitable and just let us get on with it. The club’s squash chairman Tom Goulden helps facilitate everything and he is a pleasure to deal with.

“Now it is just great to be in a partnership with the PSA as we wanted to further professionalise the Optasia Championships and we will enjoy a better level of TV coverage as well.

“Also with Tim (Garner) as tournament director, that allows me to focus on sponsorship and marketing, whereas previously I had to run it single-handed with a few volunteers.”

“We convert a tennis hall into a squash auditorium and the main challenge is that we have a limited amount of time to transform an empty hall into a top class squash venue – but we know the boxes we need to tick to do that.

“We can also now accommodate so many more people with the capacity increasing to 350 and in terms of the camera positions on offer at Wimbledon, it is just so much better than on the fixed glass court at our previous venue.

“Obviously the event needed to be tailored to a certain standard and I did almost everything from compering to selling t-shirts – and it was great but it’s just nice to have 30 people doing it instead of one!” 

The women’s inaugural women’s event is spearheaded by top seed Nele Gilis and a strong field has been assembled for the tournament which Lee hopes, as early as next year, may reach prize fund parity with the men’s edition.

“We are delighted with our draw for the women’s event, with World No.4 Nele Gillis top seeded, and I’m just so impressed with what she has achieved.

“We were hoping to have had a women’s event when Covid hit and then the second wave landed and we had to get back on our feet. Then we moved from St George’s to Wimbledon, which has been a great move, but now we have a women’s event for the first time and the hope is that we can raise it to equal status with the men’s next year which is very much the target.

“With Sarah-Jane Perry at No.2, Nada Abbas at No.3, and Satomi Watanabe at No.4, we are really pleased with the standard.

“Also we have Alison Thomson representing Scotland and I’m sure with her being locally based at Colets Club she will get plenty of support along.”

Tickets for the Optasia Championships are on sale now and available for purchase via the tournament websitehttps://optasiasquash.com/tickets https://optasiasquash.com/tickets