Story: Indoor sports

Page 3. Squash

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Squash, originally known as squash rackets, is a sport for two players or two pairs of players, played in a four-walled court. Players use oval rackets to strike a small, hollow rubber ball, bouncing it off designated areas of each wall.

Squash was invented in Harrow school, England, around 1830, as a variant on the game of rackets, played by bouncing a ball off outside walls. Pupils discovered that a punctured rackets ball squashed on impact, producing a greater variety of shots. Harrow’s first four squash courts opened in 1864.

Contemporary squash shots include:

  • squeeze boast – hit from the front of the court when the ball is very close to the side wall
  • nick shot – hit off a bounce, to strike the front wall, then the junction of the side wall and floor (the ‘nick’)
  • Philadelphia (or corkscrew) – played diagonally upwards into the front corner, hitting the front wall and then the side wall
  • mizuki – hit on the backhand side of the court, off a bounce, with the back of the racket.

First New Zealand associations

Squash was introduced to New Zealand by players who had encountered it in England. One of New Zealand’s earliest squash enthusiasts was Herbert Watson, who had a private court in his Palmerston North home in 1919.

The sport was first played on a national basis in 1932 at the Christchurch Club, whose courts, along with the Devonport Naval Base courts in Auckland, were the only ones then available for competitions. In 1933 the first public (that is, non-exclusive) squash club opened in Timaru and the following year the first New Zealand players took part in the Australian championships.

The New Zealand Squash Rackets Association, formed in 1932, was incorporated in 1939.

Raising national profile

From the 1950s more public clubs appeared. World champion Hashim Khan toured New Zealand in 1952, playing several exhibition matches a day and greatly raising squash’s local profile.

The standard of competitive squash improved sharply from 1967, when Mohamed Dardir was recruited as national coach. In 1976 Bruce Brownlee became the first New Zealander to win a major international title, the British Amateur.

Power players

John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister from 2008, was a keenly competitive squash player while studying accountancy in Christchurch in the 1980s. In March 2012 he played against squash legend Dame Susan Devoy at the opening of Tauranga’s Devoy Squash and Fitness Centre.

Susan Devoy

During the 1980s Susan Devoy of Rotorua was perhaps the greatest figure in international squash. She eventually held four world, eight British Open, 10 New Zealand and many other national titles. Devoy was made Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1998.

Other international champions

In 1986 Ross Norman also took the world title. Leilani Joyce and Philippa Beams won the women’s doubles world title in 1998. In that year squash was first introduced to the Commonwealth Games, and Sarah Cook and Glen Wilson won bronze in the mixed doubles. In 2002 Wilson and Joyce won gold in the Commonwealth Games mixed doubles. By 2018 Joelle King and Jaclyn Hawkes had won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals at three Commonwealth Games. Paul Coll won the British Open in 2021 and 2022, becoming the first New Zealand man to be ranked as number one in the world.

Squash New Zealand

Squash New Zealand is the national body responsible for the promotion and development of squash in New Zealand. In 2012 it represented about 19,000 members in 196 clubs and 11 district associations.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Indoor sports - Squash', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jun 2016