Qatar Classic 2017 Player Dinner Gala
Emceeing the Player Dinner Gala for the Qatar Classic 2017 was uniquely humbling. As the athletes and tournament staff arrived, it was instantly apparent few were familiar with this level of VIP treatment.
In the past year, the Qatar Squash Federation merged with the Tennis and Badminton Federations. The new QTSBF is determined to deliver the same level of reverence and appreciation to Squash and Badminton athletes that has been afforded Tennis’ top talent for years. To witness the unexpected, sincere appreciation of the PSA World Tour’s premier echelon was incredibly gratifying and refreshing.
Here’s the reality: These are phenomenal athletes who travel the world on a shoestring budget. They compete for purses nearly 1/7th the prize money of their counterparts in tennis. Un-coddled by corporate interest and big money sponsorship, professional squash players are real and authentic. Like the rest of us mere mortals, the world is NOT their oyster, simply because they possess a talent. They understand the significance of compassionate appreciation, and how luck and timing – when mingled with work-ethic and attitude – lead to remarkable accomplishment. Enduring is everything.
“Entitled” is an adjective one could never use to describe a professional squash player. When treated with a level of respect that matches the amount of passion they pour into the sport – through personal sacrifice, endless hours traveling and training, and investment in their own success – these incredibly human rock-stars show an infectious level of gratitude unmatched in any other high-profile sport. That lack of expectation and entitlement is unfathomably refreshing to witness up close.
My Welcoming Remarks
A warm welcome to the Higher Organizing Committee Members of the Qatar Tennis, Squash and Badminton Federation, our VIP Guests, Sponsors and Diplomats to tonight’s Player Dinner Gala. We hope you have a wonderful evening, enjoy a great meal and all the entertainment we have lined-up for you tonight.
So here we are! The second World Series event on the PSA World Tour, in a young season that has already seen some remarkable accomplishments.
I have to congratulate Ali Farag on winning his first World Series title at the US Open, alongside his wife Nour Al Tayib. The first married couple in sports history to win the same major title on the same day.
Our defending champion and reigning World Champion, Karim Abdel Gawad is back.
Nick Matthew, in his swan song season on tour – we are so excited to celebrate with you this week.
The World #1 and 2011 Champion, Gregory Gaultier and 2-time champion and reigning World Series Champ, Mohamed ElShorbagy are here as well.
To all of the athletes, thank you for spending the week with us here in Doha. We hope you’ve felt Qatar’s warm hospitality through our accommodations (Four Seasons Doha), transportation and the facilities here at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
Here we go, with the season’s second World Series event on the PSA World Tour…The Qatar Classic Squash Championship!
Recognizing Nick Matthew in his final Qatar Classic Squash Championship
After tournament director Tariq Darwish Zainal presented his opening remarks, we honored distinguished guests with special plaques commemorating their participation in this year’s tournament. Rightly so, the first recipient was Nick Matthew.
First up, this is a surprise, even to him…He is a 3-time PSA World Champion, a 3-time Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist, owns 35 PSA Tour titles, and has reached a remarkable 75 career finals. He’s held the World #1 ranking for a combined 19-months, and since June of 2010, has been ranked inside the top-5 for an astounding 8-years and 4-months. In February, he won his 6th consecutive and record 9th British National Championship. 11-years-ago, he became the first Englishman to win the British Open in 67-years. He owns 15 PSA World Series titles, including the 2009 title right here at the Qatar Classic in Doha. Appearing in his 13th and final Qatar Classic Squash Championship, from England, please welcome to the stage – The Wolf, Nick Matthew.
Mohamed ElShorbagy steals the show
After we honored all of the distinguished guests, dinner was served. We immediately launched into the evening’s entertainment, featuring an insane Frenchman incapable of losing his balance on everything from stacked suitcases to bowling balls.
World renowned quick-change artists “Sos and Victoria” took the stage next. Toward the end of the set, Mohamed ElShorbagy was brought on stage to help tie-up Victoria with a series of tight knots. Sos then asked ElShorbagy to put on a blazer, and had him stand directly in front of Victoria. Sos then raised a black curtain that enveloped the two. After a quick three-count, Sos dropped the curtain to reveal Mohamed blazer-free, and Victoria – still tied-up – wearing the dinner jacket. Minds were blown.
The evening’s third act was simply called “The Chinese Unicycle Act.” These talented ladies rode around the stage on elevated unicycles catching plates and bowls on their heads. Sure, it sounds like a ridiculous circus side-show, but quite honestly it was an impressive performance. There’s a reason they’ve won Gold at several international circus festivals.
Qatar Classic Trivia
One of the more popular aspects of these Player Parties is the “end of the night” trivia contest, giving all in attendance an opportunity to win based on their knowledge of the event’s history. This year, players Fares Dessouky and Gregory Gaultier were among the winners, each earning an iPad Pro from the Qatar Tennis, Squash and Badminton Federation.
Diego Elias was our first contestant, and he blew it on this question: In what year did the tournament here in Doha debut the name “Qatar Classic Squash Championship?” His options: 2001, 2002, or 2003.
I had him consult the grizzled veteran, Nick Matthew – who knew it was 2001, because he played that year. But Diego – who joked that he hadn’t even been born yet – went out on his own and guessed 2002. Incorrect. Fares Dessouky earned the iPad, trusting the Wolf’s memory.
Without a doubt, the French General and World #1 received the most memorable question of the evening, considering he was among the potential answers: Who has the most runner-up finishes at the Qatar Classic Squash Championship? David Palmer, Gregory Gaultier, or Karim Darwish?
In other words, among these three players, who owns the most career chokes in the Qatar Classic Final – you, David, or Karim?!
Wisely, Greg chose Palmer who was a four time Finalist in Qatar and never a Champion. Gaultier defeated James Willstrop to win the title in 2011, and fell in the 2007 and 2015 Finals.
Well played, champ.