Squash may have been twice snubbed by the Olympic movement but there was no deterring the crowds who descended on courts at Scotstoun Leisure Centre when the Commonwealth Games got underway in Glasgow.
At the centre of the maelstrom was an adopted Edinburgher, Alan Clyne, who long ago moved south from his native Inverness and continues to train at Heriot Watt University while globe-trotting to a current ranking of world No 35.
Home support proved vital, too, with Clyne posting back-to-back victories in contrasting styles on the opening day to move into the last 16 and a clash today with No 1 seed, world champion and reigning title holder, Nick Matthew of England.
“I came out half an hour before the first match on court (at 11am) and tried to find my parents. I couldn’t. The crowds were so big,” said Clyne. “I knew it would be big but this has exceeded my expectations.”
The show court surroundings hold 2500 and many on lookers held their breath last night as Clyne came from two games to one down to defeat India’s Harinder Pal Sandu in a two-hour marathon described by former Scotland international Martin Heath as “classic attritional squash” and “one of the best matches that has ever taken place in the Commonwealth Games”.
Earlier, up third on the main show court, Clyne required just over 20 minutes to dispatch Kevin Hannaway from St Vincent and Grenadines 11-1, 11-2, 11-2 in the opening round.
The home crowd, seated on all sides of the court, roared approval reaffirming just how far squash has come since entering the Games at Manchester 12 years ago far less when Edinburgh last played host in 1986.
Four tinted glass walls and an easy-to-follow white ball have proved a major breakthrough and, with two cameras positioned above the tin, television now gives an intimate view of the speed and distance competitors are obliged to cover in rapid time in a confined space.
This aspect of squash makes for a compelling spectacle all round. Add in the possibility of Clyne going deep into this tournament and overthrowing Nick Matthew, and the prospects for another boom here in a sport sadly left behind when other health and fitness regimes kicked in during the 1980s are increased.
“I certainly want to make these Games last as long as possible,” admitted Clyne. “It’s been a long time anticipating this tournament and I’m glad it has finally come.”
Five measly points and even fewer ‘hand in’ serves was all that Hannaway was to be allowed. Sandhu was an altogether different proposition as both players indulged in a game of cat and mouse, with Clyne tightening his game when threatened and forcing his rival to the back of the court and almost willing the mistake.
“In our conversations between games my coach Roger (Flynn) was trying to make sure I was playing my own game, concentrating on what I was doing and not getting carried away by the occasion,” said Clyne.
“You don’t want to get carried away and give away key points because who knows what can happen if you let your opponent get back in.” Flynn had also told the Evening News in the build up to the Games that whoever took on Clyne would have to be prepared to run themselves into the ground.
Never was a truer word spoken, with Sandhu treated for cramp during a match which ended with a match-point decision reviewed in favour of Clyne, who won 12-14, 11-9, 13-15, 11-1, 10-8.
Joining Clyne in progressing was fellow Scot Greg Lobban. However, after an opening straight-sets win on an outside court where the appeal was so intensive entry to the bleachers was restricted on safety grounds, Edinburgh pro Kevin Moran bowed out.