|Chris Dittmar Â© 2002
BIG RED CAT IS BACK
BY MARTIN BRONSTEIN
Chris Dittmar reappeared at a squash
tournament in Manchester last month (July), his first appearance outside Australia
in a decade. It was ten years ago that the big red-haired lefty retired from
professional squash after an amazing career that stretched from the last days
of Geoff Hunt to his battles with the two JK’s, Jahangir and Jansher. By his
side in the Australian team he had the likes of Rodney Martin, Chris Robertson,
Brett Martin, Rodney Eyles, Tristan Nancarrow and Anthony Hill. During the
late 80’s and early nineties the PSA tour got to a point where tournaments
became totally predictable with the semis being contested between two Pakistanis
– the two JK’s – and two Australians, Dittmar and Rodney Martin with Chris
Robertson getting his share of limelight.
In his early years Dittmar’s sheer
determination brought results that were never expected. His parents ran the
cafÃ© concession at Len Atkin’s club in Adelaide, and the eager 12 year old
Dittmar was busting a gut trying to play in the Pennant league games. “You
won’t play in our team until you stop using a two handed-grip,” Atkins told
Dittmar. The next day Dittmar ran up to Atkins and said “I’m only using one
He was sent to the World Junior
Championships in Sweden in 1980 just for experience and ended up reaching
the final, losing to Peter Nance of Australia. Two years later in Malaysia
he again made the final losing to Sohail Qaiser of Pakistan, becoming the
only player ever to play in two junior finals.
Dittmar hit the ball with real
style – it was a caress rather than an impact – and his touch and range of
shots made him a joy to watch. For a big guy he moved with grace, prompting
one reporter to write: “Dittmar pads around the court like a big red cat.”
|Chris Dittmar with his
Australian team mates
Â© 2002 Fritz Brochert
He was also known for his outspoken
views. After Nancarrow had misbehaved while playing for Australia, Dittmar
told the press: “Nancarrow will never play for Australia again while he’s
got a hole in his arse.” While this widely quoted (the final ward euphemised
by some newspapers) Dittmar denied saying it.
There was also the incident of
the ‘disco’ court. Some bright Englishman had come up with the idea of
making the ball more visible for television by painting it with ultra-violet
paint. (this was the time when the ‘glow ball’ was all the rage). But
to make it work, the normal white lights had to be dimmed to allow for
the ultra violet lights to be effective. Dittmar went on court to test
it and complained that it was a bit dark, not to mention all the glowing
streaks left on the court walls as the paint came off the ball (making
the court look like a cheap disco). He was told by the boffins the reason
why the lights were low but Dittmar cut them short with the sort of commonsense
that had escaped them. “But you can’t see the bloody ball,” he said.
He now works for Channel Seven
in Australia as a commentator specialising in Aussie Rules football. He has
always been a great lover of this unique antipodean game and almost wrecked
his squash career when training with a Rules team, suffering a knee injury
that kept him off the courts for several months. He made a comeback beyond
dreams, beating Jahangir Khan (15-9, 12-15, 15-9, 9-15, 15-13) in the semis
of World Open in Kuala Lumpur in 1989, and, less than 24 hours later, taking
the first two games off Jansher in the final before running out of steam,
coming off the court, totally and utterly exhausted. Jansher won 10-15, 6-15,
15-4, 15-11, 15-10.
He arrived in Manchester as a working
journalist, covering two or three sports, of which squash was (naturally)
included. He took some precious time out give SQUASHTALK some of his outspoken
HOW MUCH SQUASH DO YOU SEE NOWADAYS?
Almost none. We have never been
very good at getting sponsors in Australia, so there aren’t any big tournaments.
And most of my time is taken up with my job. We did have a get together earlier
this year, Rod Martin, Geoff Hunt, Ken Hiscoe and a few others for a birthday
celebration and it was nice to see them all again.
I HEARD THERE WAS A COMPETITION
TO GUESS YOUR WEIGHT.
Yeah, but I’ve done something about
YOU DON’T LOOK ANY BIGGER THAN
WHEN YOU RETIRED IN 1993. THIS MAY SEEM LIKE A SILLY QUESTION, BUT DO YOU
No. Not at all. I tell you, Martin,
when I finally said enough, it was a massive relief. I no longer got up in
the morning and knew I had to train and play. I could start enjoying life.
NOW YOU HAVE SEEN OUR TOP PLAYERS
IN ACTION, DO YOU SEE ANY CHANGE IN THE GAME OVER THE LAST TEN YEARS?
No, not at all.
REALLY? NO CHANGE AT ALL?
It’s still the same game. I
don’t see it any faster – Geoff Hunt took the ball earlier than anyone.
And nobody hit the ball harder than Brett Martin. I saw the quarter-finals
here and was not impressed. I don’t want to sound like an old man saying
it was better in my day, but when I played against Jahangir in the World
Open our first game lasted an hour. In those days first games were never
less than 45 minutes. Most of the matches here were over in an hour. And
I have to say it, Gamal Awad would have beaten Stu Boswell, the world
number four, for a few points.
JONATHON POWER HAS BEEN CALLED
ONE OF THE BEST SHOT MAKERS EVER, DO YOU AGREE?
He’s not even in the top ten.
Rodney Martin leaves him cold. I recently saw Rod coaching some juniors; when
he’s just feeding the ball, he is fantastic. Rodney Martin is a freak, he’s
so good. Just think of Qamar Zaman – you never knew where the ball was going.
And even Chris Robertson. No, Power is not even in the top ten. He’s good,
but in his game against Boswell, he was playing very good basic squash, hitting
in to the back corners. It pays off every time, even for the very good player.
Boswell’s problem was he went short too soon.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PETER NICOL?
He’s very steady and hard to beat
because he gives nothing away. When you played Rodney Martin, you could always
expect to get some easy points because the way he played – like all shotmakers.
But when you play someone like Nicol, you have to earn every point.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS REGARDING
YOUR TIME IN SQUASH?
Yes, I wish I would have had more
fun. I was too intense. I remember before the final of the Australian
Open. I was stamping up and down the corridor, smoke coming out of my
ears, ready to tear Rod Martin apart. He was with his mates laughing and
joking and having a good time. I thought I would destroy him. He beat
me in five minutes flat. I just took it too seriously.
LAST THOUGHTS ON JAHANGIR KHAN?
Unbeatable at the front and you
could never point a finger at Jahangir and accuse him of cheating, taking
a ball after the second bounce. He was the purest player of them all.
|Jhansher Khan and
Chris Dittmar Â© 2002 Fritz Brochert
| Chris Dittmar and
Jahangir Khan Â© 2002 Fritz Brochert