SquashTalk Player Profiles
BIG RED CAT IS BACK
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 café 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 hand now."
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."
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 views.
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 that now.
YOU DON'T LOOK ANY BIGGER THAN WHEN YOU RETIRED IN 1993. THIS MAY SEEM LIKE A SILLY QUESTION, BUT DO YOU MISS IT?
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.
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