Mr. Waite's next move was to invent the professional doubles-squash tour. He turbocharged the sport by hitting the ball faster and harder than anyone ever had, bringing a tackle-like power to what had been a touch game, a gentlemanly sideshow.
"Waite's a bit notorious for that," says Brian Murray, a director of the doubles committee at Squash Canada, which oversees the sport. (The fact that Squash Canada has a doubles committee, as well as a doubles competition committee, a doubles development committee and a doubles officiating committee, says everything one needs to know about old-style squash.) "He'll send a shot off the side wall near your head just to scare the shit out of you."
Mr. Waite realized that he preferred the demands of hardball doubles squash - with its rapid, strategic shot-making and intense focus - to the softball singles game, which rewards endurance. But to understand that sentence, we have to pause for a few background details. In a game that isn't driven by television and mass-audience programming (at least not yet), the details are everything.
A lot of racquet
Tennis was invented by French monks in the 12th century. The monks played with their hands; a racquet was added a hundred years later by the Dutch, who had previously given the world the hockey stick. The game of racquets, invented in British debtors prisons in the 1700s, was a down-market derivative of tennis, played against a wall instead of in a court. The boys at Harrow School further modified racquets in the 1860s, playing with a shorter, more manageable racquet and a fast, hard, hollow rubber ball (rubber had just become commercially available in Britain) that "squashed" when it hit the wall. Hence the name.
The indoor game and the hard bouncy ball were well suited to North American winters in thinly insulated squash courts - and also to doubles, invented in 1907 when the owners of the Philadelphia Racquet Club had space left over after building new squash courts - half again as large as one singles court, but not enough for two. Frederick Talbot, the club pro, told them that it was just enough space for "the old English game of squash doubles." He had made the game up on the spot.
But back in Britain, as squash became more formalized (the rule book wasn't written until 1912), the hardball was deemed "too large and too fast for English sensibilities." To make the game easier and attract players, they adopted a larger court and a series of ever "softer," slower, more inert balls. The softball hangs in the air more and requires fewer racquet skills.
Today, softball squash is played by nearly 20 million people in 175 countries. Jahangir Khan, one of the greatest players of all time, adorns a stamp in Pakistan. But the only place hardball squash is played any more is on a doubles court. There are about 180 of them in North America, and they cost $80,000 to furnish, once you have the basic frame. Gary Waite's dream has a long way to go.
But Mr. Waite is persistent. He takes the long view. He promotes the faster, trickier doubles game in high schools and colleges, and a junior circuit has sprung up. (At least five new doubles courts have gone up in Toronto of late.) He's helping to design a por-
table, glass doubles court that can be erected in front of large crowds in spectacular venues - games have been played in Grand Central Station in Manhattan and at the foot of the Pyramids at Giza.
If he can increase the number of people who play doubles, rebrand it like tennis and make it work on TV, Mr. Waite hopes that it might one day be as popular as ... well, skiing would be great. He and others have successfully pushed the game in troubled inner cities via the National Urban Squash and Education Association. And he staged the first world doubles championship on May 9 in San Francisco. The World Squash Federation sanctioned the match for the first time - an encouraging sign that doubles may have a future at the Olympics.
But the real secret to doubles' new-found growth may be that it's easier on the body. Canada's Jonathon Power, the first North American to top world rankings in softball singles (he's known as the John McEnroe of squash for his habit of mouthing off to referees), points out that "as you get older, it's easier to run in one direction, and harder to change direction, from left to right and back again.