I was ranked number sixteen in the world when Matthiew Zug approached me on twitter in april 2014. Matthiew had built a 14-court squash and tennis facility in the New York area and expressed an interest in inviting me to play an exhibition match at the grand opening of the new club. I put him in touch with my manager to discuss further details. The program involved hitting with some juniors on day one, playing an exhibition match with the local pro on day two, and spending some time on court with sponsors on day three. The club would pay a fee of 6000 USD for my three day appearance as well as cover all expenses. Matthiew also mentioned that spending some time at the club might turn out to be of even more value to me. An interesting future job opportunity perhaps, while I was in ‘the latest stage of my career’, he kindly brought to my attention.
The fee seemed on the generous side, but at the same time those numbers were not unheard of on the east coast of the U.S. In cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C. and New York our sport is mostly played by the upper-class elite and clubs have the feel of a country club. Locker rooms hold chesterfield couches and massive TV screens and sometimes do dining too. You can eat your salmon salad while wearing only a bathrobe and looking out over some city skyline. Fresh towels are abundantly provided and smell of the oil of the Pirangi Cashew tree. After you finish your game you can put your dirty gear in a net, leave it in your locker (your name on a copper engraved plate) to find it washed and cleaned the following day. Membership fees cost tens of thousands of dollars. Those numbers buy (but don’t guarantee) admission and exclude annual fees.
Mister Zug and my manager communicated by email mostly. On twitter he mentioned to me that the deal was about to be closed and that he was very much looking forward to seeing me soon. I said I looked forward to coming to New York, but didn’t tell him I still had one issue: coinciding with the grand opening in New York I had entered a PSA event in Guatemala. Which would I choose? Guatemala or New York? Playing Guatemala meant embarking on a 15-hour flight, arriving one week early to beat jetlag, paying all expenses (flight, food, accommodation) myself, and having to beat four ultimately trained athletes in four consecutive days at an elevation of 1500 meters to not return home with a loss. New York would be the smarter move. Financially for sure. Everything was paid for and… I didn’t even have to win. I just had to play nice in front of an audience.
I slept on it and decided to pull out of Guatemala.
During the British Open around that time I shared a room with world’s fastest man on a squash court. Colombian cannonball Miguel Rodriguez was sitting on his bed re-gripping his racquets when he asked me: LJ, why did you pull out of Guatemala? I didn’t even look up from behind my laptop. Altitude, I answered shortly. He finished doing his racquet and looked at me. I have enough tournaments on my list, I added. Miguel started removing the old grip from his second bat. Yeah? Really? Is that the real reason? For a short time I wondered why Miguel kept bugging me about the reasons of my withdrawal, till he asked if I had too gotten an offer to play an exhibition in New York. The fee being generous.
6000 dollars kind of generous.
Miguel, who was ranked 14 in the world at the time, had received exactly the same offer and he too understandably had chosen to do New York and pulled out of Guatemala.
When the entry deadline of Guatemala had passed, it suddenly seemed a lot tougher to get in touch with mister Zug. Just before his facebook account and twitter profile turned inactive he mentioned in an email that the main investor’s wife unfortunately had passed and the opening had to be postponed till further notice.
Strangely enough we never heard of mister Zug anymore. He seemed to have vanished of the face of the earth.
A few weeks later mister Zug’s alter ego landed safely in Guatemala where he was unhindered by the lighting speed of the Colombian cannonball and the methodical intensity of the Dutchman.