Written by RJ Mitchell
Philippe Signoret will take a number of the world’s leading female French players on a tour of the country to help breath life back into domestic squash in France.
The French Federation National Tour will start in Antibes, on August 22 with the Restaurant Wildcard and Riviera Squash Open des Ombrelles Féminin and span four cities across France including Biarritz on August 29-30 and Paris Montmartre on September 12-13, before concluding at Art Sport Café with the Open National Normand Féminin et Masculin in Le Havre on September 26-27.
While a prize money fund has still to be agreed, the tour will take a novel format in that it will feature the elite French women’s national squad that includes the likes of World No.3 Camille Serme, World No.35 Melissa Alves and French starlets Enora Villard and Elise Romba, although France’s No.2 Coline Aumard, the World No.20 who lives in England, will not be taking part.
But when his elite women’s squad hit the road, they will be facing male opposition in what is a revolutionary slant provided by one of the game’s radical thinkers.
“Since the confinement caused by the suspension of the PSA World Tour through the COVID-19 pandemic, the players have worked very hard but without targets and it was important that we addressed that to give them a competitive focus,” said Signoret.
“I saw that some French clubs had organised some tournaments called ‘national’. It's for the elite players, women or men, but the top women can play in the men's draw.
“So, I thought that while waiting for the PSA World Tour to resume it would be good to play in a national tour that co-ordinated all these tournaments and produced a home circuit for our girls in France.
Signoret (left) with Serme (right) at the 2016 U.S. Open
“These tournaments also give some prize money which is vital for players who haven't made any money in months and I think, hope and believe that both the players and the clubs will really appreciate it and it will help give life back to squash in France.
“The venues selected have been chosen with respect to the ongoing health situation we have and a lot of clubs called me or sent me messages to arrange a tournament at their venues and really the response and the enthusiasm to get involved was, as we say in France, magnifique.
“There has been a lot of hard work that has gone in to arrange safe hotels and free travel for the girls and really I can’t thank the presidents, owners and committees of all the clubs and venues that have bought into this enough.
“What this has revealed to me is that there is a great amount of love for our girls and pride that they are the European champions, and I know that the girls themselves are very excited to have this focus. I am 100 per cent confident this will keep morale high.”
The prospect of matching up his world ranked women, including the current Tournament of Champions title holder Serme, against experienced male French domestic competition is something that does not phase Signoret, who believes it will toughen up his charges.
“We're going to test our players' improvement before the PSA World Tour resumes and playing and competing officially against men is extremely rewarding and motivating,” the Frenchman said.
“I think it will also give the girls different problems of physicality and mentality that will challenge their thought processes and I am sure give them trouble because the male players will be desperate to take a scalp and be able to say over a glass of Beaujolais at the bar that they beat Camille Serme or Melissa Alves for the rest of their lives.
“But will they actually be able to do that? I think not. This will be all about getting our girls to impose their game on opposition that are 100 per cent determined not to be subdued and I think the squash will be very lively and that everyone will benefit immensely from it.
“I would like to thank all the clubs and their sponsors for the organisation of this tour and the French Squash Federation who will help the players in their travels.”
The French contingent celebrate Camille Serme's Tournament of Champions victory
Not surprisingly, Serme can’t wait to wage war in a battle of the sexes and ‘La Panthere’ is savouring the prospect of being uncaged.
“I think this is a great way to breathe life back into squash in France, but at the same time us girls know that the club guys will be very competitive, very determined to beat us and so we know we will have to be at our best,” said Serme.
“But at the same time we hope to have some of the top 10 French men playing, including, I hope, my brother Lucas [World No.40] and in that case there will be some matches it will be impossible to win.
“But you know the tour will also be about having some fun as well, meeting new people and just be a great way of creating a buzz around squash clubs in France.
“Philippe and I spoke about the idea of a mini tour and involving the clubs and I think this way the positives for both players in getting competitive match action and visiting clubs they maybe have not played at is massive.
“Also, for the players it is an opportunity to perhaps attract new sponsors and that is something that we would all value right now.”
With courts having been opened in France for almost a month, Serme admits that she is already well into a new training regime at her Creteil base and that before the eventual resumption of the PSA Tour, the French Federation National Tour will be the perfect way to combat the lack of match practice.
“We have two new fitness coaches at Creteil, and they have come up with some interesting, innovative and fresh routines and work outs that have been good, but nothing beats getting back on the match court,” Serme said.
“So while I have enjoyed being at home and not missed the travelling of the tour, I have certainly missed playing at the tournaments, missed meeting up with the other players and just missed playing matches and I know that I am not alone in this.
“So, it has been a great idea by Philippe and one that will definitely help fill the hole that has been caused by the PSA World Tour’s suspension.”
Should the PSA Tour continue to be suspended, provisional dates are already pencilled in for October and November in Bordeaux and Marseille.