Pittsburgh is known to many as a mecca for sports and the fanaticism that comes with it, but even with that earned reputation, often overlooked is its affiliation and history with an unexpected sport -- squash.
The city that was the site of the first televised squash match in American history -- the U.S. Open in 1959 -- will again play host to the sport, as the Pro Squash Tour will stage the Pittsburgh Open, a three-day tournament beginning today that will feature some of the world's top players.
"Although this is our tour's first year in Pittsburgh, this city has a rich squash tradition," said Pro Squash Tour commissioner Joe McManus. "We really do have a great international draw scheduled."
As McManus indicated, the tournament will feature some of the premier players from across the globe, a group that has combined to claim many of the sport's top awards and honors over the last decade.
Headlining the event is David Palmer, an Australian who is a four-time British Open champion and regarded by many as the most dominant player in recent history. Palmer joined the PST last year and finished second in the final player standings.
Among others in the tournament's field are Thierry Lincou, an 11-time French national champion; Bradley Ball, the 2011 PST world champion; Stephane Galifi, currently the No. 1 ranked player in Italy; and Adrian Leanza, an American who was the PST's second-ranked player in its most recent standings.
"It's a good draw," Palmer said. "It's one of our strongest, if not maybe our strongest draw we've ever put together."
The open is organized in a 13-player bracket, which will feature two wild card spots reserved for local pros, with matches starting today at the Rivers Club, Downtown. It will continue with quarterfinal and semifinal contests Saturday before the third-place and championship matches Sunday.
For a game that has grown in popularity and praise -- Forbes recently named it the best sport for fitness -- McManus hopes that the event will allow people in Pittsburgh to get reacquainted with squash. And for him, there is no easier way for people to appreciate the sport than to see some of the world's best players work at their craft just a few feet away.
"It's not like we're appealing to the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base," McManus said, "but that intimate setting really provides a rich experience for fans."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.