January 26, 2006
While rehabbing a hamstring injury, senior men’s squash co-captain Matt Serediak whacked a few balls with Sun Senior Writer Per Ostman.
1. So, Canada – may I call you “Canada?”
Eh? How did this start?
It was freshman year, the first night out during Orientation Week. I went out with three buddies of mine and they introduced me to everyone as “Canada.” It’s just stuck ever since.
For the record, you are in fact from Canada?
Yes, I am. From the middle of nowhere – Regina, Saskatchewan.
It’s the city that rhymes with fun.
But isn’t it a lot of pressure to carry that kind of moniker? I mean, you’re representing an entire country on a daily basis. Do you carry maple leaves wherever you go?
I actually do. I’m going to turn pro next year, and I’ve already played for Canada five times internationally, so representing the country is nothing new. And I just got my own Leaf [rolls up sleeve to reveal red Maple Leaf tattoo].
Nice, is that a rub-on?
No, no. It’s real. I have my Maple Leaf wherever I go.
You really are Canada, aren’t you?
I am Canada. I’m very proud to be Canadian. I’ve been going to school here in the States for four years, so I like to bring a little bit of home with me down here, and also next year wherever I go playing on the pro circuit. I’ll be playing for myself, but also representing Canada.
2. Let’s talk about this professional squash league. Is this legitimate? I didn’t know there was such a thing.
Yes, there is. It’s pretty much like the pro tennis tour. I’ll hopefully be able to base myself out of Toronto next year, working with a coach and some training partners up there.
So, this is as part of a club, like in track & field and rowing?
Yes, I’ll be part of a club and start out playing in a league around Toronto. All the main leagues are over in Europe, where you actually get paid to play. I’m going to have to work my way up the ranks.
Ah, so you’re going to be playing for per diem and gas money?
Yeah, but hopefully I’ll get paid eventually. I’m going to start out by training and building up my ranking in some smaller tournaments. Then I can go to the higher-tier tournaments and get better sponsors. And, hopefully, win more money. Then, maybe I’ll move on to Europe.
You and Kevin Boothe are the two Cornell athletes who are going pro next year (not to mention pretty much the entire hockey team).
And we couldn’t be more different! A lineman and a squash player.
3. Since you did indeed grow up in Canada, why didn’t you play hockey? Why aren’t you the starting wing in Lynah right now?
Well, I actually played hockey when I was a kid, just like everyone else in Canada.
Isn’t that the law?
Yeah, it is a law. Especially when you’re from Saskatchewan where everyone lives and breathes hockey.
Because there’s nothing else to do.
Right. So, I did play hockey as a kid, but it was very competitive at a young age. I’m sure all the guys on the hockey team will tell you that. But at 10 or 11 years old, I didn’t want to go to 6 a.m. practices. I wanted to watch my Saturday morning cartoons!
Are you sure you’re not American?
[Laughter at American laziness]
I’m guessing that the squash practices were a little later in the day.
Yeah, about 10 or 11. When the cartoons were over.
4. But why did you pick squash, of all things? Why not baseball or lacrosse or something? Do you not have those options in Canada? Was it either squash or curling?
I wouldn’t even include squash in there. It’s really only hockey and curling. But there’s also baseball and football. But especially curling, and especially where I’m from. Squash isn’t a mainstream sport in Canada. You’ve got to go to England or Pakistan for that.
I’ve heard that it’s much more popular overseas than in North America.
That’s true, in certain countries. But it is growing quite a bit in the U.S.
Is that because of the success of collegiate teams?
Yes, and I think the influx of international players on those teams is also helping. Also, more and more professionals who retire from the tour settle in the U.S. as pros at the swanky athletic clubs you have here. They’re building up the reputation of the game. If the sport is going to take off all over the world, it has to make it big in the U.S., what with the television and sponsorship dollars.
Are there any major U.S. sponsors ready and willing to financially back squash tournaments?
Most of the big tournaments have large sponsors, yeah. There’s a tournament going on in Chicago right now, and I forget who’s sponsoring it, but the purse is $100,000. It’ll have the title sponsor’s name plastered all over the court and on posters and things.
One hundred grand doesn’t seem like that much once you divide it up amongst all the competitors.
The winner will make a nice amount, but the players will make most of their money off personal sponsorship deals.
So, you have absolutely no qualms about traveling the world and getting paid to endorse balls?
I would love to endorse balls. In fact, we use Dunlop balls [at Cornell] and I was sponsored by them when I was a kid before I came to college.
I see. You got into the balls at a young age.
At a very young age. I was hocking their balls.
5. Defend squash for me. The general sentiment is that it’s a sport for old codgers and bluebloods at the yacht club.
There’s this thing in North America with squash – that it’s a “rich kid” kind of sport. It’s too bad because I don’t come from that kind of background at all.
Right. You’re from Saskatchewan.
Any yacht clubs in Saskatchewan?
Oh, no. And if you go overseas where squash is more popular as a sport, you’ll see that it’s more of a middle-class game.
What about the athletic side of things?
Well, I’m not a big guy by any means. I’m reasonably sized.
You sure are.
But it’s still a very physical game. Maybe not in contact, but our reaction time has to be really fast. We have to be strong, powerful and very fit. And it’s extremely hard on the body. In terms of physical play, there’s not full-on contact like in lacrosse or football, but, you know, I like to play a little dirty and get some contact involved.
You like to throw a few elbows?
Yeah, leave your leg out, maybe trip the guy. Block him a little bit.
I think this is the Canadian hockey player in you showing through. But I think it’s important that people know that you guys are indeed athletes. It’s still a varsity sport, so you’re in better shape than 90 percent of the campus.
Yeah, it’s too bad that people don’t understand and respect how athletic we have to be.
You’re wearing a Bud Light shirt, though, which I find hilarious.
I’m a hick, man! What can I say? I’ll always be true to my roots.
6. Have you ever played any other racquet sports? Tennis, racquetball, badminton?
I was on the varsity badminton team in high school, so I played that a lot.
You had a high school badminton team? It’s just all balls and shuttlecocks with you, isn’t it?
Yeah, balls and shuttlecocks. And I whack around with tennis a little bit, too. But, I’m miserable at it. The strokes are different.
Yes, I suppose they must be.
7. Your team is having a tough season, having gone 2-6 with four of the losses being shutouts.
Our first half of the season, we faced all of the top-tier teams, schools that are ranked higher that we are right now (7th). Had we won those matches, it would have been a huge deal. But coming up, we’ll be playing teams that are below us in the rankings and are trying to move up the pecking order. We just have to hold our spot.
But isn’t the losing difficult? You’re second team All-American and first team All-Ivy. You’ve played on the international level and are used to being successful. How frustrating is this?
It’s very hard for me. Squash is partly an individual sport, so I’m always putting in a ton of training time to try and improve my game, so I can at least hold up my end of things. But it’s also a team sport here, which it isn’t in Canada, so I have to try and push my teammates as far as they’re willing to go. My position counts exactly the same as the number nine position on the team, so I can try and carry him and push him along as much as I can. But it’s up to him as well – you’re on your own on the court. You can’t hide.
How do you stay positive?
I know that I’m out there working hard and my teammates are out there working just as hard. We all want the same results. We know that whatever happens – win or lose – we’ll come back the next day and keep putting in the effort.
Do you find it difficult to balance the team concept with your own individual record? Does a team loss still affect you negatively if you win your match, and vice versa?
I’ve become used to the fact that if I win and the team loses, it’s still a loss. That was hard for me at first because, like I said, it’s a purely individual sport in Canada and even in the rest of the world. But if I lose and the team wins, then I’m not putting my end forward.
Do you still look at that as a defeat, even though your team won?
I take the defeat worse. If I won and the team lost, then I feel bad that the team lost and my win doesn’t count for anything. Whatever, that’s just how it is and there’s nothing I can do about it. But if the team wins and I lose, I feel miserable, because I failed and I couldn’t contribute like I was supposed to.
As the team’s number one, do you feel a lot of pressure to win, or to put the team on your shoulders?
I feel a lot of pressure that way. That’s why I push myself and try to do extra workouts. And I know that the other co-captain is doing extra work and putting the time in as well. At the same time, there are a lot of guys on the team who also work really hard, and really want to be a part of this team and want to contribute more and more with each match and try to get that victory for us. So, there’s pressure, but I know I’m not alone.
8. You’re a member of the Greek system. How do you balance school, a varsity sport, and your fraternity commitments, especially at this time of year?
This past week was Rush Week, so it was very tough. Like most other sports, we have a 48-hour rule with drinking, and there was a party, and I couldn’t drink. So, it’s tough to be at an event like that where everyone is having fun and not be able to fully participate. And, you know, I’m Canadian – I want to drink! It’s in my blood.
But I know that I have other commitments. I keep thinking about how it would reflect on me if I went out drinking the night before a match or came to practice drunk. If I saw one of my co-captains do something like that, I’d be pissed. So, it’s a tough balance. I’m in college and I want to have a good time just like everyone else, but I was also brought in as an athlete, so I’m also here to be a part of this team and win for my team.
What’s your opinion of the Greek system at Cornell?
I think it’s fantastic, I really do. I feel bad for all my friends from home. The Canadian university scene is completely different. You can’t even compare the two, like with having organized parties and things like that. At home, it’s all bars and clubs, which are fun, but it’s also nice to go to a fraternity party and have a sorority show up, you know, 50 guys and 100 girls.
You can’t beat those odds.
Exactly. We don’t have that back home.
9. Last month in this space, women’s basketball player Brittani Rettig claimed that men’s squash was the hottest team at Cornell. I’m quoting here: “I’ve seen them working out in the weight room. They seem like nice guys. That’s why they’re hot. It’s not just about looks.” Do you have any idea who Brittani Rettig is? I’m convinced she was screwing with me.
I’ve never met Brittani. But I’m a huge fan of hers. I want to give props to the whole women’s basketball team. And we give our women’s team a hard time about that to this day.
What do they have to say? Do they agree with Brittani? Because they actually know who you are.
Yeah, they interact with us on a daily basis. I think they’d disagree and go for more of the huge football type.
So, what’s the hottest women’s team at Cornell?
I’ve been thinking about that all day and I’ve asked other people as well.
Have you? I’m thrilled that you’ve done your due diligence. I appreciate the effort.
Being around Bartels Hall, working out, seeing other teams, and going up and meeting girls from other teams, I can say that there are a lot of attractive girls around. I’m sure you know that.
Why do you think I write this column?
I actually met some girls on the fencing team who are quite attractive, but I don’t really see them all that often.
There’s something dangerously seductive about a woman wielding a sword.
Oh yeah. It’s very cool. But, I think I’d have to say that the hottest team is women’s track. I know it’s a typical answer. But seeing those girls run by us, literally all of our heads are on a swivel. I mean, we’re walking into stuff. They work really hard for it, so you have to appreciate it.
I’m not going to argue with you. I think women’s track is in the lead so far.
Who’s second? I’m curious.
I don’t know off-hand. We’ll have to publish the results at the end of the year. But, your second place team has to be Brittani Rettig and women’s basketball, right?
Oh, obviously. No question. It’s definitely women’s basketball. They’re head and shoulders above everyone else, except track.
10. If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be?
I was thinking about this one, too. I’ll have to say Pierre Trudeau, who you’ve probably never heard of.
Ye of little faith. Wasn’t he the Canadian Prime Minister a few years back?
Yeah, he was a very charismatic leader. He was the John McEnroe of politics.
You cannot be serious!
He would be doing a press conference and then jump into a fountain halfway through, still wearing his suit. He was crazy.
We like crazy.
Yeah. He did everything his way and people loved him for it. He was just nuts.
Give me another.
Number two is Lance Armstrong. That’s probably a stereotypical response.
I see you’ve got the Livestrong bracelet. Can you answer this for me? Are he and Sheryl Crow breaking up?
I haven’t heard anything about that.
There was a rumor! You want to have dinner with the guy and you haven’t heard about this?
I don’t care about his social life. I just know that squash is a grind day in and day out. Biking is similar that way – it’s just grind, grind, grind. His attitude is that a rainy day on the bike is fantastic because he knows that everyone else will be miserable, but he can take it because he’s tougher. That’s my attitude as well. I’ll outwork someone to achieve my goal and win. I’d love to talk to him about that.
Why do I know about this break-up rumor and you don’t?
You must follow the gossip columns. People, US Weekly …
I can neither confirm nor deny. Who’s your last dinner guest?
Maria Sharapova. The Aussie Open’s on right now.
And this is why people should be watching.
I completely cater my schedule to the Open. I’ll go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 4:30 a.m. to watch a Sharapova match, or a Federer match.
Fed’s looking really good.
Oh, he’s looking reeeeeeeally good right now. But I’m a sucker for the tennis skirts. I love those outfits! Especially on a girl like Sharapova. You look at her, and your jaw just drops.
Honestly, aren’t blonde girls running around in spandex the reason we started playing sports in the first place?
Exactly. And, she really knows how to scream.
Ten Questions with Per Ostman will appear every Thursday this semester, or until he gets bludgeoned by feminists. Questions, suggestions, and threats can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archived article by Per Ostman Sun Senior Writer