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The Expert

RACKET ROCKER

Patrick Chifunda, 29, World-Ranked Squash Player

Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page M07

OUT OF AFRICA: Squash originated in an English prison. Inmates started playing what they called "rackets" -- a game that involved smashing a ball against one or two walls -- and then the game spread with the Brits. I picked it up at my high school in South Africa -- my cousin was ranked second in Zambia, and he inspired me. Watching and playing against him also helped me improve my game. Then in 2000, I came to the States to establish myself as a world-class player. Currently, I'm 89th, according to the Professional Squash Association.

BADDA-SWING! When I travel, people think that I play an instrument because the squash case looks similar to that of a violin's. Those that know squash tend to think of it as being like racquetball, but it's really more like a boxing match -- fast and very aerobic. The space is small, and you're in constant motion. In a 30-minute game, you can burn 600 calories. In most of the world, the courts are made out of cement, but in the U.S., they're made out of hardwood, which slows the game down. This can work to your advantage -- you have more time to react.




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GETTING SQUASHED: If you want to learn, there are some great courts around the area. The University Club (1135 16th St. NW, 202-862-8800) and Sports Club/LA (1170 22nd St. NW, 202-974-6600) are both good; I teach at Results Gym (315 G St. SE, 202-234-5678). To start, you'll need a pair of cross-training shoes and a racquet. Prince makes an aluminum one for $20; it's perfect for when you're just learning the strokes. There are also three different balls -- professional, intermediate and beginner. The beginner ball is good because you don't have to warm it up first to make it expand and get bigger, like you do with the other two.

DAVID AND GOLIATH: At the beginning of my career, I played against the No. 1-ranked player (he was Canadian) in the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. I thought I would only last nine or 10 minutes before he beat me, but I stayed in the game for 45 minutes and even scored four points, which for me was awesome!

As told to Karen Hart

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