Article and Q&A from ‘BrettsSquashBlog.com‘
Last week at the most recent Women’s Squash Association professional event, the Carol Weymuller Open at Brooklyn Heights Casino in New York, long time world number one and tournament favorite, Nicol David, was beaten 3-1 by someone who came through the qualifying draw for the event. That qualifier’s name is Alison Waters. This should not have been such a big surprise.
Alison Waters is a very quick, attacking, 28 year old squash player. She was the British National Champion in 2010 and was number 3 in the world at her peak just a few years ago, before an injury put her out of the game for an extended period. She has obviously recovered well; aside from last week’s historic victory, earlier this year she had already won five WSA tournaments – twice in Canada in March, then Ireland in April, France in July and New Zealand in August. Last week in Brooklyn was the first time in her career she had beaten Nicol David after six prior attempts. I think it is fair to say Alison has recovered from the injury and is playing better than ever.
Her injury and impressive comeback have strong parallels with Nick Matthew’s experience. Matthew suffered with shoulder trouble and eventually had surgery and then came back and went on to be world number one and win multiple British Opens and World Championships.
Unfortunately, Waters partially tore her Achilles tendon in the semis of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India whilst she was playing her teammate and friend, Jenny Duncalf. That must have been heartbreaking for Alison, because she could not even play off for the bronze medal and lost it by default. After trying rehab for months after that and playing one or two tournaments early in 2011 where she struggled with the injury, she finally underwent surgery in May last year. That put her out of squash completely for 9 months and her world ranking plummeted from number 3 all the way down to number 44. But subsequent to the string of recent wins she is back up to number 8 in the world and, even though she is only a qualifier, is definitely a strong contender for the US Open title in Philadelphia starting this weekend and culminating next Friday evening.
I sat down with Alison after her victory in Brooklyn and asked her how she did it. Below is a transcript of the conversation.
BE: Firstly, Alison, congratulations on the incredible achievement of beating world number one, Nicol David of Malaysia. That must have been extremely gratifying for you? What was your game plan going into that match?
AW: She has been world number one for five years and is very strong physically, but I feel that she is beatable and have never been afraid of the challenge of taking her on as I do think I can match her physically. I have worked hard on my speed and fitness and I think it is one of my biggest strength right now. Plus you know you really have to believe it deep down if you are going to beat Nicol, it cannot be a superficial desire to win. I really believed that I could beat her. I got a game off of her in Australia six weeks ago and then pushed her in another game and lost narrowly at 15-13 in the 4th. Then Raneem (El Weleily, world number two at that time) beat her in Malaysia and I realized that it definitely could be done. So I was looking forward to the next time I play her as I knew that I would be a lot more relaxed and confident knowing what to expect. It will be hard, of course, but I can make it hard for her too. Last week I got the first game and I just told myself going into the second that I should really be patient and try to match her point for point and just make her work for everything. The strategy worked and I think even though she won that second game it really took its toll on her. I am still really happy to have won that match. I just wish I could have known what to expect mentally so that I could have regrouped for the semis against Laura (Massaro – who went on to win the tournament and become the new world number two).
BE: Nice. So, you grew up at Southgate Squash Club in North London, correct? Your whole family plays there and I read that your mom was your inspiration?
AW: Actually my mom and dad, and my brother who is four years older, were my inspiration and what got me started. Without all their help and support I wouldn’t be where I am today.
BE: On your website you say that you love America. Is that true? What do you love about the US specifically?
AW: I love the US yeah. Always a good vibe here and everyone is really friendly. Carol Weymuller tournament in Brooklyn Heights is one of my favorite tournaments as we stay with families in the area and it’s just like home. I love going into New York to see shows and go shopping and there is so much fun stuff to do.
BE: You are still based in North London at the club you grew up at, correct? Who are your coaches there? How would you characterize yourself as a squash player?
AW: My coaches are Paul Carter, he works with England squash and I have been working with him since I was 12; which is really nice. We get on well and is a good relationship as we can both say to each other what we think isn’t working or what needs working on. I have also been doing some work with our head national coach Chris Robertson who has been really great and I enjoy working with him. My game has always been based on my attacking, hitting, driving play and fitness, I’m trying to bring more into my game now and do think about more variety and more of the tactical side of things now. I have worked hard and I think that’s why I have done well, I have always trained hard and I really enjoy the training which is definitely key!
BE: What do you do for training specifically? Do you enjoy doing work in the gym or on the track? Surely practice matches, hitting sessions and other on court work is your favorite? You are a very good ball striker.
AW: Yeah I have always felt like I can hit the ball as well as anyone. I am not quite like an Egyptian player with the flair and shots like Raneem, but I hit the ball well and move well and am trying to bring more into my game. I think this ability to have variety in your game becomes a lot more important as you enter the top ten in the WSA; it is a noticeable difference at this level. My training consists of hitting with guys mainly doing routines and training, I also work with a strength and conditioning coach for weights and speed and agility sessions. Plus work with my coaches means I get a lot of variety in my training which is important.
BE: What is it like to be a squash professional? Does travelling a lot ever get tiring? You must have lots of good friends on the tour and are making good friends wherever you go and stay surely? How do you keep busy when not playing or training?
AW: I feel really lucky to be doing something that I truly love. We get to go to some amazing places and meet lots of very interesting people and I wouldn’t change it for the world. All the girls get on well and we have a strong English contingent which is nice and we all support one another and get on well with each other. Outside of squash yes I support Liverpool Football Club and when I’m home I like catching up with my friends and family.
BE: How did you feel making your comeback after the Achilles injury in Manchester this year in February? You lost in the finals to Laura Massaro. How are you feeling physically right now, have you fully recovered from the injury?
AW: Yes. I think the break did me good and I made sure that I got enough rest and rehabbed fully and that I was fully recovered before coming back. I feel physically stronger now than I did before the injury, I think all the hard work in the gym paid off. I used Nick Matthew (English world squash champion) as my inspiration and during my injury I was always positive and knew I would come back stronger, so this was definitely a key factor. I feel that I have come back mentally stronger as well. It’s tough being out for a year and not doing the sport you love, so I’m just really enjoying being back on court and I feel relaxed and happy playing. I think that is an important thing.
BE: You just moved up to number 8 in the world. You were number 3 at the end of 2010, so this should come as no surprise to anyone really. I think you have already answered this, but did the win against Nicol David surprise you at all? Now that you have beaten Nicol, is there anyone left that can intimidate you?
AW: No one intimidates me no. There are always some players you prefer playing and some you don’t as much. You just have to adjust to each different style of player and have to think quickly on your feet during a match. With so many different style of play out there it makes it exciting. Was I surprised to beat Nicol..? Honestly I knew I could do it, it was just a question of putting everything together and when I could do that then I knew I could beat her.
BE: The only current WSA player you have played in a professional tournament and not beaten is your friend, Jenny Duncalf. But, you did beat her in the Nationals a few years ago in a close fifth game. So, as of right now, there is no professional women’s squash player that you have not beaten at least once. This must give you a lot of confidence. Your stated goal is to win major tournaments and be number one in the world. You have already won a handful of tournaments, so it should be clear what comes next yeah?
AW: My goal is still to be world number one and I am making strong strides in that direction this year. I hope to keep up the momentum and for the time being push my ranking up. I’m top eight now which was my first real target as you should hopefully get a better draw. Next target is top four and then onwards and upwards from there.
BE: In Philly you are in the qualifying for the US Open owing to fact that the draws were set when your ranking was 15. This may not be a bad thing though right? A few qualifying matches will keep you sharp and you will enter the event match ready. The others will have been cooling their heels (not really) for almost two weeks before getting there?
AW: Yeah I guess from one perspective it is good, but really there are good players all the way down the order and the matches take a lot out of you. You need energy to face someone like Nicol in a match and then potentially have to carry on and beat other players after that. If that happens to me next time I will be more ready than I was last week. Also, the next tournament I play will be based on my ranking last month of 9 and not 15 so I should go straight into the main draws going forward, which will be quite helpful.
BE: London recently hosted the Summer Olympics. How did it make you feel that squash was not part of the Games? Have the Games left a lasting positive effect for London and the country as whole? What would an Olympic medal mean for you personally?
AW: Squash really should be in the Olympics and it is quite sad that it is not. I mean it was of the most popular sports in the world and is played by people everywhere. It was great having the Olympics in my hometown but at the same time it was tough watching as we knew that squash deserved to be there. Back the bid for 2020 everyone!! An Olympic medal would be amazing and the pinnacle of any squash player’s career. This is why it is so important for us and it would be incredible for the sport and something that we deserve.
BE: Speaking of big events, the World Team’s tournament is coming up in Nimes, France. England won the world teams back in 2006 but not since. Do you think England can finally break the stranglehold that the Egyptians have on this title?
AW: Yes we are all looking very forward to it. We lost in Egypt four years ago and in New Zealand two years ago. We have a strong team and I truly believe that we have a great chance and yes we want to bring the title back to England this year!
BE: Alison, thank you very much for your time and good luck in Philadelphia and in Nimes.