England and New Zealand have named their Squash squads for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October – with new world number one Nick Matthew leading the English medals bid.
Matthew and women’s world number two Jenny Duncalf will head England’s challenge. Sheffield-based Matthew, the captain, will be joined in the men’s squad by fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop (world No6), Londoners Peter Barker(world No8) and Adrian Grant (world No13), and world No9 Daryl Selby from Essex.
Tania Bailey will captain the England women’s squad. The former world No4 from Stamford in Lincolnshire will be joined by Duncalf, from Harrogate, Alison Waters (world No4) from London, Laura Massaro (world No8) from Preston in Lancashire, and Sarah Kippax (world No22) from Cheshire.
Nick Matthew, 29, will be making his second appearance at a Commonwealth Games after just missing out on the medals in Melbourne four years ago, when he lost the men’s singles bronze medal match to another Englishman, Lee Beachill.
“I’m going there to win gold,” said Matthew. “Coming fourth last time was very disappointing. It hurt a lot – it’s the worst position you can finish. I’m going to use that experience to spur me on in Delhi.
“With squash not being in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games are one of the highlights for us, especially as it only comes around every four years. Hopefully we can put on a show for people to prove what we could bring to the Olympics.
“The field in Delhi will be incredibly strong. Our preparations have been meticulous, but you can’t get ahead of yourself and we’ve got to make sure we do the simple things right.”
Duncalf, from Harrogate, said: “The Commonwealth Games are massive for us. They’re our Olympics.
“I’ve looked forward to it for four years since playing at the last Commonwealth Games. It’s right at the top of my list now and I’m really excited about it.
“We’ve got a good bunch of girls going and we’re all raring to go,” she added.
“I’ll probably be playing in three events. I’m obviously going for gold. It will be disappointing to come away with nothing, but I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Matthew, Willstrop, Grant, Duncalf, Waters and Bailey all featured in England’s team at the Melbourne Games four years ago. Willstrop and Bailey are the only medallists from Melbourne – they captured the mixed doubles silver and women’s doubles bronze, respectively – both partnering Vicky Botwright. Bailey also won women’s doubles silver with Cassie Jackman at the Manchester 2002 Games.
“We’ll win gold,” says England Squash & Racketball’s CEO Nick Rider, who believes that Squash will be the sport in which England gets the greatest number of gold medals: “The talent in this squad is unbelievable. When you consider how many truly world class athletes we have in this team, I think it’s fairly clear that we will be one of, if not the, strongest teams representing England in Delhi. We shouldn’t even consider not bringing gold home with us.
“Our players are well aware that they are going to be the ones to beat in Delhi, but they are more than ready for that kind of pressure, particularly our captains Nick Matthew and Tania Bailey.”
England have won a third of the 15 squash gold medals awarded to date since the sport was added to the Commonwealth Games programme at Kuala Lumpur in 1998, along with four silvers and 10 bronzes. That puts England second in the all-time Commonwealth Games squash medal table behind Australia.
England also finished second in the squash medals table to Australia in Melbourne, with two golds, a silver and two bronzes.
A familiar face will be back in the New Zealand Commonwealth Games squash team: Shelley Kitchen has been selected in the six-strong squad named by the New Zealand Olympic Committee. The former world number six gave birth to her first child in February, but has returned to the court with renewed enthusiasm and is looking to add to the silver and bronze medals she won in Melbourne four years ago.
Kitchen will team up with world number 14 Jaclyn Hawkes in the women’s doubles, and Campbell Grayson in the mixed event. Both combinations claimed gold at last year’s Australian Doubles Championships in Melbourne.
There is also a second women’s pairing, Joelle King and Tamsyn Leevey, two players at opposite ends of their careers. King is the rising star of New Zealand squash and is fast making a name for herself on the international circuit. The 21-year-old is already ranked number 20 in the world, climbing more than 30 places in the last 12 months. She has claimed four titles on the WISPA World Tour in that time, picking up some impressive victories along the way including two against AustralianRachael Grinham, one of the world’s top five ranked players at the time.
In contrast, Leevey has flown under the radar in recent years, retiring from the international circuit in 2006 for family and business reasons. However, she has never been far from the court and is back with a vengeance looking to add to the silver medal she won in the women’s doubles with Shelley Kitchen at the Melbourne Games four years ago.
Meanwhile, King will also play the mixed doubles with world number 42 Martin Knight, while Knight and Grayson will be playing partners in the men’s doubles. New Zealand’s top two ranked men’s players have established a great understanding in doubles squash, winning silver at last year’s Australian Doubles Champs in Melbourne and fourth in the Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Five of the six New Zealand team will also line up in the singles in Delhi this year, with Tamsyn Leevey the exception.