After first picking up a racket aged five and nine, respectively, Australia’s Madison Lyon and Erin Classen are preparing for their final junior tournament together this summer, when Australia hosts the 2023 WSF World Junior Squash Championships.
Ahead of their final World Juniors bout, which will take place in Victoria, 18-29 July, we caught up with the duo to get their thoughts on the future, moving on from junior circuit, and their perspective on the upcoming International Women’s Day.
Erin, Madison, thanks for talking with us today. Could you start by telling me about your first memories starting out in squash.
Lyon: “To be honest, I wasn’t really that big of a fan at the start! I’d got into squash because my family played it and it felt natural to start as well, but I found it hard to get interested in and actually tedious!
“It was a bit of a slow evolution as it wasn’t really until I got older that I became more interested in it and started really having fun.”
Classen: “I started through my family as well. My parents and my brother played and I kind of felt left out, so I decided to play against my brother. The club put me and my brother [Australian junior representative Dylan Classen] in a tournament, just for fun, and I just loved playing the sport. I found it so fun.
“But then I remember playing my first [official] junior tournaments and it was definitely a massive shock; I got thrashed by everyone and anyone!
“That was a hard one to swallow but it actually helped me, because it was the moment I thought ‘I want to do this properly’ because I didn’t enjoy losing to all those people.”
And was that the moment you started thinking seriously about a career in squash?
Classen: “I was so young at the time, so it was still really about playing for fun. But I did have a thing at the back of my mind saying ‘Oh, well maybe keep going and see where this goes. And as I went on, I just decided to take it more seriously.'”
Lyon: “For me, there wasn’t one decipherable moment. It’s always been something I’ve done and as I’ve progressed through, I’ve started to realise that you can actually make a career out of it and started really enjoying it.”
Although you’ve both come through the junior circuit at the same time and will be playing together for Team Australia this summer, you live a long way apart [Lyon in the northern state of Queensland and Classen over 4,000km away in the southwestern city of Perth, Western Australia]. Do you get many opportunities to train together?
Classen: “Definitely not! It’s very hard to go over [to see her], unless there’s a national camp.
“I remember playing Maddie when we were really young and then seeing how she was becoming really good. There was definitely that awareness that there was a really good player coming up.
“But one thing I love about the sport is making friends, even if it’s just meeting new people at a tournament and then you see them again at the next one you play, it’s just nice to get together, to hang out and compete together as a squash community that keeps getting bigger. It’s a nice feeling.”
Obviously there were some disruptions to your junior careers because of the pandemic, but after playing the 2019 [Classen] and 2022 [Classen and Lyon] World Juniors, this summer will be your final major event as juniors. Do you have any hopes or expectations?
Classen: “The World Juniors is one of the biggest [junior events] out there, but we’re just trying to get into the mindset of not putting any pressure on ourselves or thinking ‘It’s our last junior tournament and it’s one of the biggest!’ because we’re just going to go out there and have a go, try our best with nothing to lose.”
Lyon: “Well, there’s a small part of me that’s disappointed not to travel to a new country and have that experience, but there are loads of positives to playing in your home country. Besides things like weather conditions, it’s things like having that support network that you wouldn’t usually get overseas – tonnes of people like your coaches, family and friends, which is going to be amazing.”
Are there any role models you look to when on court?
Lyon: “It’s going to be a bit cheesy, and she’s not going to like me saying this, but someone I really look up to is [current World No.69] Jess Turnbull. She plays at my club and I’m really close with her and her brother [Nathan Turnbull], who’s my coach.
“She’s just a really awesome person who presents and carries herself so well on court. And she’s a massive advocate for equality within squash.”
Classen: “I’ve got to say Raneem Raneem El Welily. I just love watching her. She’s retired, obviously, but she’s just such a humble person and I can’t stop watching her; her creativity on court is really good.
“And then, from tennis, Ash Barty all the way. She’s just such a big role model, not just in tennis but around the world. I admire the way she holds herself and gives back, and she’s another who’s really humble as well.”
On the topic of equality within squash, that’s something there’s been an increasing focus on, with many in the sport hoping to continue the work towards gender equality. What have your experiences been like as women in the sport?
Classen: “I think it’s good that, from what I’ve seen, we’re getting that gender equality. Things like prize money being the same and then Australia has been good at being quite equal and giving girls opportunities. When I’ve been growing up, everyone’s been supportive, which you don’t necessarily see in every other country.”
So it’s been a very welcoming environment throughout?
Classen: “I’d definitely say so, and not just at our level. Anyone who wants to play squash, can. Someone who’s a beginner, or a little girl who just wants to come and play, can do. Everyone will be supportive about it.”
Lyon: “I’d agree with Erin. There’s no opportunity that a boy gets that a girl doesn’t get here. Everyone is equal in that sense. I think, through my career, that’s something that Squash Australia has always had and it continues to evolve.”
And will you both be looking for opportunities on the pro tour after finishing the World Juniors this summer?
Lyon: “It’s probably a little way off still for me, about a year-and-a-half, but it’s there in my mind.
“For me, it would be a great honour [to play the 2026 Commonwealth Games]. Again, it’s in Australia and not many people can say they’ve had a Comm games on their home turf so that would be amazing.”
Classen: “I’m currently in the UK at the moment, just playing some few PSA tournaments that are coming on and have been trying different bases to see where I enjoy the most. Once I come back to Australia and play the World Juniors and bit of the PSA tour there, I’ll be choosing where I go.
“I’ve been looking at a few cities, but I’ve been really liking Edinburgh; the city’s great and so is the squash. But everywhere’s so close here, it’s not like Australia where you have to fly a lot, so wherever I go I think it will be a good setup for me to try and get my world ranking up and get into more PSA tournaments.
“And then I’d definitely like to try and get into the Women’s World Team Championship, and the the 2026 Commonwealth Games would be a dream to reach.”