New Zealand squash No 1 Joelle King has fond memories of the Commonwealth Games.
King, 25, was just emerging on the world scene as a force in squash at the time of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. She was seeded only 14th in the singles and rose to the occasion, going within a whisker of winning a medal.
In the mixed doubles, she and Martin Knight gelled very well and emerged with a silver medal. Even better, in the women’s doubles, King and Jacelyn Hawkes went all the way and won the gold.
For her troubles, King was given the honour of carrying the New Zealand flag during the closing ceremony.
King emphasised today that the squash at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games would an entirely new situation.
“I’m looking forward to getting started,” King said. “I haven’t had a major event since May. It would have been nice to have had another big tournament in the middle, but we’re lucky in squash because there are tournaments each weekend at home.
“I’ve been able to play in the men’s event in a couple of tournaments and get a gauge of my form. I’m happy with how I’m going.”
With Hawkes having retired, King is now paired with Amanda Landers-Murphy in the women’s doubles, where they are the sixth seeds. The New Zealand camp likes the prospect of the pairing, the more so because Landers-Murphy is a left-hander, meaning that a doubles team can have two forehands. The other New Zealand women’s doubles pairing is Megan Craig and Kylie Lindsay.
In the mixed doubles, King again teams with the consistent Knight, and they are the second seeds. The second New Zealand team in the mixed is Amanda Landers-Murphy and Paul Coll, and they have been seeded seventh.
In singles, King, whose world ranking now is fourth, is the third seed, and, if she can play up to her best form, will run into the undisputed world No 1 Nicole David of Malaysia in the semi-finals. In the first round, King plays a qualifier. Landers-Murphy has a tough singles draw, meeting highly rated Englishwoman Jenny Duncalf in the first round.
Commonwealth Games squash is an oddity in that the doubles and mixed doubles get heavy media coverage – especially when New Zealand wins medals – yet the players get minimal practice in those disciplines in the intervening four years.
Doubles is hardly a factor in squash outside the Commonwealth Games - world championships are held only intermittently and not at all in the past four years.
King said that was part of the challenge of playing at a Commonwealth Games and that she was looking forward to it.
A criticism of doubles has been that the rallies are too long and the games become battles of attrition.
To combat that, squash administrators have lowered the tin in doubles, from 17 inches to 13 inches.
“It makes the game much more exciting,” Knight said. “Players can attack more, rallies are shorter and there are many more opportunities to play shots.”
Knight said the lower tin took a bit of getting used to. “I like it, but it is certainly different. We first tried it out at a training camp in Darwin at the end of last year.”
Knight and fellow New Zealander Campbell Grayson are the 12th and 13th seeds in the men’s singles. But whereas Grayson finds himself in the middle of the draw with reasonable prospects – he plays a qualifier in the first round - Knight has been placed near the bottom and runs into Englishman James Willstop in the third round.
“James is a phenomenal player and meeting him is one of the tougher matches,” Knight said. “The English are looking at him to win a medal.
“However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I have two matches to win first, including one against Kevin Moran, a Scottish player who is sure to have a lot of home support.”
The third New Zealander in the men’s singles, Paul Coll, faces Issa Kamara of Sierra Leone first up, then hits fourth-seeded Saurav Ghosal of India.
In the men’s doubles, New Zealand will be represented by Grayson and Knight, the fifth seeds, and Lance Beddoes and Coll.