New Zealand’s squash hopes for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have received a fillip with the release of the latest world rankings.
Joelle King has risen three places to No 4 in the world, which equals her highest ranking. She got to No 4 in 2014 before she ruptured her Achilles. And top New Zealand man, Paul Coll, is back up to No 9 in the world.
The new rankings mean that the two New Zealanders are actually the highest ranked players at the Commonwealth Games, though ironically both are seeded second in the singles events because the draws were done some time ago.
It has been a tough road back for King, who was off the court for nine months after sustaining the injury during the final of the national championships.
But she has struck wonderful form this year, reaching the final of the Windy City Open and winning the Cleveland Classic. During that golden spell she twice beat world champion Raneem El Welily, as well as high-flying Englishwoman Laura Massaro.
Coll was briefly ranked No 8 at the end of last year, but had dipped down to 11th before his latest rise. And fellow New Zealander Campbell Grayson has reached a career high of No 32.
King, 29, has a proud Commonwealth Games record. In Delhi in 2010, she reached the quarter-finals of the singles, where she lost in five tough games to Englishwoman Alison Waters. Then she won the women’s doubles with Jaclyn Hawkes and reached the final of the mixed with Martin Knight. Her play was so impressive that she was given the honour of carrying the New Zealand flag during the closing ceremony.
At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games four years ago, King took the singles bronze medal behind Nicole David of Malaysia and Massaro.
Massaro is seeded top this year, followed by King and David, who are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals.
“I feel like I have a realistic chance of winning,” King said, “but there are a few of us who will feel that. The depth in the women’s draw is pretty impressive, whereas previously Nicole has been a strong favourite.
“After my results this year I definitely feel more confident.”
The singles takes place in the first week, followed in the second week by the doubles and mixed doubles.
“The singles takes priority right now because it comes first, but they’re all medal events and are all big targets.”
King has had to fight hard to get her ranking back to where it was pre-injury.
“For a start I was just so happy to be able to play again, to be back on the court. Then I had to regroup and think more about competing well, and winning important matches. I had to be realistic with myself - it was make-or-break time.”
The Cambridge player changed coaches a year ago and has formed a very tight team with Englishman Hadrian Stiff.
“We’ve worked a lot on my movement, taking the ball early and using less energy. The Egyptians are such good shot makers that you don’t want to be giving them too much time.
“I suppose I’ve always been known as a bit of a power player. I’ve been developing my short game, but it’s important I use my physicality.”
King plays either Deon Saffery of Wales or Madina Zafar of Pakistan in her first match. The other New Zealander in the women’s singles, Amanda Landers-Murphy, meets Mihiliya Methsarani of Sri Lanka, and then strikes the formidable Massaro.
On the men’s side, Coll’s No 9 world ranking means he is the favourite on paper, something he said he was gradually coming to terms with. However, he is seeded second behind veteran Englishman Nick Matthew, whose world ranking has dropped four places to No 12. Matthew has won the last two Commonwealth Games singles gold medals and is still a difficult customer.
Coll, 25, is noted for his incredible speed on court, and should be really fizzing during the Games – he said he had taken five weeks off tournament play to ensure he was fresh and ready for the next two weeks.
Coll receives a first-round bye in the singles, while Grayson, the 10th seed, plays Jason-Ray Khalil of Guyana. The third New Zealander in the men’s singles, Evan Williams of Wellington, meets Jacob Kelly of the Cayman Islands.Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Paul Coll Joelle King Evan Williams Campbell Grayson Amanda Landers-Murphy Martin Knight Jaclyn Kemp Squash