Joelle King, born in Cambridge in 1988, became one of the 'golden girls' of New Zealand sport after her heroics at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Just turned 22, she won the gold medal in the doubles with Jacelyn Hawkes and silver in the mixed doubles with Martin Knight. She was, as New Zealand team manager Dave Currie said, “the obvious choice” to carry the New Zealand flag in the closing ceremony, and shortly after was named a Halberg Awards Sportswoman of the Year finalist. While her heroics in Delhi brought King to public attention, squash followers had known for years how gifted the Cambridge youngster was. She was tipped in her early teens as a potential champion. She certainly had sport in her blood. Her father was a junior Kiwi rugby league representative, and her brother, Regan, became an All Black in 2002. She won all the various national age-group titles, from under-11 in 1999 to under-19 in 2006. But she was so strong and had such a developed game that she often played in age divisions above her own and in 2004, aged only 15, won the New Zealand junior open. In 2005, King won the Malaysian under-17 junior open and, aged only 15, was ranked No. 1 among New Zealand juniors and No. 1 in Australasia at under-16 level. That year she reached the last 16 of the individual event at the world junior women’s championship. At 17 she became one of the youngest players to make a senior New Zealand women’s team and in 2007 she finished third in the British junior open. She confirmed her class in Hong Kong that year, when she finished 3rd in the junior women’s world championship. King lost to Egyptian Renee El Weleily 9-4, 9-7, 9-2 in the semi-finals, then battled past another Egyptian, Heba El Torky 6-9, 8-10, 9-2, 9-5, 9-1 for 3rd place. Her results in Hong Kong convinced King she had the ability to make a living as a professional player. However, the world is full of prodigiously talented juniors who never progress through the senior ranks. Happily King maintained her progress after leaving her junior days behind. With a maturing attitude towards training and preparation, she sliced her world ranking from 123 to 54 in 2008, and then to 31 in 2009, when in a golden month she scooped the New South Wales, Victorian and Australian titles. In the Australian championship, in Clare, South Australia, she was seeded only sixth, but upset home favourite Kasey Brown (ranked No. 14 in the world) in the semi-final 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 8-11, 11-2, and defending champion Au in the final 11-6, 11-13, 14-12, 11-7. Later in 2009, she stunned former world No. 1 Rachael Grinham in the first round of the New Zealand Open at Mt Maunganui with an 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 victory before losing to Egyptian Omneya Abdel Kawy in four games in the quarters. Into 2010, she lifted herself into the world’s top 20 with a shock triumph in the Texas Open in Houston in April. King beat 4th seed Tania Bailey of England 13-11, 11-9, 11-0; 5th seed Donna Urquhart of Australia 12-10, 11-5, 11-3; 6th seed Dominique Lloyd-Walker of England 11-1, 11-5, 7-11, 11-7; and top seed Rachael Grinham of Australia 11-8, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9. At the Commonwealth Games, King was outstanding. She arrived having just won her first New Zealand senior title, by upsetting Hawkes in the final. At Delhi, King played above herself in the singles. Seeded just 12th, she lost a close five-setter to world No. 3 Alison Waters of England in the quarter-finals. In the women’s doubles, she and Hawkes won a thriller against the crack English pairing of Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro 11-9, 11-10. There was just time for her to change her shirt before the mixed doubles final, in which Australians Kasey Brown and Cameron Pilley wore down Knight and King 8-11, 11-7, 11-5. “For my first Commonwealth Games I was worried coming here would be a bit daunting, but I think I handled the pressure pretty well,” she said in a classic understatement. King was in the New Zealand team that finished fourth at the world women’s champs in Palmerston North later in 2010. King’s results improved when she decided to base herself in Montreal, where her coach, Glen Wilson, lived. The move cut her travel and expenses. She broke into the world’s top 10 in October 2011, supporting what multi-world champion Susan Devoy had predicted. “Joelle is strong and powerful, athletic and fast,” Devoy had said. “Once she puts some good wins together she can be one of the best players in the world.” By 2014 King was clearly New Zealand’s No. 1 player, male or female. She had won four successive national titles and her world ranking had climbed to No 5.
Glasgow 2014 will be the second Commonwealth Games for Joelle.