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Rachael Grinham:  Consummate Self Made Player
profile by Rob Dinerman 4/2000, Photos © Fritz Borchert & Deb Tessier

(information updated on 05/21/2000)

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Australian Star Thrives after change of scene to Cairo

Rachael Grinham, pint-sized dynamo, perfectly exemplifies the phenomenon of the self-made player, and one indeed who has just attained a career best No. 6 WISPA ranking in the wake of some excellent performances this past autumn.

Unlike Natalie Pohrer, whose mother Jean was the British national championand whose family owned a squash center, or World No. 1 Sarah Fitz-Gerald, whose mother was Australian national champion, Grinham does not have a squash pedigree; both of her parents were club players, albeit avid ones, at the local club in their native city of Toowoomba, population approximately 80,000, situated a little more than 60 miles inland from Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland in Australia.

And neither she nor her year-younger sister Natalie, also a WISPA top 10,
received virtually any coaching during their formative years. Their parents,
John, an electrician, and Davina, spent so much of their free time at the club that, according to Grinham, she and Natalie "pretty much grew up there,"
chasing the ball around the floor of a vacant court starting at around age
three with any kind of racquet they could possibly hold. The club owner, a
kindly man and family friend named Noel Ziebell, took to the energetic
youngsters and gave them spare racquets and grips(as well as lollipops and
money for the arcade games) while encouraging their growing interest in the
game. All these years later, Grinham gratefully acknowledges that to a major
degree she owes her entire career to the benevolence of Mr. Ziebell, without
whose generosity she could never have afforded the court access he was nice
enough to provide the Grinham sisters during their childhood years.

That said, Natalie and Rachael essentially taught themselves to play, which may explain their somewhat unorthodox, though highly effective, stroking techniques, in which they more slash through and across the ball than stroke it in textbook fashion. Their approach enables them to make virtually unreadable last-second adjustments in their shot selection, a stratagem furthered by the tendency they both have to choke up on the grip.

In Rachael's case, this is especially true on her forehand shoulder- and head-high volleys, off which she can boast into the right wall, carve for straight drops down into the nick and slash with surprising pace for rail and cross court length winners past opponents anticipating something shorter in the court. She can thereby work her opponent over as much with the shots she doesn't wind up hitting as with the ones she does, and her uncanny knack for crossing up her guessing opponents often induces uncertainty and frustrating as well as fatigue, as does the specter of losing to someone of such innocuous dimensions (only 5 feet 2 inches in height and 115 pounds), though by this stage, six years into her WISPA career, all of them in the top 20 and the last two in the top 10, her professional colleagues have long since discovered the folly of under-estimating a figure of such exceptional fitness and unyielding determination.

These tactical and competitive qualities, along with the quickness she displays in her darting forays around the court, led to the best year of her career in calendar 2002, during which she won tour stops in Singapore and Hong Kong, the two biggest prize-money events of her 10 career titles, defeating higher-ranked Tania Bailey and Pohrer in those respective finals; reached the semi-finals of the Weymuller U. S. Open in Brooklyn, the Grasshopper Cup in Zurich, the Malaysian Open and the Heliopolis Open, held in the club in downtown Cairo that has served as her home base for a little more than a year; and came within a fifth-set tiebreaker of attaining her first World Open semi-final before barely losing out to Pohrer, who then beat Carol Owens in yet another fifth-set overtime before losing to Fitz-Gerald in the final.

The latter superstar combined with the two Grinham sisters to win the 2002 World Team Championship in Denmark in October, a remarkable achievement for all three women and all the sweeter for coming at the final-round expense
of arch-rival and defending 2000 World Team Champion England. Even making the Australian team seemed unattainable right through the 1990's, when Fitz-Gerald, Michelle Martin, Owens and Liz Irving were all ranked in the top five. But when Martin and Irving stopped competing and Owens switched her national affiliation to New Zealand, Fitz-Gerald became the last link to that era and she badly needed reinforcements, which Natalie (whose opening win over England's Steph Brind put the championship on Fitz-Gerald's potent racquet) and Rachael Grinham fully provided, notwithstanding Rachael's modest claim of what an achievement it was for Fitz-Gerald to have led an Aussie squad that "had dropped in strength" to the gold medal.

Denmark was by no means Grinham's only taste of World Individual or International Team glory. Mere months after being selected at age 16 to join
the prestigious Australian Institute of Sport (A.I.S.), where she received the first formal coaching of her life under the legendary likes of Geoff Hunt, Heather MacKay and Ken Hiscoe, she defeated several of the top New Zealand girls (who had always dominated international junior competition) first in a Pacific Region event and then in the 1993 World Under-19 Championships in Kuala Lampur, where eight years later she would defeat her sister Natalie in the final of a WISPA tour stop. Grinham defeated Jade Wilson, who submitted fairly rapidly after dropping a tough first game, in the semis, and Wilson's Kiwi compatriot Sarah Cook in the final, to become the World champion in this age category at only age 16! Two years later, Wilson would avenge this defeat when she and Grinham met in the final, but the Grinham sisters did win the 2002 World Doubles Invitational and got the bronze in the doubles portion of this past summer's Commonwealth Games, in whose '98 version (the first-ever in which squash was included) Rachael and Robyn Cooper won the silver medal.

Firmly established as a contender for any WISPA event she enters,
happily ensconced in Cairo, where she receives great support from her club (whom she represents in league play) and gets excellent practice and training
opportunities in one of squash's true hotbeds, with both her ranking and her
confidence now at an all-time high and at age 25 right on the precipice of what should be her most productive years, Grinham seems expertly positioned
to build upon the excellent extended stretch she enjoyed during the last half
of 2002 and strive for even more in years to come.

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