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Feb 3, 2001, New York, © 2001 SquashTalk
Photos: © 2001 Debra Tessier, squashphotos.com, Vaughn Winchell, and Ron Beck

by Ron Beck

April 2001 has seen Simon Parke slipped from 3rd (in January) to 7th world ranking. Simon Parke is no stranger to adversity and lack of visibility. At 29 can he regain the magic of 1999 and 2000 for the spring campaign? To achieve that in 2001, he will need consistency and a touch more creativity in his game.

Now, with Peter Nicol joining the English stable of players, Simon Parke has lost the "top dog" position in British squash, with the associated attention and potential sponsorships. This gives him an added motivation to show himself the equal of Peter Nicol, and other top players.

"Parkey" is in public quiet and introspective off court, but approaches his battles on court fearlessly. He has been ambitiously lurking just behind the top two, Power and Nicol, waiting for them to falter. Parke, who has been followed by the English fans since he was a junior, put it all together last year in the 1999 SG Cowan US Open when he defeated Nicol and Power on successive nights to win the most important event of his career.

Parke would say later,"I felt that I played my best squash ever in Boston. I've been studying it, trying to replicate my performance there. He almost did that at the Equitable Life Superseries Finals in London last June, just falling short after holding a lead late in the fifth game against Peter Nicol.

The climax proved to be one of the squash highlights of 2000 - an exhilarating 98-minute display of squash at its world best, witnessed by the British Minister for Sport Kate Hoey and described by Nicol as "one of the toughest matches I've played in years." The Scot ultimately survived 13-15 15-9 15-12 12-15 15-12, but both players were given a five-minute standing ovation by the exuberant crowd as they collected their trophies.

Simon Parke's game is deceptively simple. His biggest strengths are his precision, patience and endurance. At the SG Cowan, Parke came back 18 hours after playing a 2-hour no-holes barred slugfest against Nicol to play another 1 1/2 hour marathon against Power.

Parke's view: "I'd like the opponent to feel that no matter what he does, I'm not going to get tired out there. It's a psychological advantage for me."

Simon Parke has experienced the very best that life can offer - and almost certainly the worst. The highpoints of his glittering squash career include winning the world junior title and five British Junior Open trophies; becoming England No1 and the British National champion; leading England to two world team championships titles; maintaining an unbroken nine-year presence in the world top twenty; and recently beating the world's top two players en-route to clinching the prestigious US Open title.

His low point came in December 1995 when he was diagnosed as suffering from testicular cancer. Brought up in Yorkshire in the north of England, but now based in Nottingham in the east midlands, Parke first turned professional in August 1988. He made his top 100 debut in July 1989, breaking into the top 50 in January 1990. In May 91 he leapt into the top 20 at 16 (from 37), but not until January 95 did he make his top ten debut, coming in at 7.

Despite his withdrawal from the circuit in early 96, he maintained this top ten status before achieving his career-best No4 position in March 1997. 1996 was an extraordinary year for the Oakham-born player - one which started with surgery for testicular cancer on the 2nd January, then treatment which included chemotherapy, and ended in December with his reinstatement as No1 in England and a triumphant return to the world's top five. Parke's determination - coupled with his natural talent & flair - meant that he was back on the practice court within weeks of his surgery and made his comeback in May in the spectacular Al-Ahram International event in Giza, Egypt, where he beat Irish star Derek Ryan to reach the quarter-finals.

"I spent time with many others in the hospital who were battling greater challenges than I was, and I realised how lucky I was to have the chance to return to play top-level sports. I am looking forward to taking a little longer now at every event to appreciate what part of the world I am in and to enjoy the experience," said Parke at the time.

2001 will certainly be a pivotal year for Simon Parke. He has proved to himself that he can best Nicol, Power and Barada. The question is, will he reach those heights consistently enough to move into the top two?

Parke started off the 2001 campaign with every opportunity to move upwards but had a series of disappointing results. Instead, Evans, Palmer, and Price moved past Parke into the top echelons of the pro ranks.

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