|The Australian team prepares
for Manchester’s unreliable weather(photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp)
Australia has achieved the bag of medals
they hoped from the Commonwealth Games with one gold, one silver and six bronzes.
I played in the mixed doubles with fellow
Queenslander Robyn Cooper. We made it through the pool matches and met Paul
Johnson and Stephanie Brind in the quarter finals, aware that the loser would
leave empty handed and the winner would have at least a bronze medal. This
was a strange feeling because of the emphasis Australia places on the importance
of these medals, and because of the reliance the male players have to place
on the female players during mixed doubles.
I would be lying if I said doubles squash
was a good game to watch or even participate in compared to singles. Geoff
Hunt assures me that it was the doubles game that was the deciding factor
that allowed squash to be included in the Commonwealth Games (this is only
its second inclusion). The people responsible for the sportÂs inclusion saw
doubles squash as a game that was better for television (relative to singles)
and would level the playing field and allow the weaker squash nations a chance
to win medals.
Level Playing Field?
As far as allowing the weaker nations
a chance to win medals that hasnÂt happened in Manchester. Both the menÂs
and womenÂs singles medals went to the top four seeds with Rachel GrinhamÂs
upset over Leilani being the only exception (and not that surprising considering
the injury battles Leilani has had to overcome). In the doubles the only players
to take home a medal that had a ranking outside the top twenty were my partner
in crime Robyn Cooper and New ZealandÂs mixed double gold medalist Glen Wilson.
Robyn has had a career high ranking of 12 and Glen got to 16 so weÂre not
exactly talking about a couple of Kenyan players who practised by themselves
for three years and took the squash world by surprise. To reiterate this all
the medal were shared between Australia, New Zealand and England with Malaysia
and Canada both getting a solitary medal.
Australia won four medals of a possible
twelve during the doubles matches. This is from a nation that only has two
doubles court in the whole country and theyÂre mostly used for singles as
they have moveable walls. I have only ever played in two doubles tournaments,
the other being the recent World Invitational doubles. Doubles is not a game
that is common, popular or accessible. Unlike the hardball version itÂs not
a game that has a following or dedicated group of participants. Softball doubles
is a game that has been adapted mostly because other sports play doubles and
squash was missing out.
When IÂm watching a game of doubles I
have an overwhelming urge to either go and play a game of singles, or make
the doubles court at least two metres wider. The court is too small for most
of the subtleties of the singles game to be played. ItÂs very rare to see
a boast or a drop shot played as a winning shot in doubles. Two players are
able to cover the space too well. This means that the during the menÂs doubles
matches both teams are usually hesitant to play short as itÂs very difficult
to hit a winner and it gives the opponent a chance to go for a short nick
shot. So you get unbelievably long and often boring rallies down the wall
that more often than not end in lets. The mixed doubles is the same except
the women are hitting all of the balls with the men going for winners on the
rare occasion that they get the ball. It is a hard lesson to learn having
to sit back and rely so overwhelming on your female partner to have a good
game. Of course your play is still crucial, but not able to make or break
the team in the same way the womenÂs performance is.
The importance of the Commonwealth Games
meant that the pro players gave the doubles competition the respect and attention
it deserved with some very heated and passionate games. Squash players donÂt
get to play for their country that often and itÂs very interesting to see
rivalries unfolding that just arenÂt evident during the solo and comparatively
impersonal PSA tournament.
The Bronze medal that I have won with
Robyn will remain a highlight of my squash career for the rest of my life.
Just to give you an idea of its significance in Australia, thereÂs a ticker
tape parade organised for the Commonwealth Games athletes IN EACH STATE CAPITAL
CITY! ItÂs the only time that squash manages to get telecast during prime
time and on the news. My mum broke down crying when she found I had won bronze
and the press in my home town will be going crazy. It has been a great experience.