Three-time Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winner and former World No.2 Natalie Grinham, the 38-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, will bring down the curtain on a glittering 20-year career when this month’s iconic J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions gets underway inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal on January 12.
The four-time World Championship runner-up and winner of 21 PSA World Tour titles will make her last competitive appearance when she takes up the Wildcard at the prestigious World Series event – which she won in 2012 and 2013.
“There was always going to be a time that my professional career had to come to an end, and it just seems like that time, for me, is now,” said Grinham, who competed in 47 finals during her tenure.
“It was a difficult decision to make because it’s not that my body has said ‘I can’t do this any more’ – it’s just become too difficult to fit tournaments into family life.
“I’m extremely honoured that John Nimick has given me the wildcard to end my professional career at such a fantastic event. The TOC is definitely one of my favourites – the location is spectacular and the atmosphere it gives off is simply amazing. So many passers-by stopping in awe of this incredible sport of ours, is fantastic to see.
“In the beginning squash was just something that I did while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was 19 and working 2 jobs, when I remembered the words a friend’s mother told me when I was younger – that I should see how far I could go with squash, because if I didn’t, I would look back later in life and potentially regret it.
“I never really knew before what my plans were, and for now I’ll probably coach a bit more and keep trying my best to be a good mum. I’ll stick with that until I figure something else out!”
After making her debut during the 1998 British Open Grinham went on to compete in over 160 tournaments, playing over 450 matches, but it was during the Commonwealth Games that one of her stand out memories stems from.
“I have a lot of good memories from my career but my favourite would have to be after I beat Nicol David in the semi final of the Commonwealth Games,” she said.
“I then had to watch my sister, Rachael, play Shelley Kitchen in the other semi. The nerves, the excitement, they were so unbearable I felt physically sick – but the moment Rachael won that match, knowing we had achieved Gold and Silver, was the most amazing and indescribable feeling I've had.
“Nothing can top that memory for me.”
Grinham spent 29 months at her career high of No.2 having been prevented from reaching the top spot by firstly her sister Rachael, whom she lost to in the 2007 World Championship final, and then Nicol David – the Malaysian who reigned at No.1 for over nine years.
In 2010 she gave birth to her first child, Kieran, but returned to the competitive scene to triumph at the Atwater Cup in Canada less than a year later before going on to reclaim a spot inside the World's Top Ten.
Her second son, Ryan, was born in 2014 and Grinham again returned to competitive action to rise as high as No.35 at the start of 2016.
“I've had a great career but it wouldn't have been possible without a lot of people, and I especially need to thank Noel Ziebel who owned Willows Squash and Fitness Centre in my home town Toowoomba. Noel let my sister and I (as soon as we could walk) use the courts and facilities for free so if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have achieved what I have, or be where I am today.
“I know my parents are proud of me, but to them it wouldn't matter if I played squash or not. I'm very grateful that there was no pressure to play squash.
“And my best friend and my sister, Rachael – I'm not sure if I could've done without her. From game plans, to unorthodoxed routines, to just always being there to share a room with. It was great being able to spend so much time with her on the tour, it made all the hard work so much easier.
“I need to thank my husband, Tommy Berden, for 17 years of support on and off tour. From training together, coaching me during tournaments, being there to comfort me if I was struggling with losses or injury, organising my flights, to looking after the kids while I was travelling.
“And to the organisations that have supported me throughout my career, such as the AIS, NOC and Dunlop, to name a few!”
TOC promoter John Nimick said: “It is an incredible honour to produce a tournament like the ToC that strikes such a cord in a player that they elect to end their competitive career in its care. And care for Natalie we will this last time, though as a two-time Champion and a player of the highest quality and character, the doors to the ToC will always be open to her, Tommy, Kieran, and Ryan.”