World No.12 Joelle King lifted her sixth New Zealand Senior Nationals title last week after beating compatriot Megan Craig, three years after King ruptured her achilles during the final of the same tournament against the same opponent.
We caught up with the 28-year-old earlier this year to discuss her journey back to full fitness.
“When I got injured, I was number four in the world and was starting to feel like I was establishing myself and making a move on those next three places. It was obviously a huge blow to have such a major injury.”
New Zealand’s Joelle King was playing some of the best squash of her career during the summer of 2014 and, fresh off the back of a bronze medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in August, was also enjoying a career-best World No.4 ranking for a fifth successive month.
However, later that month, during her final clash with compatriot Megan Craig in the New Zealand Nationals, she ruptured her Achilles tendon and was plunged into a harrowing road to recovery that would see her out of competitive action for nine months.
For many athletes, a career-threatening injury can have major repercussions on their physical and mental health, with some failing to ever fully recover.
But while King acknowledges how difficult it was to be forced out of action, the 28-year-old from Cambridge has chosen to take the positives from her time away from the court and insists that she has come back a better player.
King in action at the U.S. Open
“It was tough to sit back and watch everyone else competing and doing all those things,” recalled King.
“But I also think to live quite a normal life for about nine months, to be at home, be a wife and be in a normal routine actually helped me to grow and come back to the sport with even more to offer.
“Talking to people that have had major injuries, before I got injured, they all said it was one of the best things that happened to them, and I didn’t really understand that at the time, until it happened to me.
“I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, you can’t change what’s happened and you’ve got to move forward. Having good support around me really helped to progress through the injury.
“In a weird way, that has helped me to come back as a better player, I believe. There were good times, bad times and frustrating times. Probably one of the most frustrating times was coming back. It was very exciting at the start because my ranking had dropped
so much, so every game was exciting.
“Then I got to a stage where, all of a sudden, I was back at around 11 or 12 in the world and the pressure was back on and people were expecting me to start winning matches. That was probably the hardest period, maybe 6-8 months ago where I was really seriously wondering if I was ever going to get back to where I was.
“Once again, I think it comes back to the people that I am surrounded by, who kept the faith, kept helping me to stay strong and believed that I could get back there. Recently, I’ve really been feeling that my game’s starting to come together.
“It’s been a long two years, a long road, but I’ve come through most of it.”
King at the Tournament of Champions
After making a return to competitive action with a quarter- final finish at the 2015 British Open – a full 12 months after her last appearance on the PSA World Tour – King, who by that time had slipped out of the world’s top 50 – captured her first Tour crown in 19 months at her second tournament back, the Australian Open.
That triumph saw King move back inside the world’s top 50, and it was only a
few months later, in April 2016, that she returned to the top 10, where she has resided for much of the past year.
Since her injury, King has had to contend with a change in tin height from 19” to 17” – which came into effect shortly after her return from injury – and the rise of Egyptian stars such as Nour El Sherbini, Nouran Gohar and also the United States No.1, Amanda Sobhy, all of whom have joined an increasingly competitive top 10.
King admits that adapting to the changing landscape of the sport has been challenging, but the current World No.12 says that the strength in depth in the Women’s rankings has made her raise her own game.
“It was really tough, I was training to just come back, but I had to change my mentality,” King said.
“I had to train to come back to where I was, but actually, compared to where I was, the game has gone onto another level.
“The top 10 girls are playing some phenomenal squash and I think the level is better than it has ever truly been before. It was hard to come back, but then I had to nd other things that were going to help my game evolve as well.
“It took a lot of watching and trying to learn from what the other girls were doing, and a lot of work had to go into my game to adjust to the new tin. But it’s exciting, I think the game is in the best place its been, with a lot of contrasting styles out there.”