Interview by Rj Mitchell
The legendary Sarah Fitz-Gerald discusses the strength of the Women’s Tour and how much she is looking forward to this month’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions.
– - –
With less than two weeks to go until the highly-anticipated J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, five-time World Champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald is looking forward to one of the most prestigious tournaments on Tour.
New York's iconic Grand Central Terminal will host one of the most iconic tournaments on the PSA World Tour with the 2019 edition featuring a record prize purse of $360,000, split equally across the men's and women's draws.
Egypt’s Raneem El Welily will spearhead the women's draw in her first appearance since reclaiming the World No.1 spot, but while she is expected to be pushed all the way by countrywomen Nour El Sherbini and Nour El Tayeb, Fitz-Gerald believes New Zealand's Joelle King could take a serious bite out of the Egyptian dominance of the women's game in the ‘Big Apple’.
“I don't think there is much doubt that the Tournament of Champions is the most highly-anticipated tournament on the tour,” said Fitz-Gerald.
“For me it is the Wimbledon of Squash and the opportunity to play under the chandeliers of Grand Central Terminal's impressive Vanderbilt Hall just gives ToC an extra dimension and unique atmosphere.
“There's no doubt that it's is the most unique venue on the PSA World Tour. In my day it was the British Open that was the tournament, but now I think there is a strong argument that it could be ToC.
“With the record prize money of $360,000 split equally across both draws and just the whole buzz around the tournament it’s just the most fantastic way to start 2019 and I'm really excited about the tournament.”
World No.1 El Welily will be determined to continue the hot streak that saw her reach four finals and claim two titles, including the U.S. Open, before Christmas as she reclaimed the top spot in the rankings from El Sherbini on December 1.
However, legendary Aussie Fitz-Gerald, whose title haul includes five World Championship crowns and two British Open titles, believes that the confidence New Zealand's King will have taken from defeating El Welily in the Hong Kong Open final make her the player most likely to upset the rankings in New York.
“It is very hard to separate the Egyptian girls and their consistency is reflected in the World Rankings. Raneem especially has put a tremendous run together in the first-half of the season to get back to World No.1 and of course she has already won under the chandeliers back in 2015,” said Fitz-Gerald.
The former World Champion continued: “Then of course last year's final saw Nour El Sherbini come from behind to win a five set epic against Nour El Tayeb and all of that does point heavily to an Egyptian winner in the ladies draw but I think Joelle King will have something to say about that.
Joelle King celebrates her Hong Kong Open victory
“For me the two big pluses for Joelle going into ToC are the fact that at the last Platinum Series event in Hong Kong she beat El Tayeb in the quarters and then backed that up by coming through in straight-games in the final against Raneem via an epic third set tie-break.
“Joelle knows she will probably have to beat two of the three Egyptian girls if she is to go all the way in New York, but she also has it in her locker that she has already done that and done it recently. I also think Joelle has taken great belief from winning the Commonwealth Games Gold Medal and all of that is massive going into New York.
“She has real power and in the women’s game that natural power is very important and also very much underrated. Joelle is a fine athlete and with her seeded to meet Raneem in the semis she will have plenty of positives to take into that meeting if that is how the draw pans out.”
As one of four Vice Presidents of the World Squash Federation, Fitz-Gerald is still very much involved in the game she graced with such distinction and is clearly excited about our sport’s future and hopes of finally gaining Olympic inclusion which is being championed jointly by the PSA and WSF.
“I am really excited about the way our sport is progressing and developing. The way the whole media aspect has improved in terms of the TV coverage, the growth of the game through the PSA and the wonderful work being done by the World Squash Federation President Jacques Fontaine all point to a very bright future for squash and I hope and believe that one day that will mean Olympic inclusion.
“We are lucky in that we have so many bright, impressive and articulate players in both the women’s and men’s game who are driving our sport this really is an exceptional generation of players who are helping to take squash to the next level.”