Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
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The advent of the 2018-2019 PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family in Chicago this weekend will undoubtedly serve to heighten the motivation, effort and determination of every one of the 128 squash players in both the men's and women's draws.
But for Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez the motivation to lift the most distinctive trophy in the sport is on a whole different plain.
Should the man known affectionately as the Colombian Cannonball come good in Chicago's Union Station and add the PSA World Championships to the British Open he currently holds, Miguel will be joining the company of a select group of squash immortals.
For since the great Geoff Hunt beat Pakistan's Mohibullah Khan in the first World Championship way back in 1976, just three men have gone on to hold both British and World Championship titles at the same time, with Jahangir and Jansher Khan making up this triumvirate of the squash titans.
And Rodriguez admitted he would love join some of squash’s biggest names in holding both the British Open and World Championship trophies at the same time.
“It would be a privilege to join such great company as Geoff Hunt, Jahangir and Jansher Khan and hold both the British Open and the World Championships at the same time.
“They are three absolute legends of the squash game, in fact they are immortals of our sport. So, it would be unbelievable to join them but it will also be a tremendous challenge.
“But seriously to become the first ever South American British Open champion was a dream for me and this is my chance to build on that and go one better and I will give it absolutely everything to repeat that success in Chicago over the next fortnight.
“I am coming into the World Champs in great shape having benefitted from 20 days back home in Bogota and I have made a few adjustments in my game both mentally and physically that I did not have time to do in the first-half of the season. I really believe that at 33, I am still capable of winning the biggest tournaments.
“So the opportunity to join players of the status of Geoff Hunt, Jahangir and Jansher has just doubled that motivation. Realistically this could be my only chance to achieve that and I will give it absolutely everything, for sure.”
The World No.7, who is seeded six in the ‘Windy City’ admits that at 33 years-old time is ticking on his hopes of improving on three appearances in the quarter-finals.
“I have never been beyond the quarter-finals at the Worlds and so obviously I still feel I have unfinished business with it,” said the Colombian.
“But I come to Chicago knowing that I have the ability and knowledge of what it takes to win the biggest tournaments.
“I have 28 PSA Tour titles behind me and been on the tour for nearly 14 years, I believe I am in my best shape and ready to start the tournament at the level of intensity required. Yet, you know I must be honest and admit there will be some butterflies in my stomach when I get on court for the first round but then that's what lets you know you are alive and the juices are flowing.”
Rodriguez admits there is a middle – eastern flavour to the favourites in the men's draw: “Of course the way the season has gone then you would have to say that the favourites are Ali Farag and Mohamed ElShorbagy. They have split the major tournaments and of course they are about to swap the World No.1 and No.2 rankings.
“Their consistency when it matters has been amazing but I still think there will be shocks in Chicago. Everyone has so much motivation at the world championships and on top of that this is the first $1million dollar tournament and for me the best trophy of them all.
“So, like myself there will be a few other players in the draw who will be determined to go all the way and for me I can't wait to get started.”
The Colombian will open his campaign against Indian qualifier Ramit Tandon on Saturday, but with the likes of World No.4 Tarek Momen and former World No.1 James Willstrop in his quarter, the ‘Colombian Cannonball’ will having to be firing on all cylinders if he wants another shot at top seed Mohamed ElShorbagy whom he beat in that epic five-game British Open final last year.
Rodriguez said: “I have never played Ramit Tandon of India who is my first round on Saturday but I promise you I will be giving him every respect. He has had to do it the hard way to qualify for the Worlds and he will be in the groove and determined to take a top-10 scalp. So for me, as I said earlier, I must play with the right level of intensity from the first point and the first rally.
“For sure I have an interesting section of the draw with the Scot Alan Clyne, who is a tough competitor, also my old friend James Willstrop while of course ElShorbagy is the top seed in my half and I would love another crack at him in a World Championship.
“But right now I look at the draw and know that I must be at my most professional, pay attention to every detail in the build up to each match and the recovery from it. If I can get all of that correct then I will give myself a good chance of achieving my ultimate dream.”