In the next part of a series taking a look at back at the 2019-20 season to date, MATT COLES spoke to Iker Pajares about his form over the last 12 months.
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The 2019-20 season has been the best of a young career so far for Spain’s Iker Pajares, with several achievements ticked off the list over the campaign.
A trip to Washington with the Spanish team for the Men’s World Team Championships, becoming Spanish No.1 for the first time and breaking into the top 30 of the World Rankings have all been accomplished by the 24-year-old this term, and he is happy with those achievements.
“I’d say 8/10. I’m very happy with my performance, professionalism and the new player I have become,” the Spaniard explained.
“This season I’ve achieved big things, I won the Spanish Nationals, I got into the top 35 and I won all my first round matches in Platinum events.”
The Spaniard has broken into the top 30 in the World Rankings for the first time in his career, and with the rankings frozen due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Pajares now sits at World No.28, his highest ever ranking.
We spoke to Pajares prior to the April rankings being announced, when he was still outside the top 30, and he admitted that breaking into that group was his next goal.
“I was very consistent with my results and my squash, improving the results from last year. I won’t say a number as I don’t like to set these kind of goals but I’m very confident and hungry to make the top 30 this year, or who knows, maybe even top 25?” he admitted.
That jump up the Word Rankings was, in part, down to reaching the last 16 of a Platinum event for the first time in his short career.
The Spaniard made it into the third round of the Windy City Open 2020 presented by the Walter Family in Chicago in February after victories over Alan Clyne and Arturo Salazar in the early rounds.
He came up against World Champion Tarek Momen in the last 16, where his run ended, but he gave the World No.4 a scare, losing out in a tough four-game battle at the University Club.
Pajares (right) in action against Momen in Chicago
“It was a big push mentally. I had a decent draw and a big opportunity to make the last 16 and I didn't let it go!” Pajares explained.
“I will always remember that match against my friend Arturo Salazar in the second round where I won in five tough games.
“The next day I played the World Champion Tarek Momen and I lost in four. I did learn a lot from that tournament and I have amazing memories.”
The boost to his World Ranking has seen Pajares take over as the leading Spaniard, sitting a couple of places ahead of the experienced Borja Golan.
Despite being the new Spanish No.1, he does not feel that he has earned that spot yet, praising his compatriot for all he has done in the sport.
“I think Borja is still one of the best players in the world and it will be very difficult to equal all his achievements,” the 24-year-old explained.
“We all know how hard is to play him and how hard you have to fight to beat him. At his age he's still beating top players and enjoying his squash more than ever.”
Talking of Spain, it has been a great season on the international stage as well for Pajares. He beat Golan in an epic four-game, 92-minute battle to claim his first ever Spanish Nationals title, a couple of months after representing his country in Washington, D.C.
The Spaniard in action against France's Gregory Gaultier at the Men's World Teams
Pajares was a key member of the Spanish team at the WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championships, held at the incredible Squash on Fire venue.
He helped the team to a best ever finish of 8th place, as they reached the quarter-finals for the first time in history. Pajares won all four of his matches before the nation was defeated by eventual bronze medalists France in the last eight.
“What a tournament that was! It’s one of the toughest tournaments I’ve ever played,” the Spaniard admitted.
“A total of twelve days giving the best of you was very tiring but it’s always a pleasure to play for Spain. I can’t ask for a better team, they are amazing people and players.
“We all gave our best during the week finishing 8th, the best result in the history of Spain. I played very good squash and I got important wins for the team.”
At just 24 years of age, Pajares could become one of the main contenders over the next few years.