USA’s World No.46 Haley Mendez has become a consistent feature in the women’s top 50 for the past two years and despite being proud of how far she has progressed, the American is out to go even further when professional squash resumes.
Mendez began the 2019-20 season at her highest ranking to date of World No.42 and endured a few narrow five-game losses to higher seeded players in the first half of the season, but admitted there were lots of positives to take.
“I have gotten to play four new tournaments this season that I had never been to before which is rare and super exciting,” said the 26-year-old.
“I have also really enjoyed playing a few more leagues and exhibitions and getting to really enjoy my squash rather than fixating on results or ranking. On the whole, I would say that every season I play is better than the last because I feel more established and settled in my routine, I know what I need to do to succeed on and off the court and I can continue to improve and grow as a player which is the most rewarding of all.
“I love getting to play in the big events – it is a real privilege to be in the same draw as the top players and get the opportunity to compete against them. While it is definitely important for me to find the right balance of playing both the Platinum events and some smaller events where I can get through several rounds, I love getting to go to the major tournaments.
“I think I was a bit unlucky this season, losing three five-setters in a row in the first rounds of the platinum events to players in and around the top 20. But it is hugely encouraging that I am knocking on doors and getting myself into these exciting matches where I haven’t always been that close in the past.
“I think in order to make it into the later rounds I need to be a little more confident and believe that my squash is good enough to get some wins and to be a little more aggressive both in my shot selections and energy/intensity. I hope that if I can continue to work on the mental side of my game and turn up the volume on my on-court demeanour, it will help me break into the next level.”
U.S. Squash is thriving at the moment with the likes of the Sobhy sisters, Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Olivia Fiechter all flying the flag for squash in the country alongside Brooklyn-born Mendez and she believes the standard has increased for a number of reasons.
“The level of squash in the US is incredible. There is massive growth at all levels: junior squash, college squash and the professional level, all of which will only continue to strengthen Team USA.
“US Squash has done an incredible job growing the sport from the bottom up and I am lucky to be a part of the Elite Athlete Programme with the other four girls inside the top 50. The EAP helps support all of us with everything we need from coaching, advice, putting us in touch with the right people, travel, and finances. It is great to have such a strong presence inside the top fifty, definitely the most ever in US squash history. Having each other to travel and train with is a huge asset.
“It will be super exciting to see how squash in the US continues to flourish after the opening of the New National training centre in Philadelphia. The Spectre Center will be equipped with 18 singles courts, two glass show courts, two hardball doubles courts, a cafe/shop, a player fuelling station, physio rooms/trainers, video analysis screening rooms, player lounges, an onsite high performance gym, dorms/housing and a full team of coaches, trainers, physios, nutritionists and sport psychologists.”
Alongside her compatriots, Mendez also has the support of boyfriend and fellow player, Nathan Lake, and Mendez credits the relationship with helping her squash, despite having to get a referee in for their practice matches.
“We always joke that whoever is lower ranked has to do the dishes! That’s been him recently, so I’m happy! However, I do most of the cooking, so I think that’s pretty fair anyways.
“We are both tremendously lucky to have each other from a squash perspective. We actually both enjoy getting on court with each other and do it a few times a week when we can, sometimes giving each other lessons/feeding sessions, practicing routines, or playing conditioned matches.
“That being said – it gets incredibly competitive and heated when we play. I would say that generally, we are both extremely even tempered and fair on court – however when we play a match with each other there have definitely been a few rackets thrown and obscenities spoken! We typically play a match where I get two bounces to retrieve the ball whenever I want, and it’s pretty even! Almost always going to a tiebreak in the fifth, we have taken to getting a referee now.
“When we are not playing each other, we are the other’s biggest fan. It is the best being able to travel together to tournaments and have someone who is always in your corner, as your biggest cheerleader and most knowledgeable coach. And when we are just at home, we are able to help push and motivate each other when one of us is struggling. It is a huge asset on the whole – we are very lucky and definitely help to spur each other on. Although, sometimes I wish Nath wasn’t such a squash nerd… can’t we just watch Netflix instead of some 1990s squash replay like a normal couple!”
With the PSA World Tour currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mendez has already laid out her targets for when she returns to action, along with taking some downtime during the unexpected break.
“One of my goals for this season was to finally break into the Top 40 - unfortunately, I didn’t do that. However, it only makes me even more determined for next season. While it is easy to dwell on that, I have come a long way this season as a player, both mentally and physically, and I know that I am improving every day, so that is exciting and what I choose to focus on.
“Aside from trying my best to stay in shape and get ready for the new season to begin, I am looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, who I struggle to see during the season. Especially Crumble, my new kitten! She is hilarious and follows me everywhere. I am currently working on teaching her some dog tricks…we have got fetch and roll over down pretty well. Definitely check out my Instagram (@haley_mendez) to follow all my Crumble escapades.
“I have also been enjoying making my way through my reading list and experimenting in the kitchen now that I have more free time in the day.”