Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
Dame Susan Devoy has backed Joelle King’s defence of the Manchester Open by saying that every Kiwi is behind her.
The 31-year–old will face Latvia’s World No.51 Ineta Mackevica in the opening round on the opening day at the National Squash Centre and could potentially face top seed Camille Serme in the quarter-finals of the PSA Silver tournament.
But with just six days to go until King begins her title defence, Devoy, who dominated the sport in the 80s and early 90s, has backed her compatriot to use Manchester as a springboard to climb up the PSA Women’s World Rankings.
The eight-time British Open champion says that King’s experience of bouncing back from a career-threatening Achilles injury in 2014 will mean that her fellow New Zealander will be one of the main challengers for the first trophy following the suspension of the PSA World Tour due to COVID-19.
“I think Joelle, like everyone else, will be just so keen on playing again,” said Devoy.
“This tournament will be a test for all players and Joelle will be ready to show that she is still a main contender. All the Kiwis are right behind her.
“Obviously the suspension period will have effected everyone differently and I think that will make Manchester a fascinating watch, but Joelle has the experience to have dealt with that.
Joelle King with the 2020 Manchester Open trophy
“Of course, she has come through a major career threatening injury with the Achilles rupture back in 2014 and got out the other side and won major titles and claimed a Commonwealth Games gold. So, she has the character to come out the blocks very strongly.”
King will turn 32 just a fortnight after Manchester starts next Wednesday but Devoy reckons that her compatriot will come out of the blocks at full speed as she looks to recapture the kind of form that saw her outclass all before her last year in Manchester.
“I believe Joelle King still has it in her to compete with the best in the top 10,” Devoy said.
“She may be 31, but I don’t see why that should be a problem. The big thing about Joelle is she has the game and she has the experience to beat the best and she has done it before.
“Obviously there are now a lot of younger players starting to come through like the young girl Hania [El Hammamy] did at the Black Ball before the suspension and the Egyptians seem to just keep producing world-class players, but I think Joelle will come out feeling like she has something to prove.
“Joelle is defending champion in Manchester and that will also give her extra motivation and she has drawn a Latvian girl in the first round and so she has the opportunity to play her way in.”
World No.1 Nouran Gohar and World Champion Nour ElSherbini are absent in Manchester, while long-standing No.1 Raneem El Welily retired in June. Devoy believes El Welily’s retirement will only have served to whet the appetite of the women competing in Manchester in six days’ time.
Raneem El Welily retired from squash in the summer
Devoy – who spent 105 months at World No.1 between 1984 and 1993 – said: “Obviously the big difference for all the top girls is that Raneem El Welily has retired. So, for every girl in the top 10 they will be thinking this provides an opportunity in terms of making major finals and if a draw opens up maybe even better.
“At 31, Joelle has all the experience she needs to make the most of this, she has won major championships before like the Hong Kong Open and of course the Commonwealths, competed at the business end of countless big tournaments and also has been as high as World No.3.
“She has shown an ability on her day to beat the best and if anything I think the period of the suspension will have only served to sharpen her hunger, let any niggles settle down and make sure that she comes out even more determined to give it a real go.”
The Kiwi squash legend amassed a stellar collection of titles during her staggering reign at World No.1 which has only been bettered by Malaysian legend Nicol David.
As such, Devoy is in a unique position to provide an insight into the mindset of a defending champion ahead of her long-awaited defence of the Manchester crown.
“You don’t go into an event thinking of your last result,” said Devoy.
“Each day is a new beginning and you take each match one step at a time. Probably this will be more so for Joelle given the suspension period of six months.
“I always told myself every new title will be harder than the last one. At the end of the day you prepare yourself to the very last detail and you go on the court knowing you have done everything humanly possible to succeed.
“They key to that is experience and when you look through the top 10 then Joelle has as much of that as anyone and that will stand her in good stead as she looks to settle back into the competition and the tour.”