By RJ Mitchell
Scotland’s No.1 Lisa Aitken believes her first-round draw against close friend and housemate Sarah-Jane Perry will provide the perfect platform back into competitive squash win, lose or draw.
The World No.41 has admitted that she ‘enjoyed’ a season to forget last time around and that the Covid-19 pandemic enforced suspension of the PSA World Tour allowed her to say adios to a season that Aitken is more than happy to put down to experience and move on.
Now as she looks forward to her meeting with the World No.5 and No.3 seed, the Scot is determined to deliver a performance that will hallmark her game with an identity which reflects the objectives she has been working on with coaching team Kylie Lindsay and Paul Bell back home in Edinburgh, in her Scottish homeland.
While Aitken’s almost two-year Dengue Fever enforced absence from the PSA World Tour back in 2014 has protected her against the frustrations of a suspension that will end for the proud Scot at the National Squash Centre in Manchester, some six months after she last trod the boards competitively at the CIB Black Ball Open in Cairo.
“SJ is one of my closest friends and kindly offered her home to me for the last two weeks,” said Aitken.
“So that was a surprise to us when the draw came out, given we are unable to train out with households in Scotland it was a no brainer for me to immerse myself in the environment of not only a great friend but also a top 10 player.
Aitken faces Sarah-Jane Perry (pictured) in round one
“There are no easy draws at the top level on tour, coming up against SJ is something I am really excited about, we haven’t met on the PSA World Tour as yet and getting the chance to have another crack at a top 10 player is exactly what is going to enable me to continue to learn and develop.
“But with this being the first event back after six months, there is so much more to it than just a squash match. I’m sure the time away has given all of us players a new level of gratitude to be able to continue to do what we love day in and day out.
“Personally, speaking I am really excited to see just how hungry all the players are now we are back competing. On that note I would like to thank everyone behind the scenes at PSA and all the players for offering their feedback along the way to help bring the PSA World Tour back in action.”
Quite clearly the disappointment of an under achieving season last time around has caused a deep reassessment of Aitken’s ambitions and the Scotland No.1 is refreshingly honest about the process she has been through during the six-month suspension purgatory caused by the global Pandemic.
“I used the time off court to step out of the squash bubble and to assess where I am at, and what direction I want to take.
“I have to be honest and say that last season was my worst season to date. I barely won a match and it was time for me to ask a good few questions of myself and the forced break, at the beginning, certainly gave me that opportunity.
“I am certainly not an advocate of the global pandemic, however, in some ways it came at a good time for me, I was drowning a little with my studies and my identity on court and it gave me a chance to stop and re-write the script.
“I worked hard on simplifying things and identifying who I wanted to be on court, or more so how I wanted to feel. Of course, this is all psychological which was why the time was so valuable for me.
“You have players out there like SJ, Nour El Tayeb, Mohamed ElShorbagy, who have a defined style, a way of playing that they are known for and I had reached a point where I realised I had no real identity on the court and had become a bit lost.
“Finding out how to truly unlock who you are and bringing that out in a high-performance environment is what sets apart the best from the rest. So, I am excited to put this work to the test and see how it holds up in the future events, but more so just to be out there, being free within myself and thriving in my performances.”
That said Aitken must surely be determined to climb back above her previous high watermark world ranking of No.35 and claim a place in the top-30 that once seemed there for the taking, before illness robbed her of two crucial years as her career appeared set for lift-off.
Yet as she eyes the resumption of the tour, Aitken is wary of setting herself any targets: “Putting targets on things or setting goals has never gone well for me and in my view, puts added pressure on yourself by setting defined goals and that’s not the way I want to go about things.
“Success for me will be about getting to a place on court where I am comfortable with myself, enjoying my squash and playing the way I want to play. So, when it comes to the match my focus will be on putting that work into action, even though most of the last seven months were off court I am still confident of putting in a good performance this week.
“I am well – rehearsed when it comes to a forced break from competitive squash and even training and the suspension. The suspension has given me a chance to really step back and asses where I’m at and how things are going, fortunately the coaching team around me, Kylie [Lindsay] and Paul [Bell] in particular, have been really supportive during this time and we have continued to have conversations every week to make sure progress is still an ongoing evolving process.”