Joelle King believes that Nour El Sherbini is still the one to beat ahead of this weekend’s 2021 CIB Black Ball Open.
The World No.8 came within a whisker of making the final in the previous Black Ball championship when she let slip a match ball after saving three of her own against Sarah-Jane Perry in a nerve-shredding 74-minute encounter before losing 13-11 in the final game tie-break.
While King admits that El Sherbini’s big title experience may well give her an edge, she points to the fact that the four semi-finalists, Hania El Hammamy, Amanda Sobhy, herself and English No.1 Perry. were all ranked outside the top four and hailed from four different nationalities, as concrete proof that the women’s game has never been so open.
While Sobhy’s quarter-final defeat of El Sherbini provided the biggest upset of the final tournament of 2020 it may also have given the Egyptian World No.1 a dangerous level of extra motivation leading into this weekend’s opening rounds.
But with King set to face the winner of the first round encounter between England’s Jasmine Hutton and Canada’s Danielle Letourneau on Saturday she is adopting a one game at a time approach: “Nour has done it all hasn’t she? She has won four WorldCchampionships and two British Opens so she will always be someone who you have to beat to win the big titles,” admitted King.
“That said, right now I would say that the women’s game is so open that anyone in the top eight can win these tournaments on their day and that is what is making the women’s game so exciting.
“If you look at the last Black Ball, then the semi-finals had four players who were all outside the top-four and from different countries which was great to see and good for the game.
“So, I think that at the moment it is whoever can put these big performances out on the day, but you have to come back to Nour, she is just always someone you have to beat.
“That is because when you have done it before you have the insight of how to do it, but, as I said, these are exciting times for the women’s game and really it has never been so open.”
While King’s form in 2020 was not as consistent as she would have wanted, she has no doubt that the addition of former world champion Laura Massaro to her coaching team has helped fuel a resurgence that was first seen in Cairo back in December and is looking forward to the resumption of the 2020/21 campaign.
King (back) with Laura Massaro at the 2018 Windy City Open
King said: “The day after Laura announced she was retiring I got straight in there and asked her if she would meet with me and we hooked up at the Manchester Open that I won in the first half of last year, and we sat down, and I just said: ‘I really would love the opportunity to have your help!’
“I was just so impressed with what she achieved in her career and there was a reason she achieved it and I just wanted her to be a part of this. So, we speak on the phone regularly and she has become more of a mentor and tactical advisor whereas Hadrian [Stiff] does the stuff on court and I feel like they complement each other well.
The Kiwi has been further buoyed by the announcements that the World Championships and British Open will once again be held in 2021 with King in particular looking forward to returning to the Windy City in July for the PSA World Championships presented by the Walter family.
The 32-year-old said: “Not just because of my age but for the tour as a whole the news that we have a World Champs is really welcomed. For such a prestigious tournament like the World Championships everyone wants to win that one, so everyone will be glad to have it back on the calendar.
“I am that bit older so to have another chance to have a crack at it is so exciting for me, so I am over the moon and just so happy we are going to have a World Championship this year after everything we have been through with the pandemic.
“I have made the quarter-finals on two occasions but maybe this year can be the year that changes. On both occasions I lost to Camille Serme, firstly in Manchester and then in the last World Champs to be held in Chicago.
King at the 2018-2019 PSA World Championships in Chicago
“I also lost in the final of the Windy City Open to Nour [El Tayeb] and I had match balls, so I have always loved playing there as it has such a cool vibe in Chicago and the members get right behind the tournament and you feel really appreciated for what you are doing.
“Obviously with the World Championships tag to it, this will make returning to Chicago even more special, so I will definitely be hoping for a big performance there.
“But I also hope that some smaller tournaments come on for the lower ranked players as it has been such a tough, tough time for them and as a player who is able to compete at the moment, I am really grateful, but I just hope the tour can also get up and running at Challenger level for the lower ranked players. That will be so important.”
Reflecting on her near miss last time around in Cairo, King said: “Back in December in the semi with SJ it could have gone either way and I was disappointed to lose out as at one game up and 9-5 up in the second I had control and that was probably the mistake I had made in letting her back.
“When I reviewed it with my team it felt that that was quite a turning point in the match and to go 2-0 up could have put me in a very strong position but I didn’t and all credit to SJ she took that game and the match and went on to win the tournament.
“Obviously, there were lots of positives and of course frustrations as I felt I could have gone all the way. So, it has fuelled me really strongly to come back and focus on the areas I need to improve.”
Looking forward to this weekend’s return to the fray there was no doubting the hunger in Joelle’s voice to tread the boards once again but also the clear respect for her potential first opponent:
“I’ve always been someone who has never looked beyond her next match and I face the winner of Jasmine Hutton and Danielle Letourneau and that could go either way, they are both improving all the time and training really hard, so whoever I play I will need to put my best foot forward.
“Whoever it is from first round to the last I need to be at my best and I don’t look at the quarter I am in. If you look at the last Black Ball, I could have been out in the first round against Donna [Lobban] and then I could easily have been in the final so everyone on their day is dangerous and that is why I take it one match at a time.”