Ellie Pierce—Two-Time British Open 40+ Champion

By Ellie Pierce

Ellie Pierce (L) captured her second consecutive 40+ British Open title by stopping England’s Samantha Wallis in a four game final.
Ellie Pierce (L) captured her second consecutive 40+ British Open title by stopping England’s Samantha Wallis in a four game final.

It is a terrifying experience for us ‘oldies’ who played all rounds of play on the warm and cozy courts of the Liverpool Cricket Club located 20 minutes outside Liverpool center and then having to play the final match on the glass tour court with an audience who has PAID MONEY to see us play!

Fifteen minutes of practice time, starting at 9:00am, is allocated to players playing in the finals. Fifteen minutes to get used to where the walls are, which lights do not cause temporary blindness when looking up to return a serve. Which ones DO when serving.

Fifteen minutes to warm up with the World No. 1 player stretching behind the court checking the watch to see how much longer he/she needs to wait for you to be able to hit one ball to the back wall…that is, after someone has recovered the white ball from under the benches which you hit out while practicing your lob serve.

Any Master player who tells you they are not nervous is lying!

Playing in a British Open Final is very nerve-wracking no matter how many times you have been there…but at least I knew that I would be nervous walking out on that court for the final.

All in all, I had a good tournament to win the Ladies 40+. I am my own worst critic, and I can honestly say that I played well to win this year! I played a much improved American, Ashley Mears (not sure what her maiden name was) in the first round who played collegiate squash and now lives in Scotland with her husband and two active boys. Ashley works hard at her game and it shows with her ever-improving results in the Master events she plays in England and Scotland.

In the semifinals I played my good friend and teammate from my club in Amsterdam, Bea de Dreu Spitse, who had played some of her best squash ever to reach the semifinals. I knew I needed to play well from the first point of the match to contain Bea and dictate the rallies, otherwise she would be happy to continue improving her game. Fortunately for me, I was able to remain focused on my game plan and won the match 3-0.

The final was against Samantha Wallis whom I knew as Sam Langley when we played WISPA events in the 1990’s. Sam was a member of England’s National Squad and reached her highest ranking at No. 19 in the world. (My highest world ranking was No. 24). I played Sam last year in the first round of the British Open and won 3-2. (Sam didn’t mention her maiden name to the tournament organizers who in turn did not seed her in the draw). I also knew after the match last year that if I had played Sam on the glass court that she would have beaten me. Having respect for Sam’s game, knowing how dangerous she can be if given the ball in a certain range, I went into the final with a plan.

My strategy was simply to keep it out of her “danger zone” and make Sam move around the court as much as possible knowing that she was recovering from recent knee surgery. My length on the glass court was very good on the day and that seemed to frustrate Sam quite a bit.

I won the first game comfortably 9-2, lost the second game 6-9 after playing the ball too soon to the front of the court in my hasty attempt to make Sam move around the court. Unfortunately, this gave Sam the opportunity to move me around the court…funny how that works! I was quickly reminded of why Sam was No. 19 in the world at one time—she is good in the front when she has time to play the ball and she has a very deceptive way of hitting the ball which kept me guessing and wrong-footed.

I returned to my strategy of keeping Sam behind me as a basic foundation for the rallies in the third game. Sam began to physically weaken and the diagonal trips from the back corners to the front corners chasing my boasts seemed to be having their effect. I won the game 9-3 to go 2-1 up in the match.

The 4th game was given to me. Yes, I had to serve and return the ball but Sam did a lot for me by making eight unforced errors! Lucky me, I never underestimated Sam—not even when I was up 7-0 in the 4th. Been there done that too! I just reminded myself to serve quickly and keep going until the ref said game and match to Miss Pierce!

Ahhhh experience…it got me through once again!

That seems to be the trick at the Master level of squash, knowing that you will physically get tired; accepting that fact and making wiser choices before your legs give out and your lungs can no longer deliver oxygen to your brain which results in the repeated thought, “Why am I doing this?”

I don’t mind getting older so long as I get a bit wiser. That’s why I only play one tournament a year, my favorite tournament—The British Open, “the Wimbledon of Squash.”