By Scott Leighton
The Men’s World Team Championships is the premier team event in the world for professional squash players. While the current members of the U.S. Men’s team have been climbing up the professional individual rankings over the past few years, the players have not been satisfied with the results that the team has achieved in World Team competitions. With the 2009 Men’s World Team Championship in Odense, Denmark, fast approaching, the time is now for the U.S. to improve on past performances. From September 27th to October 3rd, while England and Egypt are expected to compete for the overall title, the U.S. Men’s team hopes to achieve its best result in recent memory.
With three full-time touring professionals now on the team, expectations for 2009 have grown substantially. Julian Illingworth, Chris Gordon, and Gilly Lane have fully established themselves on the professional tour and Preston Quick, while not a current full-time touring professional, has bountiful experience playing World Men’s team events. After finishing at 13th in the 2005 World Team Championships, the team regressed to 14th in 2007. Now in 2009, the team has three of the four members returning from the 2005 squad and expectations are high. While Coach Chris Walker was reluctant to predict where the team will finish, U.S. No. 1 Illingworth believes the U.S. should set its sights high. “I think we are sending far and away the strongest team we have ever fielded,” Illingworth said. “Four years ago we didn’t have a single player in the top 100 and this year we have three—ranked 33, 76, and 77 respectively. Preston is also the perfect addition to the team and was our number one player as recently as four years ago. I think we can realistically shoot for a top-10 finish.”
The fact that the U.S. has three players that have fully committed themselves to playing professional squash should not be underestimated. Playing full time on the professional tour gives players consistent match experience against the top squash players in the world; experience that will be crucial in the World Team Championship where the top players in the Professional Squash Association are scheduled to compete. Other factors toward achieving success in the World Team Championship is preparing both mentally and physically for more matches than one usually plays during a standard individual tournament. Each team is guaranteed a certain number of matches in a team tournament and, often times, the winners and losers of a match come down to fitness. Gilly Lane, who has been based in Amsterdam for the past 18 months, will be going back to Europe to train for the tournament. He will be emphasizing fitness in addition to his usual routine of matches, drills, and gym work. Illingworth is in the midst of his summer training where he focuses more on physical and technical drills, and will begin match-time situations closer to the tournament.
One of the advantages the U.S. Men’s team has going for itself is that the players seem to be peaking at the right time. 2009 was the most successful year yet for this current group of American squash stars. Julian Illingworth is currently at a career-best 33 in the world and recently won his first PSA title at the Pacific Athletic Club Open in California. By winning his fifth S.L. Green title this past March, Illingworth reinforced his status as the most dominant American squash player since Mark Talbott dominated the hardball circuit over a quarter of a century ago. Gilly Lane is the only member of the 2009 U.S. Men’s team that has never competed at the World Team Championship before. However, at No. 76 in the world, Lane has already proved himself against some of the best professionals after only two years on the tour. Christopher Gordon is also playing superb squash at the moment—he is currently No. 77 in the world and won his first PSA title this past season in Yokohama, Japan. Preston Quick will be competing in his fourth World Team Championship. Although he doesn’t have the same recent experience playing international tournaments that his teammates have, Quick is a former full-time professional who already proved his meddle against other hopeful team members in the Men’s Team Trial held over the summer.
Coach Walker is harnessing his knowledge and experience as the former captain of the English National team to help the players on the U.S. team achieve their goal of a top-10 finish. Lane believes that Walker’s coaching experience is important and credits the strong team dynamic as one of the most important factors towards success. “I think the dynamic of the team is great,” Lane remarks. “Preston brings a ton of experience and can show a player like me, who has never been on this team, how to go about the daily routine. At the same time Julian, Chris and I have been playing the tour for awhile so we are comfortable with the daily routine of being a touring professional. It also helps that we see our competition play on a daily basis which will help us during the matches.”
Overall, the members of the U.S. Men’s team are well on their way toward achieving their goals this month in Denmark. Lane hopes that further success for U.S. professional players both in team competitions and individually on the tour will inspire more younger players to become professionals and represent their country. Says Lane, “We are on the right path, but we need college and high school kids to start considering a career in squash. We only have three people in the country playing full time. Compared to other countries that number is very small. We need more American kids out there in tournaments against the world’s best.”