my own goal: Cassandra Jackman

THE world No 3 squash player, world championship runner-up last October, seeks to go one step further in this year's event in Hong Kong later this week. If nothing else, the 22-year-old from Norfolk hopes she will not be overawed by the occasion . . .
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The Independent Online
IN reaching the world final in Guernsey last year I felt I played really well at times. But getting to the final and playing in it are different things. I don't think I was affected because my opponent was Michelle Martin, the best player in the world, who had not been defeated for two years. I had been the last player to beat her.

But this was a new experience for me. I was extremely nervous going into the match and she was much more relaxed. She also happened to play extremely well. I lost the first two sets in no time and won just one point. I relaxed in the third and played far more fluently but she was coasting by then. I got six points but that didn't make it close.

It was pretty difficult. I was one match away from being world champion, which is what you strive for. It was the biggest event of my life. Michelle had been there before, I hadn't and it showed.

You get wiser. When I was a junior I was seeded eight in the world championships. Maybe I should have been No 2 but anyway the upshot was that the quarter- final was virtually the final. In the deciding set at 7-6 down, instead of hitting it straight, I played a boast from the back. I lost the point, the game and the match 3-2.

Of course, one mistake doesn't necessarily lose you the whole thing but it can be very significant. In that case it certainly was. I'm not saying that if I'd played the shot I should have played, and saved the point, I would have gone on to win the match. But in a sport where so many shots are exchanged just one can make a difference. That one from six years ago has stuck with me.

I am not sure when I shall reach my peak. I definitely feel as though I am improving at the moment and in the last six weeks I can tell the difference. Maybe they are just little things but my fitness and technique are better. It has gone well since I lost in the second round of the British championships for the second year in succession. That was hardly meant to happen either.

I suppose I have felt a little bit of pressure on me the last few years because of what the great Australian Susan Devoy said when she retired. She was widely quoted as predicting that I would take over from her as the world No 1. It was extremely flattering to have that said about me and a big challenge at the same time. But it hasn't happened yet.

The standard of women's squash is improving all the time; there are more good players, and that might have something to do with it. I try never to think about it but it is something that's always mentioned. It is not something I said but maybe it has affected me sometimes.

At the age of 22, I don't know when I'll reach my peak. Suzanne Horner, who is the British No. 1 and world No 2, is 32 and she's played better than ever for the past three years. She just keeps going and it has been a tremendous effort although I've won our last three matches. Devoy and Martin reached their peak at around 26. I'd like to do it before then if possible.

In this year's world championships I'm seeded to meet Michelle in the semi-finals but we've both got some tough matches before then. She's due to play a couple of the British girls and I should think they'll give her a good run round the court.

My training has gone really well. Playing against men, as we tend to do between tournaments, you play a different, quicker, maybe more aggressive sort of game. This time, if it comes to it, I should be ready.