Squash: Natural ability and the Wright stuff

England's squash No 1 prepares to take on the world.
FOR THE truly talented there comes a moment when they are forced by circumstance to choose a particular route. It is a crossroads in their life and, because of their natural ability, usually comes at an age when their friends are fretting over exams.

Sue Wright, now 28, and the present British and European squash champion, made her choice aged 16. "I don't know why I chose squash," she explained earlier this week. "I had a letter through for England junior netball squad and it clashed with a squash tournament. I don't think it was a particularly important tournament but I chose the squash. Oh yeah," she continued, all enthusiasm and infectious giggling, "I remember, I love the game, I can't imagine doing anything else.

"I never imagined I would become a full-time pro and, in truth, I've only made enough to look after myself in the last six years but I never wanted to stop. Sport isn't played for money, it is about love of the game and winning."

How refreshing. And winning is definitely on Wright's mind at the moment. The women's world championship starts on Wednesday in Stuttgart, followed by the world team championships, and Wright wants to win both. Ranked No 4 in the world, her main opponents for the individual title are Cassie Jackman, from Norwich, and the two dominant Australians, Michelle Martin and Sarah Fitzgerald.

"I've specifically adapted my training in recent weeks and beaten all of them this year, so I am confident of doing well, but you can't predict things because so much of it is on the day," said Wright. "For the teams, England have got a great chance, but between us and Australia have the top six players in the world. We need a result from our No 3 and then it is between Martin, Fitzgerald, Cassie and myself. We haven't won it since 1990 so it's about time we got it back."

Since regaining the national crown earlier this year, Wright has actively pushed her profile in an attempt to increase the appeal of squash. Hindered by its lack of television exposure, squash struggles to attract sponsors, although the game in this country has never been stronger. The men are world champions with the women trying to emulate them, but the top players all rely on Lottery grants to survive.

"It's a ridiculous situation because the women's game is better than it's ever been, but until they find a way of making the game TV friendly it will suffer. It is a real shame because people just don't realise how exciting squash is unless they actually go along to a tournament, but it needs better promotion. Many spectators prefer the women's game because it is shorter than the men's and more shots are played.

"At the Commonwealth Games, the crowds were fantastic. There was never a spare seat and they were oohing and aahing during the rallies. So many people said to me they were amazed at the fitness and agility. Squash needs to translate this enthusiasm into the wider public, after all it is a mass participation sport."

It definitely is in Wright's family. Her father, Ken, was her first coach, a mantle passed on to Wright's elder sister, Debbie. "We're a close family," explained Wright. "Debbie works in the day and coaches me in the evenings. She tries to come to tournaments, and this has been easier since the Lottery funding, but really I think she only does it because she likes bossing me around. Mike Varney trained me physically and I lost one and a half stones. Admittedly I had it to lose, but he made me train three times a day. I think he just likes bossing me around as well. But without their help I wouldn't have succeeded."

Quite how they boss the strong-willed, single-minded Wright around is difficult to fathom. Her dedication to squash, however, did not prevent her from missing a whole season to help nurse her mother, who was suffering from cancer. "I was 24 and No 4 in the world but they will all be there next week. I really want to win it for them and me. When I was struggling, I relied on family, friends and donations and look how far they've taken me."