With her place at the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai secure, Gruffudd Owen spoke to former women’s world No. 1 Nicol David at the Allam British Open. The squash legend shared her thoughts on the past season, and revealed her excitement at the prospect of returning to the emirate in June
You reached the semi-finals of the Allam British Open, the last PSA World Series event before the Finals in Dubai. How would you rate your performances this season?
It's been a mixed set of results and performances throughout the season. From the beginning to where I am right now, there have definitely been some improvements.
I know for a fact that my game is coming together a lot more. It is a challenging period for me, but no doubt that’s what you play for. It’s what really drives me and motivates me to keep pushing myself and keep finding ways of innovating my game.
I’m still having fun and enjoying it; I’m in a really good place, and the Finals is definitely the one to work towards.
You finished sixth in the PSA Road to Dubai standings. How special will it be to compete at the Finals, knowing that you’ll be competing against the very best players in world squash?
What better incentive to qualify than to be one of the top eight at the end of the season?
Dubai is a tournament we’re all gunning for: to be in the top eight, to play in the Dubai Opera. I don’t think anybody will want to miss that opportunity. It’s going to be such a highlight.
With the regular World Series season now over, there’s a bit of a wait until you head to Dubai for the Finals in June. How will you prepare in the meantime?
We have the World Championships next; after that I think I’ll probably take a little bit of time off to take it all in and then start building up again towards the Finals. It’s a tournament that you need to bring your ‘A game’ to.
At 33 years of age, you are one of the more experienced players on the women’s circuit. What do you make of the new generation breaking through?
The tour is very exciting at the moment with all the young players. I remember when I was coming through there was such an adrenaline rush. I had such a high just being out there giving my all.
You see that in the eyes of the current crop of youngsters when they step on court. You just want to savour every moment. But there are so many of them now, and that’s why it’s so exciting to see the different styles of play.
There’s a lot of aggressive squash now; whoever gets in there first will take it on. You have to innovate your game. You evolve; I know what I’m good at, but I know I have to evolve to be among the new crop of players with their different styles of play.
That’s a great challenge for me, and I’m very excited to see what the rest of the season holds.
I still see myself playing squash for a number of years. The main thing is that my body is healthy; I feel good, and my heart is still pumping for squash
You are a two-time Finals champion, having won the inaugural edition in 2012 before defending the title a year later. Do you think it will be harder for you to add a third this year given the strength of the competition and your advancing years?
I still see myself playing squash for a number of years. The main thing is that my body is healthy; I feel good, and my heart is still pumping for squash. That love and passion is driving me forward.
There are no expectations on me to actually win; it’s more a case of the world no. 1 and the past champions being there to defend their rankings and titles, and me being there as the underdog. For me, anything is a bonus now.
Last year marked the first time the Finals were held in Dubai. How important is it that one of the biggest events in the squash calendar has found a home in the emirate?
Dubai holds a very significant position in the sports world. Several major sporting events are held there; it’s the centre of attention in so many areas.
To be part of that mix is very special, and to play in front of the tallest building in the world is a testament both to where our sport has come and to what Dubai has to offer.
We are very privileged to be a part of it all in Dubai, because it’s not everyday that you get a chance to play at the Opera House, let alone next to the Burj Khalifa. I’m really glad that Dubai is taking squash on board.
We certainly want to put on a good show.