“I feel like I’m the most ready I’ve ever been to win a World Champs.” – Paul Coll

What a season it’s been so far for New Zealand’s Paul Coll. The former World No.1 has bounced back in great style from a disappointing 2022-23 season to claim five titles, two of them Platinum events, and move back to World No.2, being the only player to beat runaway World No.1 Ali Farag more than once.

After slipping down to No.5 in the world for the start of this season, the reigning Commonwealth Games Champion knew that change was necessary if he wanted to compete for major titles again. The 31-year-old still has the World Championship title to tick off his bucket list and is determined to maintain his new mental strategy into the biggest event on the calendar.

We caught up with Coll to talk about those crucial changes that he has made, talk through his season so far and look ahead to the PSA World Championships.

“I’ve expanded my team a bit this season,” said Coll, talking about the changes he made ahead of this season.

“In the off season I did a lot of work with a new mental coach and that’s really helped me get my head back in the game and get my head back into how I got to World No.1 in the first place. Last season was definitely a tough season for me, probably the toughest I’ve had on tour in terms of expectations and how much I felt like I had failed. This season’s been great. I’ve had some results that haven’t gone my way but I’ve definitely bounced back in a way that I’m very proud of and I’ve probably enjoyed this season most out of any other season.

“The way I’m playing just feels right to me and it’s something I want to keep improving. It’s like I’m a junior again learning squash all over again so that really gives me a lot of excitement. I think that’s why I’m really enjoying turning up to tournaments and just speaking to new people, getting different opinions from people that I really respect and it just gives me a lot of energy and I think that’s what I was lacking last season.

“I was very much results based and I think that if you think that way it can become a very hard and very long season, so the way I’m mentally approaching this season has helped me a lot to get through the season in a more enjoyable way and I think the results speak themselves in terms of the way I’m playing.”

Many coaches, players and greats of the game have attested to improving the mental part of their games and how big that side of the game becomes the higher you climb up the rankings. Coll’s mental resilience has been praised this season, especially in pressure moments in big matches. The World No.2 admits that he is able to think more clearly this season, which has unlocked new potential.

“I think in those situations, you need to stay relaxed and think clearly. I’m trying to not let the emotions get to me and not let things spiral out of control because squash is a very fast-paced sport and if you let things get to you, you can lose a match in a blink of an eye and I think last season I wasn’t great at dealing with adversity or when things didn’t go my way.

“I wasn’t mentally capable of bouncing back. I think this season I’m thinking a lot more clearly. I know exactly how I want to play. I’ve got a very clear game plan, playing my style of squash and I’m continuing to work on it.”

As well as working with Rob Owen, Coll has brought Australia’s former World Champion Rodney Martin on board for this season. Coll explains how much he loves to break down and analyse his game and admits that Martin has been a key metric to his success this season.

“Bringing Rodney [Martin] into the team was something that wasn’t really planned but it worked out and again something that gave me a lot of energy.

“I think since I started working with Rob [Owen] five or six years ago, Rodney was always an example that he used for me. He used him as a guide to how he wanted me to play squash. So Rodney was always someone we studied, someone I always watched on YouTube to see how he played and tried to pick up the things that he did. So when Rodney started working with me at the U.S. Open it was not much different to what me and Rob were already doing but he loves to sit and talk about the fine detail of swings and game plans and things like that and I could do that all day as well so I think we thrive off each other and he’s definitely been a good thing for me this season.

Rodney Martin

“The whole relationship with Rodney came about from Rob in the first place. I would never have met Rodney if it wasn’t for Rob, so I’m very grateful for Rob to introduce me to a player like Rodney and that I can have that opportunity to work with him. He knows how good of a player Rodney is and how much he could help me at tournaments and sharpen me up.

“It’s working really well for me at the moment. It’s just a perfect combination for me. Obviously, Rob’s still my full-time coach. I see him before every tournament and then having the chance to get on with Rodney is just amazing and gives me a lot of confidence. I love the way he thinks about the game and it’s rubbing off on me. This season is the most I’ve ever enjoyed squash.”

Up until the Black Ball Squash Open final last month, Coll was the only player to have beaten the dominant Ali Farag all season, scoring wins at the U.S Open, Hong Kong Open and Optasia Championships.

“It’s an interesting one. I think when I had the season of trying to get to World No.1, I was chasing Ali and he’s probably the player I’ve studied the most out of any player on tour. I think that trying to get to that No.1 spot, he was the guy I had to beat continuously so I really feel like I know his game well.

“Obviously, I think physically I can stay with him but it takes a lot to be able to mentally and physically stay with Ali. He puts on a tremendous amount of pressure for a long period of the time during games, so I can stick with him in a sort of physicality way, but like I said, he’s a player I’ll probably study the most on tour. We have a game plan, he’ll have a game plan and that’s how it is. He’s also a very fair player so I actually look forward to those battles with him.

“The U.S Open was a big win for me. Not only was it a career goal of mine to win that prestigious event but to beat Ali after he’d beaten me in Paris was a good judge of where my squash was at and I’m still really proud of that win.

“The match in Hong Kong I thought was better squash than in the U.S Open. Obviously he hit that error at match ball but in my head I was getting every single ball before the second bounce. I  was determined not to let it bounce twice and I was going to run around like a maniac just to try and pick up absolutely everything because you never know what’s going to happen next and at  that point it only takes one mistake.”

Coll’s fiancé is Belgium’s World No.4 Nele Gilis. The pair have been consistently featuring in World Tour events since the 2018/19 season and play a lot of the same tournaments. Coll explains that it isn’t always easy when one wins and the other doesn’t but insists that they have a good understanding and it gives them an advantage when travelling.

“The benefits definitely outweigh the cons for sure. I think we’re both of the same understanding. We know how it feels to lose and as much as it would be great for each of us to stay around if the other person is still in, sometimes you just need to get out of there. I want her to do what’s best for her so if she needs to leave the event when I’m still playing, that’s fine. I prefer her just to leave and focus on her own stuff.

“It’s great to have her with me and vice versa, I hope. You don’t have to worry about a roommate disturbing you or think about sleep and things like that so it makes life so much easier for us both and we’re loving it.”

Despite reaching the final in 2019, the World Championships trophy is a major title that eludes Coll. The New Zealander will be featuring in his ninth World Championships in Cairo next week and feels that he is in the best shape he’s ever been to capture the biggest prize on the PSA calendar.

“It would be an absolute dream. I think it would cap off a good season but my career as well. It’s the one thing on my bucket list left to achieve.

“I feel like my squash is there to do it and mentally I feel great and it would be amazing to bring the title home. But there are a lot of players there and playing well but I do feel like my squash is in the best place it’s been heading into a World Champs. It being in Egypt doesn’t make it easier but like I said, I feel like I’m the most ready I’ve ever been to win a World Champs and if it happens this year then great, if it doesn’t I’ll turn up next year with the same mindset and give it another crack.”

The CIB PSA World Championships get underway on the 8th May from Cairo, Egypt with all the action available to watch live on SQUASHTV.