Ahead of the biggest tournament in the sport, we caught up with US No.2 Olivia Clyne, who is preparing to play in the World Championships on home soil. This is what she had to say.
What does playing in the World Championships mean to you?
“After a year like this, it is probably even more significant than normal. I actually haven’t played in that many World Championships in general, I think the first one I played was maybe in 2017.
“It feels like such a privilege and I am so excited to get out there and even more so to play on home soil and to be able to not have to fly to Egypt, which is very nice. I have actually not played a tournament not in Egypt in over a year now, all my events have been there for a year and I think most are like that unless they played in Manchester or on the Challenger Tour.
“I am really excited to play in the States. These types of events, we’re gearing up for the Olympics, Wimbledon is on right now, there is a lot of high-level sport on TV which is exciting, like the Tour de France too, the EUROs as well.
“I think it is the perfect culmination for us and not only is this the pinnacle of our sport, in which we get to showcase it in such a beautiful way, but also it will hopefully signify the start of things getting back to normal, which arguably is more powerful than the event itself. It’s happening and now hopefully COVID will start to decline a little bit.”
What is like for you to have that support behind you playing in the States?
“It is huge and I feel very lucky with it. I grew up in New York City so the tournament where I feel most at home would be the Tournament of Champions but Chicago, and now being down in Philadelphia as well, they are similar. It means a lot to know that at the very least, that the energy will be with you. You know that when you step on to that court, that the majority want to see you win, which is nice.
“Obviously, we have spent a lot of time in Egypt and the majority of fans there will want Egyptians to win, so it is definitely really nice and it is nice the we will have crowds, and home crowds at that as well. I’m hoping that my grandma will be able to make it, she always keeps me on a tight leash!”
What is it like to have family there as well?
“It has been such a hard year in general as well, and family has been even more pronounced, and how necessary it is. You take for granted being able to see family and having them around and even the little things, like I took for granted that Alan [Liv’s husband, men’s World No.40] could come and watch me play. If I needed a moment then I could look back into the crowd and I would see him there and the same goes for my parents, my grandmother, my siblings. It is something that its very powerful to have there.
“You are very vulnerable out there on the squash court and when you have your loved ones there, you feel more protected. You have a bit of a shield and when you’re travelling, we haven’t had anyone with us, so it has been a very interesting year with that. That being said, as things move forward, hopefully I will have my family back more and more, and they are everything to me!”
We are back in Chicago and back at the University Club this year. You have good memories after reaching the last eight at the Windy City Open in 2020. What is it like playing there in such an intimate venue?
“I think in general, squash is a very intimate sport. If you are watching squash, then you probably play it, and so you know the spectators have a connection to what you are doing. Then in Chicago, it is a small venue, it’s a gorgeous venue, Cathedral Hall is stunning, but it is tight-knit and I think that elevates the energy even more.
“What you’re feeling, the crowd is feeling and vice versa, and it can snowball from there. Personally, I love it and I have really fond memories of Chicago from the start of rising through the rankings, it’s always been a big place for me. I have always loved being there, it is an awesome town. I am so excited to be able to see it without wearing two big jackets, in minus 25 degrees. I am excited for the Chicago summer!
“I can’t remember when it was, but they hosted an event in the summer and they had the court in Millennium Park, they put up the glass court there. I can’t remember when it was, but that was the last time I have been to Chicago without snow, a long time ago!”
What is like to have yourself, Olivia [Fiechter], Sabrina and Amanda [Sobhy sisters] all inside the top 25 and pushing each other to become even better?
“It is fantastic, it is like a dream come true and we are all now based in Philadelphia! In the past, it was a case of seeing someone on the rankings list and seeing there were closing in, thinking you need to put some extra space in between us, and also cut down the gap to the people above.
“Now, though, we are training together all the time. We are not looking at a list anymore, we are actually pushing the level of the four of us. I think, if you ask any of the girls, we all hope that the Women’s World Teams gets put on very soon indeed because we do feel strong and confident. Obviously, Egypt is very strong but you can never say never!
“I think we are building that community and that environment of excellence and we are pushing each other every day, we are doing stair sessions in the sun, going through sessions that are painful together and that does build a really beautiful team environment and an energy within the players, the you feel is just raising and raising.
“Also, as part of the board at US Squash, I am very happy that the women are right up there. It raises the profile because the organisation is one of the first to really push prize money parity, really making sure that we have always had strong ladies. It is really exciting to see our ladies at the top of the game.”
What will the new squash centre in Philadelphia do for the youth movement in the States, and the next generation of players?
“It is going to be a very interesting time for US Squash in general. There is a huge movement towards community squash, so basically being able to go into communities and offer squash as a tool. In the US, is has been predominately an elitist sport, so we are really trying to grow the sport and get it to the masses. We are competing with huge sports with a lot of money and access. It is expensive to put a squash court up outside, whereas it is cheap to put two soccer goals, basketball hoops up.
“That being said, with this beautiful centre, it will make it a lot more accessible and it will raise that profile. US Squash is now based at the centre, so the organisation itself, its nucleus is at the centre. We will have a lot more ability to go out into the communities and get people to be a part of this.
“We have this wonderful growth and yes, a lot of it is maybe dependant on the college squash system, which is fantastic. A lot of kids want to come and play and that attracts International players as well, which brings a lot more competition but we actually, in general, especially the junior programming, we have a lot of US juniors.
“There are tonnes of kids who want to play in school and play to a really good level, but then they decide to take on a job, whereas I want those kids to try and play on the PSA for a few years, work their butts off and play the beautiful game. That will be the real kicker but I do believe that accessibility is coming and I hope that we are going to see a lot more diversity in the sport, including race, religion and socio-economic background.”
Finally, back to the World Championships, what would be a good week for you and where your game is at right now?
“I have had a really tough year, in general. I have had a lot of personal stuff over the last year and I started doing work with a sports psychologist very recently. A good week for me would be just to go out there and to leave my mind at the door and just playing squash.
If I can go and do that then I can really enjoy my week. That is all I want, I want to go out there and fight, and see what happens. If I can stay in the moment, then no matter what goes on, I will be happy, that’s for sure!”