‘The whole week in Nantes was amazing’
Interview by JEROME ELHAIK – Squash Mad Correspondent
A few months after les Bleues clinched their first ever European Team Championship, French women’s squash had another major success last weekend: carried by an ecstatic crowd, Camille Serme won the open de France at the Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, after a magnificent final against Amanda Sobhy.
The world number 3 couldn’t have dreamed for a better start in 2019-2020, especially since she’s still chasing after her ultimate goals: the number 1 spot as well the World Championship title. She may now be in her thirties but Camille has never looked so strong.
Camille, is there any specific moment that comes into your mind when you look back at your victory at the open de France?
Not really because the whole week in Nantes was amazing, whether it was the unique and beautiful place where we had the chance to play, or the incredible atmosphere. We rarely have the opportunity to play in front of such a crowd on the tour. They definitely lifted us, and it’s great that Amanda enjoyed it as much as I did even if people were cheering for me!
Even though you may drop one place in the next rankings, the decision to go to Nantes rather than Shanghai (where a tournament with a bigger prize money and more ranking points took place the week before) was the good one wasn’t it?
To be honest, we had discussed it with my staff, but we did not hesitate very long before giving a positive answer to the organisers when they asked if I would come to Nantes. We don’t have many big events in France, and therefore I was happy to come and represent my country.
Where does this title rank among the best memories of your individual career, especially since it was your first one since February 2017?
I’d say it comes just after my three titles in major tournaments (British Open, US Open and Tournament of Champions). This time I didn’t cry after the match, but I couldn’t hold my tears when I saw my brother and his wife in the stands because I didn’t know they’d be here!
You are a relatively reserved person, is it difficult to be under the spotlights and have a packed room chanting your name?
Let’s be honest, being the centre of attention and having so much support is a nice thing! Besides, I’ve gotten used to it and I am more comfortable speaking in front of an audience now than I was before. I think I’ve handled the situation pretty well, because being the number 1 seed and having to defend that position is not easy.
You received countless congratulatory messages, especially on social media which you are very involved on.
I feel like the impact of this victory was at least as big as my three major titles, probably because it was in France. I always take the time to read those messages, it’s important for me because I think it’s a way to enjoy it.
After the final, your coach Philippe Signoret said Amanda Sobhy surprised him, especially on the backhand side which is usually not her strong one. Do you agree?
I do. I’d watched the videos of her previous rounds in Nantes, and she definitely was much more accurate in the final. The fact that she beat a higher ranked player in the semis (England’s Sarah-Jane Perry) probably took some pressure off her, and it’s in these situations that we can produce our best squash.
You didn’t looked too worried after losing the first game.
No, because I knew I could take the upper hand physically.
Since you mention it, many people – including me – have been amazed how much you’ve improved in this department over the summer …
That’s true that I felt very good on court and I’d been moving well since my first match. We worked a lot during the summer and it’s nice to see that it’s already paying off.
This work was done with your new fitness coach, Frédéric Pfeferberg. Philippe Signoret mentioned it wasn’t easy to make the players accept this change.
I had been working with Frédéric Roualen for a long time (author’s note: also fitness coach of a very successful French women’s judo team, he couldn’t dedicate a lot of his time to squash), and we have a great relationship. Besides, when we first looked at Frédéric Pfeferberg’s sessions we were a bit surprised, because there was a lot of work in the gym and I was worried I’d gain too much muscle mass. But I decided to trust him and I do not regret it. On top of that, he’s a very nice person. Like Philippe he loves what he does, they complete each other very well! As far as the training goes, we’d been warned that it may not have an immediate impact, so it’s very encouraging that the results are already there.
Don’t you think you could have made this change sooner?
Life is all about meeting people isn’t it? I do believe it was the right timing for this. Besides, I was very happy with the work done with Fred Roualen, and I had good results in the past. Everyone tells me I still have a lot of room of improvement. I hadn’t realized I was playing so bad before (she laughs)!
A few months ago, you talked about your ambition to be world number one and win the World Championship within the next three years, before starting a family. However, your coach thinks you could play for 10 more years…
He said that? It’s funny because the other day Coline Aumard (French number 2) asked me “if you reach your goals before the end of these three years, will you stop right away?” The only reason why we set this deadline is to give me a purpose, and let’s not forget we never know what can happen in life…
On the other hand, you haven’t ruled out the possibility of resuming your squash career after having a child. Last week, tennis player Kim Clijsters announced that she was going to make a second comeback, at 36 years old…
I didn’t know that, it’s amazing. A lot of people tell me it’s not a good idea, but I like challenges and it would be one! I am aware that a child cannot raise itself, but when the times comes we’ll discuss it with my husband (kayakist Quentin Urban, who got two medals including a gold one at the French championships last weekend) and make a decision.
What’s your schedule for the next few days?
I was supposed to train tomorrow (the interview was on Sunday), but we made a deal with my staff that if I won in Nantes I would get a day off… Then I’ll be back to training, and in a few days we leave for San Francisco.
After this tournament (24-30 September), there will be the US Open (5-12 October), and then the World Championship – which is the main goal of your season – at the end of October. The draw came out today, did you have time to look at it?
I did not, but Philippe sent me a message to tell me I could play Amanda Sobhy in the quarters.
Last question: as a top level athlete who always has things to work on or improve, is it easy to disconnect?
I think I can, but I also believe it’s more difficult for Philippe and Frédéric (she laughs). Even though I am supposed to have a day off tomorrow, I am sure they’ll ask me to come and do some video analysis with them!
Pictures courtesy of of Lauranne Rochais, Ladies Squash and Mikphotos