Vicki Cardwell: A passion for squash runs through the veins of a great champion who returned to the world tour after two children
Since moving to Melbourne four years ago I have had the pleasure in spending time with Vicki Cardwell, both on and off the court. A former World No 1 she was a dominant force in the game from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, winning four consecutive British Opens and a World Open title.
Her achievements were quite rightly recognised with her induction into the Squash Australia Hall of Fame and the Australia Sport Hall of Fame as well as being awarded the British Empire Medal by the Australian Government.
An Aussie squash great with a tough reputation on the court, and a passion for the game and her country that is unparalleled, I am delighted she agreed to do 11 points for my column.
1. You were a dominant force in the game from the late seventies to the mid nineties. What was the highlight of your career?
In 1985 the Sport Australia Hall of Fame was created with 120 all time great athletes from all sports. Three squash players were in this inaugural induction… Heather McKay, Geoff Hunt, Vicki Cardwell. This was recognition of my international career from 1978 to 1983, during which time I won five Australian Opens, four British Opens and one World Open Championship.
2. I know you have an incredible memory of your playing days, so what was your toughest match and who was your toughest opponent?
Many ridiculously tough matches won and lost and many tough opponents. The most memorable match I lost was to fellow Aussie Rhonda Thorne (left in the picture) in the final of the 1981 World Open final in which I was seeded No1. It remains the longest recorded international women’s match (two-plus hours with 1 hour 57 minutes playing time). I rolled my ankle off a body contact early in the fifth game then proceeded to lose 9-7 (old school scoring).
The most memorable match won is more a testament to Linda Charman and her toughness. Linda is one of my favourite people, having a wonderful determination and passion for life and squash. It was in the 1992 Malaysian Open, in KL, in the third round of qualification.
A brutal 1 hour 50 minute battle which left Linda with bleeding blisters on both feet and me with the privilege of playing Sarah Fitzgerald in the first round of the main draw 16 hours later. Linda had worked to pay for her travel expenses and trained in preparation for her first venture on the international tour.
Sadly, back in the day, no qualification equalled no ranking points, no prize money and no accommodation and no pegged ranking. Linda Charman (now Elriani) is a great champion. I would want her on my team and in the trenches with me every time.
3. You have a WSA award named after you which is the “Vicki Cardwell” Comeback Player of the Year in reference of you coming back on the tour after having two children. How tough was that?
If you want something to happen you must make it happen. I had invaluable support from my mum when I had to travel out of Australia, tolerant training partners, regular weekly competition in Melbourne which usually translated into a minimum of three consecutive matches per week and my husband was my generous sponsor. Josh was attending school and Sarah was busy growing silently from baby to toddler. Between the birth of my two children (1985-1991) I represented Australia at World Championships and British Opens, won three more Australian Opens and in 1987 reached the semi-final of the World Open.
Deciding to return to the World Tour, after the birth of Sarah, presented the challenge of competing regularly on the international tour to secure world ranking points. I believed I had set myself a realistic goal of top 10 before age 40, however many suggested I should aim to return to No1. Arriving at 40 years of age in April 1995 I was World Ranked 12 with Josh nine years old and Sarah three. I continued to play the squash tour until the World Championships in November in 1997, then retired from the World Tour at age 42 years and seven months, satisfied I had left nothing on the court and proud of my efforts.
4. What are the major differences between the game back when you were playing and now?
Equipment…no waving the racket like a wand when you are wielding a wooden club while wearing runners with little between your feet and the floor.
Court walls and floors…four plastered walls with unsealed wooden floor to four glass walls and painted blue floor.
Service….single fault with option to play or double fault when hit out.
Scoring….point on serve to 9 unless 8:8 then receiver chose to set the game to 9 or 10.
On-court warm-up….option to warm up solo for 2 minutes 30 seconds which I elected to do once against an unfair opponent when she would hit several balls to herself then hit a boast to the front of the court.
Nonetheless the fundamentals of the game remain the same. Consistent good length is the foundation, and the ability to maximise opportunities created is the closer.
5. You have played, coached and managed many Australian teams both junior and senior. Do you think Australia can get back to the top of the tree in terms of winning major titles again and if so how?
Yes. Rebuild participation numbers in competition. The message to players that there is no substitute for intense competition and determined work must be delivered, accepted and acted upon.
Australian Squash Governing Bodies must provide the opportunity to compete regularly along the pathway to the World Tour and World Championships.
Financial support from the ASC to those players who commit to work, then improve, compete and achieve success.
6. Last month it was announced that PSA and WSA are set to join in an historic merger. What are your thoughts?
I believe it will be mutually beneficial to both memberships and both tours. There will be no confusion about the rules and scoring because the men and women play the same game with the same rules and scoring. I hope the women adopt the Men’s world ranking system and scoring as I believe removing the poorest scores from the equation encourages players to participate without fear of compromising their ranking due to an unfortunate draw or result. The increase variety of styles of play and athleticism will entertain, inspire and attract spectators and sponsors. The culture of events attended by both men and women players will be enhanced and promoted by their display of cooperation and conraderie.
7. For me, squash seems to be moving in a positive direction what with the success of the Commonwealth Games and the more publicity it is receiving. Do you think this is the case in Australia?
The Glasgow Games were a massive success for Glasgow and Squash and the result achieved by the Australian Squash team (right) was a wonderful conclusion to the Games.
I believe the next challenge for Squash Australia and the WSF is to embrace doubles squash as an engaging social activity with a pathway to the World Championships and Commonwealth and hopefully Olympic Games.
8. Besides being on the Squash Australia board, you are keeping busy with coaching. What is your coaching philosophy?
If you’re loving it you’re learning it. Player driven. Coach/teacher directed and assisted.
9. Tell me about your legendary battles with English players Sue Cogswell and Angela Smith:
Regarding Sue and Angela, nothing but fond memories of both. Sue was the consummate sportsperson and had the most beautiful style and swing. It was always a pleasure to share the court with Sue, who denied me the privilege of playing Heather McKay iN the final of the first Women’s World Open Championship in 1979.
Nonetheless, my opponent in the third place play-off match in the 1979 World Open, was the fiercely formidable and aggressive competitor, Angela Smith. Fortunately, I won the match, which was reasonably void of controversy and conflict, unlike a most memorable match we had contested at Edgbaston Priory, earlier in the tour.
Our matches usually provided entertainment for the spectators and angst for the referee. Happily, Angela and I would always enjoy a ‘bevy and chat’ after our ferocious encounters and her quick wit and unbridled English pride were of constant amusement to me.
10. You are very passionate about squash. What do you love about the game?
The intensity and intelligence of the most wonderful game on earth. I still react to things I see players do on the squash court with ‘wow’ or laughing with the visual pleasure of a ‘boots and all’ rally.
11. For the final question we’re going a little off track. If you could invite three people (dead or alive) to dinner who would they be?
I would choose two dead relatives . My Grandmothers. No third person because I want their undivided attention to ask them endless questions about their childhood and my parents.
Pictures courtesy of Vicki Cardwell and the Squash Mad archive