By JEROME ELHAIK (Squash Mad Correspondent)
France’s Camille Serme and Coline Aumard will pull on their country’s jersey once more at the Women’s World Team Championship from December 10-16 in Cairo. Alongside Mélissa Alves and Énora Villard, they will try to bring home another medal.
During almost a decade, Serme and Aumard were France’s best female players. A few months ago, they decided to put an end to their careers on the PSA World Tour, but they will reunite in French colours in Egypt.
We caught up with them ahead of the event.
JE: Camille, Coline, can you tell us what you’ve been up to in the last few months, since you decided to retire from the PSA World Tour?
Camille Serme: I’ve been very busy, among other things with the Paris Squash Project which is a taking a lot of my time. In the last six weeks, my top priority was to get in the best possible shape for the WWTC and we designed a schedule with my fitness coach. I am on court and training every day, it feels like my life as a professional player has resumed (she laughs)!
Coline Aumard: As far as I am concerned, I moved to Mauritius during the summer, and in September we launched the squash academy – for both adults and children – at the RM Club. It’s been going well, the feedback has been very positive. We have a lot of members, including quite a few female beginners – I guess having a woman as a coach helps – and about 30 kids. Although some of them had not played before, the overall level is very promising and they are very keen on continuing to improve. I am spending a lot of time on court every day, more than I would like (she smiles) but I can’t complain.
How are you feeling physically? (Author’s note: they had both suffered from injuries before deciding to stop their PSA career, Achilles for Camille and knee for Coline).
Camille: Since I started playing again, I neither had any pain nor have I dreaded to hurt my Achilles again. I have to say I’ve been feeling good on court lately, I’ve regained some of the things that have earned me the nickname La Panthère, like my footwork and the ability to lunge very low. I’ve been playing against men quite a lot lately – both in training and competitively – because my female training partners were away at tournaments but also it was a good way to get some rhythm.
Coline: I have to be careful with my knee but I haven’t felt any pain either. I have been able to dedicate some time to train, with specific sessions on court twice a week before my working day starts. There are also quite a few players I can hit with, for example a former South African #6 who lives in Mauritius.
When you announced your retirement from the PSA World Tour, was it part of the plan to continue playing for the national team?
Camille: I had told Philippe Signoret (France’s national coach, who has been working with her since she was seven years old) straight away that if my level was good enough I was willing to help the team. In the last few weeks, getting in shape has been my top priority and I’ve put a few things aside in order to dedicate as much time as possible to my preparation.
Coline: Like Camille, I have always said I was available if needed. Some people have told me that I am putting my knee at risk, but I am not seeing things that way and I will never turn the national team down. Having said that, I hope that the young French players are going to break through and that we will no longer be needed (she smiles).
Have you been keeping an eye on the tour since you retired, and do you have any regrets about your decision?
Camille: I do follow the results and watch matches, although it’s been tough with the jetlag lately. I am happy for Joelle King, who has been playing great; she is from my generation. It’s funny because not a long ago, someone said to me that if I played well at the WWTC it might make me want to resume my PSA career. But I am 99 per cent sure it won’t happen – the main reason why I stopped was because I was tired to travel all the time and I am very happy to be at home!
Coline: I have no regret either, for the simple reason that I was at risk of having a knee replacement if I had carried on playing professionally and training intensively on a daily basis …
Let’s talk about the World Team Championship. I suppose having the same squad who won the European title in 2019 is an advantage?
Camille: Of course, we won’t waste time getting to know each other. It’s gonna be fun to be together again – I think I haven’t seen Coline for a year! We’ll all have plenty of things to tell each other (she laughs).
Coline: Yes it’s a plus, because we know each other very well. We have gone through so many things together, especially Camille and I …
Have you set some specific goals for the upcoming WWTC?
Camille: We haven’t discussed that in detail yet, but no doubt that we will as the tournament approaches. Of course Egypt are very strong on paper, the USA also have a good squad and there are some teams which we don’t talk about as much but which will be dangerous, such as Malaysia. But anything is possible in this type of competition and it will be very open. I think it’s possible to reach the top four once again and we’ll do everything in our power for that.
As far as I am concerned, I won’t be France’s number 1 for the first time in quite a while (the last time was at the 2009 European Team Championship) but it doesn’t bother me. As a matter of fact, I will have less pressure at number two. I will have some good matches and I am curious to find out how I perform against the girls who are still active on the PSA World Tour.
Coline: One thing is for sure, we always feel a true sense of pride when we represent our country and we’ll give everything we can. We may not be expected to get a medal this year, and it could play in our favour … It would be great, but let’s take it step by step. I know from experience that playing for your country brings a different kind of pressure, and as Camille said anything is possible.
In 2018, nobody thought we could beat Malaysia in the quarters, and we did … For many years, we both played in #1 and #2, now we are no longer playing professionally and I haven’t played a competitive match since July. It will be different for sure, but we’ll do our best to bring something to the team.
As far as I am concerned, I was lucky enough to play at the World Games and get a bronze medal, so I am happy for Cam that she gets to play for France once more. It would have been unfair if her injury had prevented to do so. The other girls won’t really know the level she’s at at the moment, and I am sure the #2s won’t be happy to play against her …
Finally, could you tell us your best memory with the national team, as well as an anecdote which comes into your mind after all these years?
Camille: I’ll put our title at the European Championship in 2019 above the bronze medals at the 2016 and 2018 WWTCs. It was our first ever gold medal in a team event, and beating England on their home turf in such a fashion made it unforgettable.
Besides, I dreamt about it the night before the final, and in the morning I told my team-mates about it and that we were going to win … Throughout my career I’ve always believed in the meaning of dreams.
Coline: Of course, becoming European Champions in 2019 was incredible, but the bronze medal in 2016 in Paris has a special place in my heart. In 2018, there was nobody in China whereas two years before we were able to celebrate with the French crowd and a lot of people we know.
As far as an anecdote goes, the expression on my face while singing the national anthem during the prize ceremony in 2019 was funny/weird apparently, and three years later I am still getting some stick about it …
Pictures courtesy of Gerhard Nel, Mikphotos, Lauranne Rochais, Philippe Rochais, Camille Serme, Coline Aumard, Nicolas Barbeau, Zoom92130, Squashpage.net, PSA World Tour, and ETC2019.