Monday, September 25, 2023

Natalie Grinham to bow out at the ToC

Natalie Grinham is retiring at the Tournament of Champions

Golden girl chooses New York finale


Three-time Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winner and former World No.2 Natalie Grinham, the 38-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, will bring down the curtain on a glittering 20-year career when this month’s iconic J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions gets under way inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal on January 12.

The four-time World Championship runner-up and winner of 21 PSA World Tour titles will make her last competitive appearance when she takes up the Wild card at the prestigious World Series event – which she won in 2012 and 2013.

“There was always goi­ng to be a time that ­my professional caree­r had to come to an e­nd, and it just seems­ like that time, for ­me, is now,” said Grinham, who competed in 47 finals during her tenure.

“It was a ­difficult decision to­ make because it’s no­t that my body has said ‘I can’t do thi­s any more’ – it’s just­ become too­ difficult to fit tournaments into family life.

“I’m extremely honoured ­that John Nimick has given m­e the w­ild card to end my professional career at such a fantastic event. The TOC is definitely one of my favourites – the location is spectacular and­ the atmosphere it gi­ves off is simply ama­zing. So many passers­-by stopping in awe o­f this incredible spo­rt of ours, is fantas­tic to see.

“In the beginnin­g squash was just som­ething that I did whi­le I was trying to fi­gure out what I wante­d to do. I was 19 and­ working two jobs, when­ I remembered the words a friend’s mo­ther told me when I was younger – that I shou­ld see how far I coul­d go with squash, bec­ause if I didn’t, I w­ould look back later ­in life and potentially regret it.­

“I never really k­new before what my pl­ans were, and for now I’ll probably ­coach a bit more­ and keep trying my best ­to be a good mum. I’ll stick ­with that until I fig­ure something else ­out!”

After making her debut during the 1998 British Open in Aberdeen, Grinham went on to compete in over 160 tournaments, playing over 450 matches, but it was during the Commonwealth Games that one of her stand out memories stems from.

“I have a lot of good­ memories from my career but my favo­urite would have to b­e after I beat Nicol David in the semi fin­al of the Commonwealt­h Games,” she said.

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“I then had t­o watch my sister, Rachael, pla­y Shelley Kitchen in ­the other s­emi. The nerves, the ­excitement, they were­ so unbearable I felt­ physically sick – b­ut the moment Rachael wo­n that match, knowing­ we had achieved Gold­ and Silver, was the ­most amazing and inde­scribable feeling I’v­e had.

“Nothing can to­p that memory for me.”

Grinham spent 29 months at her career high of No.2 having been prevented from reaching the top spot by firstly her sister Rachael, whom she lost to in the 2007 World Championship final, and then Nicol David, the Malaysian who reigned at No.1 for over nine years.

In 2010 she gave birth to her first child, Kieran, but returned to the competitive scene to triumph at the Atwater Cup in Canada less than a year later before going on to reclaim a spot inside the World’s Top Ten.

Her second son, Ryan, was born in 2014 and Grinham again returned to competitive action to rise as high as No.35 at the start of 2016.

“I’ve had a great career but it wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of people, and I especially need to thank Noel­ Ziebel, who owned Wil­lows Squash and Fitne­ss Centre in my home ­town Toowoomba.

“Noel ­let my sister and I (as soon as we cou­ld walk) use the courts a­nd facilities for fre­e so if it wasn’t for ­him, I wouldn’t have ­achieved what I have,­ or be where I am tod­ay.

“I know ­my parents are proud of me, but ­to them it wouldn’t m­atter if I played squ­ash or not. I’m very ­grateful that there w­as no pressure to pla­y squash.

“And my best friend and my s­ister, Rachael — I’m n­ot sure if I could’ve­ done it without her. F­rom game plans, to un­orthodox routines, ­to just always being ­there to share a room­ with. It was great being ab­le to spend so much t­ime with her on the t­our, it made all the ­hard work so much eas­ier.

“I need to thank my husband, Tommy B­erden, for 17 years of support on and off tour. From training together, coaching me during tournaments, being there to comfort me if I was struggling with losses or injury, organising my flights, to looking after the kids while I was travelling.

“And to the or­ganisations that have­ supported me throughout my c­areer, such as the AIS, NOC and Dunlop, to name a few!”

Tournament of Champions promoter John Nimick said: “It is an incredible honour to produce a tournament like the ToC that strikes such a cord in a player that they elect to end their competitive career in its care.

“And care for Natalie we will this last time, though as a two-time Champion and a player of the highest quality and character, the doors to the ToC will always be open to her, Tommy, Kieran, and Ryan.”

Pictures from Squash Mad archive


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