The biggest stage beckons
Megan Craig is adjusting her schedule over the next three months following a busy year and the third professional tournament victory of her young career on the Australian women's circuit at the weekend.
After a runner-up finish at the same event last year, the 19-year-old Marlborough squash star triumphed at the WSA World Tour's North Coast Open, which ended at the Coffs Harbour Squash Centre on Sunday. Her previous professional titles came at the Caboolture Open in November last year and the Tasmanian Open in July.
Ranked 53 in the world when the latest rankings were released on September 1, Craig was top seed for the first time in her professional career at the weekend. That earned her a bye in round one on Friday and from there she was fairly comfortable in making her way to the final.
She scored straight game 3-0 wins over 10th seed Larissa Huffer in round two and 8th seed Grace McErvale in the quarterfinals, before downing fourth seed Samantha Davies 11-8 11-0 12-10 in the semifinals.
Second seed Sarah Cardwell was Craig's opponent in Sunday's final and after 59 long minutes, the Kiwi eventually secured a deserved 3-2 victory.
Just two places below Craig in the world standings, Cardwell took the first 12-10 and although Craig won the second 11-7, the Australian claimed a 2-1 advantage when she prevailed 11-9 in the third. As the match progressed to the fourth set, though, Craig's superior fitness began to take effect and she stormed away to win the fourth 11-2 before wrapping up the title 11-7 in the fifth and deciding game.
Craig said she was "still pretty chuffed" to win another title. However, it was not a win that came without a decent dose of rather uncharacteristic nerves.
"I didn't like being the No 1 seed; it was so different. Normally, I have nothing to lose, but every game I felt really nervous and I usually never get that nervous. It was definitely a learning curve."
Despite her nerves, Craig said she played well for most of the tournament, apart from the final. Cardwell is also a player who "runs all day" and the pair had a number of long rallies.
Back in New Zealand for an extended period, Craig was scheduled to play two more WSA World Tour events in Australia in November. However, given her strong performances on the professional circuit this year, and how many tournaments she had already played, those plans had now been scrapped.
Instead, the determined Marlborough athlete has made bigger plans.
With the backing of her main coach, Auckland-based Paul Hornsby, Craig has set her sights on competing at the individual world championships in the Cayman Islands from December 10-21.
It made more sense to pull out of the Australian events, get back to training for two months and gain valuable experience on the world's biggest stage, she said.
That is not the only significant career decision Craig has made recently, either. Next year, she is planning on competing professionally on the United States and Malaysian circuits. Craig felt as though she had "grown out of the Australian tournaments" and was ready to take the step up.
Craig returns to Blenheim on Friday, but is back to Auckland for two weeks of training on Monday.
From there she will compete in a men's professional event in Christchurch, before returning home to Blenheim for a two-month stay.
- © Fairfax NZ News