Joelle King into British Open squash quarters
Joelle King has that magnificent combination; she's one of the most pleasant and engaging women in New Zealand sport but she's also one of the fiercest competitors.
The latter trait has seen her progress to the quarterfinals of the British Open, and she hopes it will also get her over the biggest hurdle in women's squash in tomorrow's quarterfinals.
The Kiwi No 1 used all her fighting qualities this morning as she prevailed over the sixth seed and four-time champion Rachael Grinham of Australia in a epic five-game thriller at London's O2 Arena.
King, the tournament's 12th seed, overcame a terrible start, staved off two match balls and won the final three points of a see-sawing match to claim the fifth and deciding game 15-13, securing a spot in the quarterfinals of the prestigious event.
Next up (7.15am tomorrow NZT) is Nicol David, the world No 1, top seed and six-time World Open winner.
King is 0 and four from previous meetings with the Malaysian superstar, but she's been progressively getting closer.
Their last match, in Cleveland four months ago, required a fifth and deciding game.
Most players are daunted by David but not King, who will take something of a nothing-to-lose mentality into the match.
''That match in January gives me a bit of confidence against someone who has pretty much dominated the game for a long time,'' the 23-year-old said from her Greenwich hotel.
''It wasn't that long ago so it's still quite fresh in my mind. I had my chances to win, so I'll be looking for a bit of revenge tomorrow, for sure.
''I'm just excited to play at such a big event - what better place to beat the world No 1, right? There's no pressure on me, I just want to play well and assert myself and hopefully do well.''
King, however, won't be able to afford herself the slow start that almost cost her a second round victory.
She lost the first game 11-3 as she struggled to adapt to the glass court and only got back into the match after telling herself she would not be walked over.
''Moving from the traditional court to the glass court is always quite a big change, and I did a good warmup, but I wasn't expecting it to be as dead as it was on there, and Rachael's such a talented player, she caught me off guard a bit,'' King said.
''The first game was over before I could even think about what was going on, so it could've gone downhill from there but I told myself 'if I'm going to lose, they're going to have to carry me off here'.''
King won the next two games 11-5 11-8 before losing the fourth, 11-5.
Although Grinham had the British Open pedigree and the higher ranking, King felt pressure to win and admitted nerves had also contributed to her tentative start.
''I'd won three of our four previous matches so I guess there was a bit of pressure on myself, even though I wasn't seeded to win. So I was a bit nervous. But tomorrow's a totally different prospect.''
King didn't bother hanging around for David's straight-game demolition Mexican Samantha Teran in the last of the second round matches, preferring to get some dinner and run through her warm-down routine.
''We see each other play all the time, so I thought it was more important to get prepared for tomorrow.''
Fellow Kiwi Jaclyn Hawkes is out of the $US95,000 tournament, however, having been unable to back up after toppling eighth-seeded Australian Kasey Brown in the first round.
The unseeded world No 19 was thrashed by 10th-seeded Frenchwoman Camille Serme in the second round, the 11-2 11-9, 11-5 defeat lasting for just 23 minutes.
The British Open, dubbed the 'Wimbledon of squash', is the second biggest event on the women's squash calendar behind the World Open.
It is the oldest tournament in world squash but has been on a two year hiatus.
New Zealand has a strong history in the women's event with Dame Susan Devoy winning the title eight times, including seven years in a row from 1984-1990, and Leilani Joyce winning back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000.
- © Fairfax NZ News