Grinham’s A Never Ending Love

By RJ Mitchell

At the age of 47, Rachael Grinham will this week take to the courts at the 2023-2024 Oceania World Championship Qualifying Event in Carrara Squash Centre, aiming to book her place in the main draw of this year’s World Championship – 30 years on from her debut appearance in the sport’s most prestigious competition.

In 1994 the then World Junior Champion came up against Carol Owens the first round, where she lost out in three games. 30 years on, and ranked 277 in the world, Grinham is seeded three for the qualifying event – but she admits that a pure lose of the game is what keeps her treading the boards. 

Not event a torn ACL to her right knee suffered at the end of 2022, or the arrival of son Finley early in 2023, have dampened her enthusiasm – although they have both meant that the 2007 World Champion has faced a protracted comeback.

A four-times British Open champion and former World No.1, when it comes to the complete career Grinham has the lot, all of which means that she will very much be taking to the boards with a target on her back – but, when asked what brings her back at 47 and post injury, the answer is simple.

“I’ve just played squash my whole life,” she said. “I was pretty much born on a squash court and my parents played squash and we (with sister Natalie) were just always at squash courts.

“I wanted to be at the club and when I wasn’t there I wanted to go back. So I don’t want to be one of these who hangs up her racket and just doesn’t play anymore.

“So I will play when I can and if I can contend with some of the top players in Australia I’d like to keep them on their toes if possible.

“I don’t like to think of it like that (target on back). I just want to get on court and play some squash, so I will see how it goes but I’m not too bothered, I’ve had a good career and if I have to take a couple of losses to get back on court then it will happen.”

When it comes to a training schedule to fuel her comeback Grinham has, as one would expect of a parent to a baby boy, many balls to juggle.

While as she reveals even a great champion has to make compromises when it comes to compensating for the remorseless advance of father time. 

“I’ve been tweaking my training for years, maybe since I was mid-30s! So I’ve spent a lot more time doing stability, flexibility and core strengths as opposed to the hard cardio work which I had already spent years doing.

“Also I’ve kept my training to low impact as well but the majority of it is to keep the mobility of joints and flexibility of muscles, basically as soon as you stop using it you lose it and it all tightens up.

“Although I haven’t been on the court much for almost 18-months I’ve always enjoyed doing solo work and I have favourite things to do when I do it.

“Really I’ve always loved being on a squash court by myself since I was young, so I’m comfortable with that and if you can’t find a practise partner, especially when you’re looking for one in working hours, well fortunately I’ve always had routines I enjoy doing. I’ve just not had much of a chance to do them!”

As Rachael recalled the route back to competitive play has been far from a straight one and she shared: “So I did my ACL during the Aussie Open towards the end of 2022. I’d played the PSA event, lost to Olivia Clyne, and then entered the graded event where I made the final and as luck would have it I did my ACL.

“So I had surgery within 10 days which was good and my rehab started well, but then our little guy came along when Jen (partner Jennifer Duncalf) gave birth to Finley in February and when he arrived we knew it would go out of the window and my rehab fell by the wayside – a lot!

“So I can’t say I’m back at 100% at all really and I’ve only just begun to get back on court. But I thought there is no better way to get back on the court than to play these events even though I’ve not really tested myself too much, so I have no expectations at the moment and it’s just about me getting back on court and playing a bit.

“Finley is in day care but Jen works full time, so I still don’t have that much time but I still love the sport and as I said I just want to keep on playing.”

Not surprisingly for someone as decorated as Grinham there are plenty of special moments to pick from her career but two spring two mind.

“The first would be when I won the World Championship as it was towards the end of my career and I maybe thought my chances had gone, and when I did finally win it I played my sister (Natalie) in the final and that made it extra special.

“The other one was being at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and Natalie and I also played in that final which she won and then we won the doubles together and that was just a major highlight. So these are my two favourites.”

The former World and British Open champion has no doubt that our sport is now firmly on the right track: 

“I just think that the way squash is going in general, with the PSA World Tour in the last 10 years since the women’s and men’s game has merged, the whole product has taken off.

“It’s just great that the players are making money and that it’s become a really professional sport. During my peak if you were top-10 you were lucky if you were breaking even and if you went down the rankings well there were so many players who could have been good but just couldn’t afford to do it.

“But now the strength in depth is just so much better and that all bodes very well.” 

Grinham begins her bid for a place at the World Champs at 17:00 local time on Friday April 5.