Tesni: Comeback is Gaining Momentum

By RJ Mitchell

By any stretch of the imagination 2023 was a challenging year for Tesni Murphy.

The Welsh No.1 suffered a career threatening injury (torn plantar fascia) in the final of the British Nationals, a tragedy that struck right at the start of a new season which was shaping up to promise so much.

Yet her recovery has gained increasing momentum, and with marriage to long term partner Ben in December providing amore joyous end her year, the former perennial member of the women’s top-10 is once again starting to produce the type of squash that made her one of the most dangerous draws on tour.

Competing in this week’s GillenMarkets London Squash Classic, where she has drawn Finland’s No.1 Emilia Soini later today – with the possibility of a second round meeting with World Champion Nour ElSherbini in the second round – Evans is now looking forward with increasing positivity.

Evans holds her heads in her hands after succumbing to injury

Reflecting on all of this Tesni shared: I would be lying if I said it hasn’t taken me longer to get some momentum and it is hard when you are on the comeback and not playing many matches to get that.

“Maybe it is a case of me also being that bit older and having a bad injury, but it has definitely taken me longer to find my rhythm and also the enjoyment again.

“If I enjoy my squash I tend to be playing better and now I feel like there is that bit of momentum there, I have a few more matches behind me and also have more match-play in my training and I am feeling sharper because of that.

“So I feel like it is starting to come and my confidence is building.”

In recent weeks there have been several matches that have underlined Murphy’s belief that she has turned the comeback corner.

In the second round of the Windy City Open the Welshwoman took World No. 16 Sivasangari Subramaniam to 12-14 in the fifth, while in the quarter-final of the Optasia Championships last week Murphy was 2-0 up against World No.19 Nada Abbas before the wheels came off.

Although not at World Tour level it is worth noting that last Friday Murphy was match point up against England’s World No.7 Georgina Kennedy in the semi-final of the Edinburgh Open before losing 10-12 in the fifth – the message then is clear that Murphy is starting to knock at the door.

“The two five game matches I have had with Nada and Sivasangari, although I lost both of them, when I had cooled down I could see how much they were going to help me.

“I feel like I put myself in decent positions in both of these matches and the more I do so I will start converting them into wins.

“Also in Edinburgh I had a match ball against Gina after having played her in February and losing 3-0 very quickly and very easily, but it was much different at the weekend.

“So that showed relative progress which is nice and these types of matches are where you will find the sharpness you are looking for.”

Of course the big danger with any comeback is that a player continually compares progress to their previously exalted status and as disenchantment and frustration sets in it stalls.

In this respect the 31-year-old is impressively sanguine: “I think I am still a bit off my peak and also I’m older and my game has to change a little as well, but I am adapting to that so I have a way to go.

“But also in certain matches, like against Nada for the first two games, actually it is coming, but I just lack that consistency.

“So there is no point in playing well for two games when you need to produce for three, so consistently I am not there but I am getting glimpses. It is just about putting it together for the full match or in consecutive matches and making these spells longer.

“These first two games against Nada were how I wanted to play, but I just couldn’t sustain it for three. People also change their game and I’m not quite doing that. At the minute the top-10 to 12 girls are so consistent week in, week out and that is something I am not, at the minute.

“So my ranking is where I should be sitting.”

The other big change has been in the new ‘Mrs Murphy’s’ domestic status and while as the song famously says ‘marriage goes together like a horse and carriage’ there is still some adjustment needed to reach the new status quo.

Considering all of this Tesni shared:

“We have been together for almost 12 years so it didn’t change anything between us, but at the same time it is a life-changing and amazing event. It did throw a spanner in the works in terms of post wedding in December – I definitely felt I had a sort of comedown from what was an amazing time to readjust back to squash life after a pretty cool December.

“Basically it has taken some time, but it has put squash into perspective and there has been a bit of adjustment needed to get my brain back into competitive mode but it’s all pretty cool – I have a different perspective on my career now and where and how long I want to go with it.

“It also takes a bit of pressure and edge off as I am so happy away from squash and now I know that when the time is right to do that I will be good, so it is a nice place to be in.”

Still working with former World No.3 Alison Waters, Evans is looking forward to this week’s action in the London Classic where she has drawn World No.50 Emilia Soini in today’s opening round.

The Welsh No.1 said: “Emilia will be a tough opponent. I have never played her but I have seen her play at European team events and she is very skilful, takes the ball in short really well and also lifts well with an accurate lob and drop game and I will have to tackle that.

“So I need to play with good quality and bring my A-game today for sure.”

Victory would then see Murphy line up against ElSherbini, a match up Murphy admits every play wants.

“For me, or Emilia, the opportunity to come through and play the World No.1 and one of the best players to ever play the game is amazing.

“So the incentive is there for both of us to do all we can to make that happen and make the second round.”

Looking forward to a jam-packed end of season Murphy, currently residing, surely temporarily, at World No.25 in the rankings, believes there may be a positive spin off from the injury which cruelly caused her so much pain and frustration before Christmas.

As she reflected:“I have quite a few events in front of me and I’m just looking to keep improving and put myself in a really good position for next season.

“That means playing as many matches as I can and also playing how I want to play, which means having fun and expressing myself on court – then hopefully the results will follow.

“There is no pressure in terms of ranking for now – it’s just about getting the matches in. I always enjoy this part of the season as we have events in Britain and then in Egypt so the travelling is to the minimum.

“I love playing at home and the home fans really get behind British players and that just gives you so much motivation, so with all these tournaments in the UK I’d say squash is in a pretty good place and it’s great to be part of that.

“I have my favourite two events coming up with the British and Manchester Opens and I am just looking to finish strong and find good form for the last part of the campaign.

“Usually by this point in a season you are feeling it, but with me having played a lot less than everybody else I am fresher and that is a good place to be in.”