Joelle King got back on the road this week after her fabulous Commonwealth Games squash campaign — and landed with a bump.
King travelled from the Gold Coast to Egypt the day after her second gold medal in the women's doubles and was promptly eliminated in the second round of the El Gouna International by the lower-ranked Hong Kong player Annie Au.
Aah, the joys of life on the road.
But the Waikato athlete, back up to world No4, wouldn't have it any other way, has plenty to be proud of, and has her sights set on scaling the top of the rankings.
The British Open, one of the two biggies of the world circuit, starts in Hull on May 15. The other, the world championships, is set to be the first US$1 million event in the sport early next year in Chicago.
King got back to her English base in Bristol early yesterday, by way of Egypt and Birmingham, and picked up a nasty bug along the way.
The last time she was in Bristol was in December. She hasn't been home since her three-medal haul on the Gold Coast and although she's making a good living on the road, it's not a life for everyone.
She admitted her Gold Coast success "hasn't really sunk in" primarily because she hasn't been home, hasn't enjoyed the time to sit back and reflect with her family. No one had more Games activity among the New Zealand team than her.
There was gold in the singles and women's doubles with Amanda Landers-Murphy, and bronze in the mixed doubles with Paul Coll.
"It couldn't get much better," she said yesterday. "I was pretty open about my goals going into the Games and wasn't afraid to put out there what I was going to do. Two golds and a bronze was pretty incredible really."
King is surrounded by Egyptians on the rankings.
There are four in the top five, plus her, with Nour El Sherbini at No1. The game has changed in recent times, too, the tin lowered to 17 inches and more athletic players in the game.
Indeed, in an odd way King is, if not grateful, then conscious that taking nine months out in 2014 for an Achilles tendon injury did her game a world of good.
She was No 4 then, too, but is adamant she's a far better player now than then.
"The depth got so much stronger while I was injured. It's way higher now. The girls are super athletic and the game has completely changed with the lower tin. It's a lot more attacking and explosive.
"I'm definitely playing way better squash than I was before [the injury]. When I left the sport, I was No4 and had to fight my way back up, which is pretty cool."
Now teamed with noted English coach Hadrian Stiff, a union which began when she was at a low ebb a year ago, King is adamant she can climb this particular ladder.
"I definitely have the belief I can get there. I love competing. Even when you lose, it's frustrating but enjoyable when you're in a battle.
"Coming off court, you figure out what went wrong and you're excited to get to
the next tournament and try to correct it.
"It just feels like pure love for the game, and me trying to figure out how I can get even better. That makes getting up every day to train, travel and get to tournaments all the easier."
If you'd asked her a year ago, she'd have said the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were not on her radar.
She'll be 33.
Now it's a different story.
"The last year has sparked something in me, given me the drive. I'm firm in my mind I want to be there but you can't look too far ahead."
As she learned from her injury and slump a year ago, that's a smart policy.
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