The waiting is over for New Zealand squash players as they get to face new opposition after a year of domestic tournaments and opponents.
Most of Australia’s best players are taking the court this week in New Zealand for the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open at the North Shore Squash Club and there will be some fierce trans-Tasman competition.
A number of key PSA Challenger events have been held around New Zealand this year, however having rivals from Australia will freshen up the players and give extra depth to the this week’s event.
Top men’s seed and world No 86, Evan Williams from Wellington has a first round bye and will play the winner of Chris van der Salm or Australian Damon Macmillan as he targets his fourth Challenger win in 2021, the Auckland Open set to be the biggest event for prizemoney and PSA world rankings points so far this year.
If seeding goes to plan he would most likely face fourth ranked, Lwamba Chileshe in the semis. Williams beat Chileshe for the title in the recent Panmure Open and on the same courts at the North Shore Squash Club in the NZ Champs final last year.
“It’s great to have some familiar faces from Australia returning and see what they’ve been doing. It’s going to make it a different dynamic to play some different players Everyone is pretty keen for it really,” said the 31-year-old left-hander who represented New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
For many of the Australians the Auckland Open is one of their first major tournaments of the year.
“We started a bit earlier and got our summer series going which is great. But the Australians are ramping up a bit now. I’ve seen all of them play and actually played matches against all of them. It will be interesting to see how they have been training during lockdowns. I know Joseph White has been in training in Prague in the Czech Republic and Rhys Dowling is very talented. He’ll be a bit of a wildcard, a player to watch for sure,” said Williams.
Second seeded Joseph White is ranked 134 and faces the winner of Joe Smythe from the Bay of Plenty or Henderson’s Leo Fatialofa, both have PSA world rankings, while third seed Dowling ranked 140 will play either Apa Fatialofa or Tate Zak Norris (South African-Australia). Fifth seed is Australian, Nicholas Calvert who will play either New Zealand Commonwealth Games rep, Lance Beddoes or Taupo’s, Willz Donnelly in the second round.
In the women’s draw the rivalry between Emma Millar and Kaitlyn Watts could continue in the quarter-finals if they win their first round matches. Watts, 20 has beaten Millar ranked 97th in the world in three PSA Challenger finals this year.
The top two seeded players are Australian with Sarah Cardwell ranked 59th and Jessica Turnbull at 66th. Cardwell was a member of the Australian Commonwealth Games team in 2018 and is the daughter of former world No.1 Vicki Cardwell.
The Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Open starts from Thursday afternoon 27 May, until the finals on Sunday 30 May at the North Shore Squash Club. The men’s draw is a 24-player field and women’s 16. The tournament will be shown on Sky Sport Next youtube as well as the later stages live on Sky Sport Pop-up.