The last time Wellington held the New Zealand Squash Championships was in 1971 and that has been the only occasion the city held the prestigious event. Until now.
In 2021 the capital city gets its second chance with the hosting of the Oliver Sport NZ Championships at the Hutt City Squash Club at Fraser Park, 25-27 June. And there is a real local feel to the tournament with both current champions from the region.
Evan Williams the 2018 Commonwealth Games team member is the defending men’s champion and is a coach in Wellington. He also hasn’t been beaten since October last year, just before his five game finals triumph over second seed Lwamba Chileshe to take the national title.
Williams has a current world ranking of 67, a career high. He has won four PSA Challenger titles around New Zealand; Henderson over this year’s NZ Champs fourth seed Joel Arscott, the Waikato Open over third seed Temwa Chileshe, Panmure Open beating Lwamba Chileshe in the final and Auckland Open defeating Temwa Chileshe for the title.
Currently ranked 94th in the world, women’s champion Emma Millar also won her first national title last year and grew up in the Wellington region on the Kapiti Coast, but now plays out of Waikato.
The women’s title contenders look likely to come from the higher seeds in Millar, second seed Abbie Palmer (Auckland) ranked 117th, a finalist last year, 20-year-old Kaitlyn Watts from Manawatu who won three PSA Challengers in a row (all over Millar) after taking 18 months away from the sport. Watts has now improved her ranking back up to 127.
Also back in the draw after some time out of the sport is Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Amanda Landers-Murphy from Rotorua. The 30-year-old was ranked as high as 35 in the world and won a gold medal in doubles with Joelle King on the Gold Coast in 2018.
Other highly regarded players include Lana Harrison who has been ranked in the top 100, Lauren Clarke from the Bay of Plenty and Waikato 15-year-old Sophie Hodges who was fourth at last year’s tournament.
In the men’s draw the top four players, Williams, Lwamba and Temwa Chileshe ranked 126 and 140 respectively as well Joel Arscott at 159 have dominated the extensive local scene of PSA Challengers this year.
Zac Millar (younger brother of Emma), ranked 208 in the world is another Commonwealth Games team member is the fifth seed and known for entertaining matches. Sixth seed is Auckland teenager Elijah Thomas ranked 242- in the world, while Willz Donnelly from Gisborne, now out of Taupo is seventh seed and Whangnui’s Chris van der Salm who was in the top 150 makes up the eighth seeding.
There are players from Invercargill to Whangarei entered in the tournament which is restricted to 32-player draws. Around 120 people ranging from players to officials, coaches and Districts representatives will attend the tournament.
Big name winners of the tournament since 1980 past include Dame Susan Devoy, Stu Davenport, Ross Norman, Leilani Marsh, Carol Owens, Shelley Kitchen, Paul Coll and Joelle King.
Matches start from midday on Friday 25 June through until the finals on Sunday 27 June from 2pm. There will be live coverage on Sky Sport 9m Channel 59 for the finals day as well as Skysport Next Youtube
Men’s top eight seeds: 1 Evan Williams (Wellington), 2 Lwamba Chileshe (Waikato), 3 Temwa Chileshe (Waikato),4 Joel Arscott (Auckland), 5 Zac Millar (Waikato), 6 Elijah Thomas (Auckland), 7 Willz Donnelly (Taupo), 8 Chris van der Salm (Whanganui).
Women’s top eight seeds: 1 Emma Millar (Waikato), 2 Abbie Palmer (Auckland), 3 Kaitlyn Watts (Palmerston North), 4 Lana Harrison (Auckland), 5 Amanda Landers-Murphy (Rotorua), 6 Sophie Hodges (Waikato), 7 Lauren Clarke (Bay of Plenty), 8 Ella Lash (Auckland)