England veteran Alison Waters looks back over a Commonwealth Games career of mixed emotions with Squash Player's Rod Gilmour and forward to a probable finale on the Australian Gold Coast in April.
Alison Waters rarely remembers squash matches, but there is one that still vividly sticks in her mind: the men’s final at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Sitting on the front row with the Team England squad, Waters watched as Peter Nicol wrong-footed Australian rival David Palmer to claim a thrilling gold: the red and white against the green and gold; Nicol screaming in delight and then hugging his team-mates. The aftermath summed up team togetherness in this most individual of sports.
“I always look back on that moment,” admits Waters as she prepares for a fourth Commonwealth Games tilt. “I still picture us all and Pete having his arms out in the air. It was special for anyone who was there who witnessed it, especially someone experiencing the Games and the village for the first time.”
Waters heads to the Gold Coast for the 2018 edition with over 100 England caps to her name. She is a multiple European team champion and twice world team winner with England, but still striving for individual success at the event she calls her “career pinnacle”.
At the 2006 Games she exited the doubles events before the medal placings. Injury blighted her Delhi campaign in 2010, before she finally experienced podium success at Glasgow in 2014 with silver and bronze in the mixed and women’s doubles respectively. Little wonder that Waters admits to “quite a few Games emotions”.
So, on the Gold Coast in April, she will cast her mind back 12 years to Nicol’s memorable gold as she bids for that elusive singles medal. And she will do so with her Australian mum, Robin, watching in the crowd, who also travelled to watch her daughter in Melbourne.
“You do take those moments and you do want to achieve those successes for yourself,” Waters says. “Everyone wants to fight for those medals. And having seen all that, you just want to be part of it and not miss out.”
Alison Waters takes on Nouran Gohar in December's PSA World Championships
Yet for all Waters’ natural ability and skill as an individual, the Londoner admits that the doubles are perhaps her favourite Commonwealth events. “It’s so nice to play with a team-mate and you see how important it is for them. I felt that in Glasgow playing with Pete [Barker] and Emma [Beddoes], and how much it meant to win a medal,” she explains.
Despite possessing remarkable consistency over the last decade – when she has by and large remained in the world’s top 10 – Waters is wary of motivational fears.
“When you’re younger, you train and train. I know now what works for me and being sensible and wiser has prolonged my career,” she admits.
“I am still learning and not just plodding along. I’m always looking to improve and as soon as I lose that drive, that’s when I’ll stop. But I can still challenge the top girls and I’m excited about the future.
“The standard is that much higher and I haven’t really had a result for a year or more, so it’s hard to be generating the confidence for yourself either for training or to be able to tell yourself to keep positive.
“With my current seedings, I could be playing Nour El Sherbini in the second round. I kind of feel I need to have another breakthrough again and get a big result. But it’s hard to generate confidence and rely on trusting my game.”
Her assessment is one reason why she has recently added Guildford-based South African Jesse Engelbrecht to her coaching stable, alongside Paul Carter, who has helped Waters since she was 12.
“Jesse has added a new motivation, which is what I need at this stage of my career. I’m looking forward to sessions and he is very enthusiastic and positive,” she states.
“He has added more creativity. The Egyptians are playing all these different shots and you can’t get away with playing the traditional English game. I’m trying to add lift and change the pace. It takes a while, but it will make a big difference.”
The 34-year-old also knows that her days as a carefree squash professional are gone. She is three years into a six-year Open University psychology degree, while her retirement options have yet to be fully explored.
“I’m finding the balance between down time and squash now,” she says. “I just wish I had started the degree earlier, as when you’re young, you don’t feel you need to do those things.”
That is especially the case when you have your name on the front of a Virgin train – as Waters did in 2009 thanks to a sponsorship initiative supporting British athletes. “You don’t want to think too far ahead!” she laughs.
She certainly won’t be doing so in Australia, despite the 2018 Games more than likely signalling a last Commonwealths for a plethora of top English talent, led by Nick Matthew, who has already announced his retirement.
Yes, there will be team unity in the doubles, but you can bet your bottom Aussie dollar that nothing will stand in the way of medals when the singles starts – and that includes Waters.
“We’ve all been a similar age growing up and playing for England,” she adds. “It will be the end of an era, but hopefully one of celebration after the success we’ve had as a team and individuals.”