Interview by Phoebe Currie
Over half term, Clifton’s very own celebrity augmented her success by coming first in the French Junior National Championships. Lea Van der Zwalmen’s current world ranking is 166, one of the top fifteen U19 girls in Europe and the Number 1 U19 girl in France. She is a fellow West Town girl of 18 years of age, studying Mathematics, German and Economics and would like to study Economics at university. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lea on her recent success.
How did you get into squash?
My dad got me into squash when I was 8. He was playing at a decent standard, although he didn't play any tournaments. He enjoyed playing with his friends at university and he managed to pass on to me the passion for squash. When I first had a racquet in my hand, my dad was amazed to see that I could hit the ball quite nicely so he encouraged me to train and play with a coach. That's how it really started to become important to me.
What aspects of the sport do you like?
Squash is a very physical game but also very tactical. I love how you have to build up the rally, play the right shot at the right moment in order to make your opponent work and run all around the court. It’s also very hard mentally to try to push beyond your physical capacities but it's such a great feeling to win. What I really love, beyond winning matches and tournaments, is producing beautiful squash and playing a winning shot that the opponent didn't expect me to play.
What's the favourite moment of your squash career?
I have several great memories of matches that I’ve won against higher ranked players or when I was 2/0 down, came back and eventually won 3/2. My recent win at the French Junior National Championship will be a great memory because I think I played brilliantly from the start ‘til the final. It was also great to have represented France at the European Junior Team Championship, winning a silver and bronze medal. But my absolute highlight is when I captained France at the World Junior Team Championship.
How do you prepare for a tournament?
I start to prepare myself for a big tournament usually 5 to 6 weeks before. I will then have a private training session with my coach once a week to work on particular areas in my game that I feel need improvement, for example my volley or attacking shots. In the meantime I try to go to the gym at least twice a week where I follow a specific programme designed to improve my stamina. Finally, I try to play friendly matches so that I can work on different tactics, test my physical condition and build up my confidence.
Do you have a player you admire?
I love watching top players play on-line when there is a major tournament going on, because it's very entertaining and I am also trying to learn some new shots and tactics at the same time. I especially enjoy watching current World Champion Laura Massaro. I like her creative squash style and her very accurate attacking shots.
What’s your next tournament?
My next tournament is the British Junior Open in January. It's the second biggest junior tournament after the Worlds so there will be very strong players, mostly coming from Egypt, Malaysia, America and Europe. I finished in the top 12 last year – my best result so far. This year, for my last year as a junior, I’m hoping to reach the quarter final so I finish in the top 8. I’m going to train well for that, give my best and see what happens.
You also play rackets don't you? Which sport do you prefer squash or rackets?
Yes I started to play rackets last year and thanks to my squash, which helped me a lot to understand the game quickly, I managed to win the Public School Girls’ National Championship held at Queen’s Club. This was such a nice experience! I enjoyed playing rackets so much, a game completely new to me, in this fantastic venue, with a great crowd. Since I won the tournament I have been playing more and more rackets and even playing doubles with the boys, which is challenging regarding the speed of the ball. I’ve played the Rackets World Champion, Claire Vigrass, which was an amazing opportunity to evaluate my level and gain some experience.
What are your objectives in squash and rackets?
As studies have always been my priority, I don't have an ambition to be World Champion or a full time professional player. I see it as a double project: studies/sport, and intend to pursue both throughout my university years. I’ll try to play a couple of squash tournaments on the professional tour which could improve my World Squash Ranking. Professional Rackets doesn't require as many sacrifices as squash, so I have big ambitions and I am really motivated to achieve the best World Ranking that I possibly can.
That concludes my interview and good luck to Lea for all her future successes in both squash and rackets. Clearly she has done very well in her two sports and we hope she continues to do so, even through university.