Today we continue our presentation of the top 4 seeds. Eight times gold medalists in the MWTC, Australia haven't won since 2001 and will have to learn how to live without David Palmer. But their experience – especially Cameron Pilley's – as well their ability to raise the bar with the national team jersey make them the main contenders to upset the three favourites.
By Jérôme Elhaïk
As for England, history shows that Australia's chances cannot be ruled out at the Men's World Team Championship: the Aussies have won the most titles (8) and are also at the top of the overall medal count (18) - provided that Great Britain and England are taken into account separately. They also made the semi-finals 22 times in 24 events … One thing has changed though: after coming out of retirement in 2013, David Palmer is no longer part of the squad. The former world No.1 and World Champion has been a huge asset for his country, and it's no coincidence that Australia exited in the quarter final in 2005, when the “Marine” was serving a 13-month ban. But his former teammate Cameron Pilley thinks “it is a great opportunity for the players who are coming in to replace him. They are not expected to fill Palmer's boots, which is impossible, but they will bring something else to the team - a lot of energy and enthusiasm.” (see Pilley's full interview below).
Current National Coach Paul Price (second from the left) with his teammates (Anthony Ricketts, David Palmer, Joseph Kneipp) when they won the World Team Championship in 2003 in Vienna (Photo credit: squash-u-Bild.net)
Although Rex Hedrick and Zac Alexander have never played for the senior national team, they are seasoned campaigners – both having joined the pro tour in 2007 – and have featured in major events such as World Junior Championships and World Doubles. Besides, there is plenty of MWTC's experience in the team, with Ryan Cuskelly but especially Pilley and Paul Price: the newly appointed National Coach was part of the winning team in 2001 and 2003. “It was pretty special,” he said to us recently. “I had great teammates and I remember that feeling that we all wanted to play and perform for each other. Winning the title at home in Melbourne was a great thrill in 2001.”
Alongside Pilley and Cuskelly, Australia have picked WTC debutants Zac Alexander - hitting the ball - and Rex Hedrick (Photo credit: Squash Mad)
There is another similarity between Australia and England: their players always give their best in team events, therefore recent results in individual tournaments cannot be taken too much into account. “Playing for Australia and winning those titles always remains at the top of my achievement list,” Price adds. “In sport, there’s is no greater privilege than playing for your country and I’m so grateful for those opportunities.” Cameron Pilley and Ryan Cuskelly may not have won many matches on the PSA World Tour since the beginning of the season, but one remembers they played well above their ranking in the 2013 MWTC semi-final, where they fell very short of causing a massive upset against Egypt. “Going in as fourth seed also gives us a strong presence in our pool to put us in a place to have a good crack at the top few spots,” Price said recently (Source: Squash Australia, Australia are in pool D with Wales and Czech Republic and cannot meet Egypt, England and France before the semis). “The guys are starting to play some good squash and the focus will now shift to our WMT campaign. I’m excited to work with a great bunch of guys who are passionate about representing Australia and seeing where it can take us.” “Our first goal will be a top 4 finish,” Pilley continues. “but if we accomplish that, we know we can then have a good crack at the title.”
Ryan Cuskelly's commitment (here, against Momen in 2013) represents what Australian players are ready to give for their team (Photo credit: SquashSite)
CAMERON PILLEY: "WE ALWAYS LIFT OUR GAME WHEN WE PULL ON THE AUSTRALIAN TEAM JERSEY"
Cameron Pilley may be known as the hardest hitter on the PSA World Tour, but he is also one of its most experienced players. Having featured in the last four MWTC semi-finals, the 35-year old will be Australia's strongest asset in Marseille. He tells us about the pride to wear the national jersey, his team's goals, fatherhood, David Palmer and Ramy Ashour.
Jérôme Elhaïk: It will be your fifth World Team Championship and you and your team have done well in the event (one silver medal and two bronze). Would you say that playing for your country brings out the best of you, personally and Australian players in general?
Cameron Pilley: Yes, I do think that in general Australian players lift their game every time they pull on the national team jersey. We don't get to represent Australia often (we don't have Europeans, Pan Ams, Asian games, African games etc), so when we get the opportunity we make sure it is special. I personally feel I lift when I walk on court with the Aussie colours on, and some of my career best wins have come whilst representing Australia. Beating Darwish in Mulhouse in 2013 was huge, especially as Egypt rested their No. 1 player against us in the semis, thinking they should win easy. After I won that match, Ryan Cuskelly narrowly lost to Tarek Momen 3-2! It could have gone either way and we would have beaten Egypt 2-0 and made the final. Our 3/4 playoff win against France in 2011 was also very special. I had never beaten Thierry Lincou before and he was this legend of the game that everybody looked up to. It came down to our match and I played out of my skin to win 3-1. That was a big moment for me and is one of the proudest ones of my career.
Cameron Pilley had pulled a major win in the 2013 MWTC semi-final, beating Egypt's Karim Darwish (Photo credit: SquashSite)
J.E.: What will be the team's goal in Marseille? Are you focused on defending your place in the top 4, or rather aiming higher?
C.P.: I think the ultimate goal for all teams is to become World Champion, but our first aim will be a top 4 finish. We want to consolidate our top 4 seeding and then if we accomplish that, we know we can then have a good crack at the title.
"Having a child puts a different perspective on life"
J.E.: You've had your first child recently, so has it become harder to leave home and travel to tournaments (he lives and trains in Denmark, where his wife Line Hansen is from)?
C.P.: It's become a little bit harder but more so once I'm done with a tournament, I just want to go home and see the little one and wife. I'm sure it will get harder and harder as she gets older and starts to talk, and starts asking why I'm always leaving! Having a child puts a different perspective on life and makes you realise all the little things you used to worry about, are actually not worth worrying about.
Cameron's wife Line Hansen – also a professional squash player – gave birth to their first child a few weeks ago (Photo credit: www.dailyexaminer.com.au)
J.E.: It's been a while since David Palmer was not with Australia at a team event (including MWTC, World Doubles, Commonwealth Games etc.). Will it be weird, and what has it been like to play alongside him?
C.P.: Yes it's been a long time but I don't think it will be weird. It goes to show how good a player he was and over such a long period of time. It's been a privilege to play with him over the years on the Australian teams and also in the Commonwealth Games. Winning the men's doubles gold medal together was something special, especially given we were the #2 seeds and we beat the defending champions England in the final. I also think it is a great opportunity for the players who are coming in to replace him. Obviously they are not expected to fill Palmer's boots, which is impossible, but they will bring something else to the team. It will be the first time Rex Hedrick and Zac Alexander are part of the Australian Men's Team, so they will bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the group.
Winning the gold medal with David Palmer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Doubles is one of Pilley's greatest moments (Photo credit: HKFC Squash)
"It's been a privilege to play with David Palmer over the years"
J.E.: You've belonged to the world top 25 for almost 12 years. What are the reasons behind your consistency, and who've been the opponents that impressed you the most during that time?
C.P.: I didn’t realize I had been in the top 25 for that long but yes that is something I am quite proud of. It is tough to always keep your game at a high level and I am always looking for ways to improve. You never stop learning but you need to actively research and experiment with different training programs and techniques, which I am still doing even at 35 years old. There is always a little bit of luck staying injury free but you need to look after your body to give yourself the best chance to do that. Players I have stepped on court with that really impressed me the most were Shabana, Power and Ramy (Ashour). There have been many changes in the game but you just learn to adapt and grow with it. The way Ramy came and took the game by the throat, completely changed the way squash was played. It made all the other players look for ways to counter him and ways to beat him. He certainly lifted the game of squash.
More info on the teams on this link.