With a Team Scotland men’s doubles place still up for grabs, next week’s 2014 British Open Doubles Championship at Scotstoun will be an important occasion for the national squad.
Whilst the selection pressure will apply only to the men, Scotland’s Frania Gillen-Buchert, who was relieved at being part of the first wave of competitors confirmed in the team, will use next week to work on how she can produce a winning performance in Glasgow later this summer.
Whilst she speaks with a South African accent, there is no doubting Frania’s Scottish credentials. Born in Capetown and brought back to Scotland by her Scottish parents who wanted her to be a part of the impressive squash coaching set up here, Frania will compete in her third Commonwealth Games this summer.
In the Melbourne 2006 Games she reached the last 16 of the women’s doubles, then in Delhi in 2010, an occasion she recalls as stressful because of the many illnesses to combat, she reached the quarter finals of the women’s doubles.
Doubles is still her game and in Glasgow she will double up for both the women’s and mixed versions but this time around, things will be different. Glasgow now has its own doubles courts (ingeniously sliding side walls convert three singles courts into two of their doubles version) where the squad has been piling in the hours.
Frania is also in the best shape of her 32 year old life and, with her long term mixed partner Alan Clyne, has reached a level of on court synchronisation, verging on intuition.
“It comes down to a lot of experience playing doubles together for around a decade,” says Frania, who will partner USA based Scot, Alex Clark in the women’s doubles.
“We know exactly where each other is going to play the ball and where we are going to move to. We know how to handle each other when we are in pressured situations which is also a very important part of the game.”
Watch the pair on court and you could liken their graceful on-the-toes court coverage to a well choreographed dance routine. Adding to the analogy Frania frequently uses the term ‘rehearsal’, an unusual term in sport, to describe the way the pair plan and practice their moves and on court communication.
The brutal reality of the doubles game is that the weaker member naturally becomes the opposition’s main target. On her side of the court Frania can find herself in an intensely physical battle of hitting 20 shots to every one of Alan’s. Conversely for Alan, who can be himself sidelined for long stretches, it can be a mental test of staying alert for the right moment to pounce.
“I need to keep concentration and make sure Frania is playing really well, then when she is under a load of pressure, try and come in and cover her,” he said.
“But that can make it more exciting because it can be quite tactical and it can make for really interesting rallies when you’ve got guys covering balls into the court and girls covering over the other side.”
Endless, attritional rallies verging on the monotonous is the traditional, but now outdated, image of squash doubles. Last year the sport’s governing body brought in a universal, invigorating move of reducing the height of the tin. A drop from 19 to 13 inches sounds a subtle difference but that six inches has a drastic effect on play.
“It makes a huge difference because you can now attack the men instead of you getting absolutely hammered and just defending all the time,” says Frania, a note of glee in her voice.
“It brings the women into an attacking position so they become more dangerous. Before, regardless of how your shot was, because he’s physically much stronger, the guy could always get it back. But now if the girl hits a good accurate shot she can put the men under a lot of pressure.
“Because the ball drops shorter there is further to run which makes it more physically demanding and the rallies shorter.”
Now at the peak of fitness, Frania is stronger and better conditioned than ever as she approaches what, for the moment, she says will be her last Games. Of course no one can imagine quite what the Glasgow effect will be and whether it has career-lengthening. But she does expect it will be the biggest and best yet.
Whilst she found both Melbourne and Delhi amazing experiences, lasting memories of both were the effect the home crowd had on their own nations’ players. Now she wants Scotland to get behind the team in exactly the same way.
“In Australia we played an Australian pairing with a crowd of 3000 people cheering for them, then in India where we played the local hero pairing in the quarters, it was a similarly phenomenal atmosphere where the crowd lifted them and their performances,” she recalls.
“So if India can produce that I’m sure the rowdy Scots will give us one hell of an atmosphere.
“It’s a real honour playing for Scotland and when you put the shirt on you’re not playing for yourself. Having that home support of an army behind you is going to really make you die for that extra shot.”
Follow the 2014 British Open Doubles Championship at Scotstoun (28-30 Jan) at www.scottishsquash.org
You can follow Frania on Twitter @FraniaG-B
Photo credit: Rob Eyton-Jones