Jenny Duncalf aiming to bow out in style at British Open in Hull

WHETHER it be Monday, Tuesday, or sometime later this week, Jenny Duncalf intends to go into retirement on her own terms and determined to have put on a ‘show.’

England's Jenny Duncalf in action against Malaysia's Nicol David in the final of the women's squash at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA

After a professional career spanning almost 20 years, the former world No 2 from Harrogate decided to call it a day earlier this month, using the fitting stage of this week’s British Open University of Hull to finally bring down the curtain.

It comes a year after the retirement of Sheffield’s Nick Matthew, leaving James Willstrop as the sole survivor of a Yorkshire-based trio who took it in turns to share the limelight at the top of the game for so many years.

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From the reaction of fellow players along with squash fans and officials on Twitter and Facebook where the 36-year-old made her announcement it was clear to see what a popular and widely-respected individual Duncalf has been over the years.

On Monday she faces reigning world junior champion Rowan Elaraby in the first round one match on the glass showcourt in Hull, fittingly so given what she has contributed over the years. If she prevails, an encounter against world No 1 and pre-tournament favourite Raneem El Welily on the same court is her reward.

Whenever it is she does finally bow out, it won’t be the last squash fans in Hull and around the world will see of Duncalf, who has already taken the next steps towards a post-playing career by becoming a regular MC at tournaments over the last couple of years.

Clearly, though, the on-court, post-match interviewer role will be left to somebody else – most likely close friend and former world No 1 Vanessa Atkinson – when it is time for Duncalf to talk following the defeat that does finally bring her to reflect on her career.

“It’s a funny one really because I won’t obviously know how I actually feel until it happens,” said Duncalf in Leeds this week. “Retiring has been on my mind, I guess, and it is very strange when it is everything I’ve ever done or wanted to do since I was little.

Jenny Duncalf, retiring after 20 years on the professional squash circuit. Picture courtesy of PSA.

“I’ve just been so used to it every year – jumping on a plane, entering tournaments. I am a little bit worried that it is suddenly going to hit me that I’m not going to be able to do the things I’ve done my whole life.

“First of all, I’m going to try and enjoy the match. My training preparation hasn’t been ideal because I’ve been MC-ing a lot, but I just want to put on a half-decent show.

“I’m playing on the glass court which I don’t do a lot of these days, whereas I used to be on them all the time.

“So I just want to try and enjoy it. I will still play squash now and again, I’d like to carry on – just not professionally.”

Jenny Duncalf. Picture courtesy of the PSA.

Since winning her first PSA Tour tournament at the Atlanta Masters in October 2003, Duncalf has gone on to lift a total of 11 crowns on the world circuit, plus two British National titles.

Throw in a healthy collection of 10 gold European Team Championship medals and one from the World Teams, plus three Commonwealth Gold silver medals and it all adds up to a memorable time on court, not least so when you consider a remarkable 29 months as world No2.

The simple fact Duncalf never made it to world No 1 or won more titles can generally be summed up in two words: Nicol David.

The Malaysian is the closest thing squash has had to a phenomenon, rising to world No 1 in January 2006 and remaining there until August 2015. Duncalf had risen to world No 2 on the back of two semi-final victories over David in late 2009, going on to win both the US Open and Qatar Classic.

But she would go no further, nor manage to beat her long-time friend David ever again, not that she has anything to regret from her time on court.

“It would obviously have been nice to have won at least one major,” added Duncalf, who in recent years has had to contend with a serious hip injury. “I was in the position to effectively do that but I couldn’t because I couldn’t beat Nicol David and there is not particularly too much shame in that.

“She was at the peak of her game, I was at the peak of my game, so to be in that same era I feel like I was up against the best, so all that I’m okay with.

“When I look back I’m happy with what I’ve done. I do enjoy playing still, but if I can’t play in the way to the level I want to play then it becomes frustrating and you’ve got to let go when you get a bit older, try and grow up and realise you can’t be a squash player your entire life.”

What that life will now entail sees Duncalf remaining closely involved with the sport, with an increase in her MC-ing duties on the PSA World Tour, including in Hull this week, helping promote a sport she feels is in far better shape than when she first picked up a racquet at nine years old.

“I would struggle if it was an abrupt cut-off from the game,” added Duncalf. “But with the MC-ing I’m hoping to do more of that and I’m still on the board and president of the women’s side of the PSA until the end of the year. And Rachael, my partner, is still playing next season, so I might be a bit jealous when she’s going off to tournaments.

“But one of the reasons why it has been so hard to leave the game is because the sport is in such a good place right now.

“We’ve just had our biggest-ever tournament the world championships, a $1m event – the prize money is the biggest ever.

“The TV and media coverage is better than it has ever been and if you’re a top player there is a lot of money to be made now.

“So the actual tour is healthy and more exciting than it has ever been. I would love to be starting now, I can tell you that – $1m squash tournaments felt like a million years away when I first started.”