Gravity-defying dive after a jaw-dropping lunge, they called him ‘Superman’ as he captivated crowds around the world. Now story maker Paul Coll is on top of the world as number one and is aiming for total domination.
Soon to celebrate his 30th birthday, Coll became the first New Zealander to top the world squash rankings and celebrated winning the circuit’s oldest competition, the British Open, for the second consecutive year last month.
Next on his hit list is the PSA World Championships in Cairo in June, where he is aiming to lift the trophy for the first time, before competing for up to three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“Now that I’m world number one, I try to focus on events that I’ve never won before, so the Commonwealth Games are up there. I only have a silver medal [medal] so getting a gold medal would be huge for me,” he said.
“I keep seeing a picture of the final that I lost four years ago. I’ve had to watch this for four years and it’s pissing me off so if I can change that picture this year that would be great .”
Choose squash over rugby and hockey
Born in Greymouth, a town of just over 8,000 people in New Zealand’s South Island, Coll first picked up a squash racket aged seven at his local club. parents.
He then moved to Christchurch aged 13 for boarding school, before moving to Auckland.
A talented rugby and hockey player, it wasn’t until the age of 16 that Coll saw the opportunity for a career on the squash court.
“I was selected for New Zealand when I was about 16 to go to the World Junior Championships and as soon as I was selected I threw all my eggs in one basket,” he says. .
“I focused on squash and started training before and after school.
“I took it one season at a time, to be honest, because I’ve never been in the top juniors. I finished in the top 64 at the World Juniors, so it wasn’t like I was destined for the top.”
Coll moved to Amsterdam when he was 21 and it was then that he gave squash the ‘full crack’ as he didn’t want to lose the opportunity to have a successful career.
His high-intensity style of play of chasing every ball and diving down the court to save seemingly lost points made him popular among squash fans and, when one commentator described him as “like Superman” , the name stuck and became a big part. of the player’s brand.
“I don’t think the words ever came out of my mouth to call my name, it’s just something fun for the sport – building characters and stories around the athletes is easy for the fans to follow,” adds Coll.
“Squash has absolutely unrivaled athletes, but it’s not shown the way it could be. I don’t think the fans really realize how good some of these athletes are and what they put their minds into. life.
“It’s a way for players to show their personality.”
Coll’s ascent to the top
After steadily climbing the charts early in his career, Coll’s big breakthrough came in December 2016 when he won the Channel VAS Championship in Weybridge, Surrey.
Second-place finishes at the Motor City Open, Detroit, and China Open followed in 2018, before the Kiwi reached at least the quarter-finals of every event he entered until the end. of the year, raising him to fifth in the world. rankings.
In 2019 he won the Canary Wharf Classic, London, for his biggest title at the time.
But his big moment came in 2021 when he beat the two best players in the world to win the British Open – considered by many to be the sport’s answer to Wimbledon – and claim its first major title.
After beating three-time British Open winner Mohamed ElShorbagy 3-0 in a dominating semi-final performance, he fought back after one match to beat top seed Ali Farag 6-11, 11-6, 11-6 , 11-8 to claim the trophy.
“Before the British Open, I probably lost about five or six World Series finals and it was starting to play in my mind in terms of ‘When am I going to win my first? How long is this going to be? ‘, so getting that first win gave me a lot of confidence,” he says.
“But to get that monkey off my back, obviously I’ve won other big events, to get that first win relieved a lot of pressure.”
Further success followed to propel him to the top of the world rankings, before successfully defending his British Open title without losing a single match throughout the tournament – and beating Farag again in the final.
“I’m a big fan of consistency – the number one showing consistency for six to eight months being the best player. It was a very special moment for me,” he said.
“Backing up that second British Open, well, I had a lot of pressure on me as the defending champion and defending the number one spot. Both were very new to me.”
“The perfect sport for the Olympics”
Vegan Coll loves CrossFit training and says his whole life is dedicated to his career.
He comes into the PSA World Championships – the biggest tournament on the circuit with the highest prize money up for grabs – as the favorite, a position he is “really excited about”.
With a five-week training block before the tournament, he is confident he will approach his first game feeling refreshed and focused.
“I train at least once a day on the court, once a day in the gym and if I’m feeling good I’ll add another squash session in the day,” he says.
“It’s not often that we have four or five weeks just to train, so I’ve made a big sacrifice and it’s going to be a good feeling going into the tournament.”
After that, his focus will be on winning gold for New Zealand in Birmingham, where fans may see more of the iconic dives that have become less of a feature of his game recently when playing doubles.
A source of frustration for squash players and fans around the world is the sport’s continued absence from the Olympics.
Giving the sport this platform would increase funding for federations around the world. For example, FAs in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would have access to UK Sport funding.
“For me, it’s the perfect sport for the Olympics – it’s hard, it’s fair, it’s one on one and there’s a very clear winner. It’s a real gladiatorial sport,” he adds.
“Maybe that’s the key and that’s the final piece of the puzzle to blasting squash.
“I know people are trying to get him in and I hope they will.”