As Guyana’s former World #19, 38 year old NICOLETTE FERNANDES said, “Life is all about timing!” Having played the Panamerican squash champions on numerous occasions, making semis and finals, she had never managed to capture the prestigious women’s individual title her entire professional career.
While caring for her father through his final stages of life during the Covid pandemic, her only escape was going back to playing squash; a place she felt mentally and physical safe. The result; a totally rekindled love for the game. Just over a month ago, thanks to efforts of Lorraine Ince, the Guyana Squash Association made a mad scramble to put together Team Guyana. Having retire from the PSA tour in 2016, this event was to act as a springboard for Nicolette who had been considering playing in the upcoming World Masters in Poland this August. Winning the championship was never on her radar.
After multiple knee surgeries and an ongoing hip issue, Nicolette’s plan was to manage her body through each match, one by one. Having been out of competition for over six years, she was no longer familiar with most of the players. The strategy was to feel each opponent out in the first game by playing conservatively and making the rallies as long as possible before trying anything creative. Colombia’s Lucia Bautista was the first to educate Nicolette that at 1500 metre altitude (versus Guyana at 0 metres) this was going to be a much faster game and a far more physically demanding journey than expected. Second round was against the up and coming 15 year-old rising star Maria Min from Canada. Nicolette was quickly impressed with Maria’s game recognizing that she never played at Maria’s level when she was 15. The final ticket to the finals came from yet another Canadian, Hannah Blatt, who just wouldn’t given up. Nicolette felt pressure in the 2nd game and had to dig deep not to let it slip away; going 4 or 5 games was not an option if she wanted to win the match. The the scores in the final match against Colombia’s Laura Tovar, definitely did not reflect how hard the match really was for both players. Nicolette’s goal was no unforced errors, to keep the ball away from Laura’s deadly forehand attacking boasts from mid court, and to control the momentum of the game. Nicolette knew if she gave away a string of points, it would drastically accelerate the momentum in a heartbeat in Laura’s favour. In the end, it was years and years of her experience on tour that finally got Nicolette over the finish line to claim that illusive title 11-9, 11-4, 11-5.
This has been a sweet victory for Nicolette, being able to share the moment with all her teammates who have been the heart and soul of the Guyana squash community from the very beginning. She sends out special thanks to Regan Pollard and Deje Dias who loaned her their racquets (Nicolette still doesn’t have her own racquets) and to the entire Guyana squash community for stepping up financially to make this trip possible. Huge congratulations to Guatemala for pulling this event together; all the players are thrilled to be competing again. Women in Guyana are now returning to squash post Covid and Nicolette is inspired to see so many young players competing here in Guatemala this week as a whole generation of players could have easily been lost as a result the Covid shut downs had on our sport. Once again, massive thanks and congratulations to the Guatemalan Squash Association for making this possible!!