Stafford renews bid to climb high

Globe-trotting squash player Cameron Stafford is cranking up for more traveling in search of a higher world ranking.  

Cayman’s top player wants to improve his world No. 199 ranking by competing in the Houston Open beginning Tuesday.  

He will have to play in the qualifiers and win twice to enter the main draw, but he is confident he can do so.  

“The Houston Open is very tough,” Stafford said. “I’ll just concentrate on trying to enjoy the games and just go from match to match trying to express myself with not too much pressure.” 

So far, Stafford’s highest ranking has been No. 174, achieved in April last year. But finding a regular job as assistant to national squash coach Mark Chaloner at the South Sound Squash Club and personal tragedy have interrupted his mission toward joining the sport’s elite.  

Stafford’s good friend Zak Quappe died in a car crash in May, which was an extremely sad and distracting time for him.  

Stafford returned to international competition in July at the Island Games in Bermuda, where Team Cayman won two golds in the team event and all the doubles events. 

“The two medals I received were dedicated to Zak,” Stafford said. 

Then he went to the Caribbean Championships in Guyana where the team finished second. He was fourth in the individual competition. 

After that, he played in a tournament in the Las Vegas Open where he beat the world’s No. 102.  

Then it was a trip to Maringa, Brazil, for a tournament in which he qualified for the main draw before losing in three games to a player ranked No. 146 in the world.  

“At the time, I was focusing on training and getting fit and did not have much match practice,” Stafford said.  

Since then, the 21-year-old has won for the third time the Cayman Club Championships, beating 15-year-old prodigy Julian Jervis in the final.  

It’s a busy itinerary for Stafford after the Houston Open. He will be at a tournament in Phoenix, Arizona, between Nov. 10-15, then at another in Veracruz, Mexico, from Nov. 28 before possibly going to one in Boca Raton, Florida from Dec. 3-6. 

“I hope to build up my world ranking again from playing in all these tournaments,” said Stafford, who has played in tournaments as far afield as Japan and Australia.  

“I’ve been guys in the top 120 before. Against better players I tend to play my best squash.  

“Now I have a job at the squash club, I have to choose tournaments closer to home.” 

He is grateful to his sponsors for their backing. “I really appreciate what Cayman Airways, South Sound Squash Club, the Cayman Islands National Squash Association and the government has done for me. Also my U.K. sponsors Team 305 and Harrow Sports.” 

Under Chaloner’s guidance, Stafford’s all-around game has flourished. Chaloner is a former world No. 7 and still plays occasionally in high-level tournaments.  

“Mark is my new coach, and I am learning new things each day from him. My game has improved considerably. I go on court with him now and again, which helps. 

“My goal is to try to get my ranking as high as possible by December and to win the national championships in February or March.” 

Stafford admits that the national championships are not easy. Besides Jervis, he sees his main rivals as Chaloner, coach Dean Watson, Jake Kelly, the resurgent Daniel Murphy, his twin Sean and the veteran John Macrury. 

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Cameron Stafford wants to become a world champion.
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