The EFG Bank Squash Championships starts at the South Sound Squash Club on Monday and firm favorite for the men’s title is Cameron Stafford.
The championships run until Oct. 21 and more than 60 players have registered. Stafford, Cayman’s only squash pro, recently hit a career-high world ranking of 155 and is brimming with confidence.
Samantha Hennings will be a force in the women’s draw, but it will not come easily, with a number of Cayman’s top players vying for the club champion title.
The public is encouraged to watch, with matches starting at 5:45 p.m. each day.
Stafford’s target for the next year is to get into the top 110. He was No. 183 last month and has jumped up 28 places.
“I put it down to hard work and dedication to my training because I do it all myself,” Stafford said. “I don’t have a coach who is passionate and dedicated to help me with my goals.”
He trains with his former schoolmate and close friend Alex Frazer on a daily basis. Frazer is manager at the club.
Stafford was in fine form in the Caribbean Championships, held here in August. He beat Jamaica’s Lewis Walters, who is world ranked No. 110, on the way to the final.
Since then, Stafford qualified for a tournament in London, Ontario, and beat world No. 124 Matthew Serediak of Canada in the preliminaries.
Stafford’s first-round loss in Ontario was in a 3-1 match to Diego Elias of Peru, who is ranked No. 37.
After the club championships, Stafford competes in Ohio in the Cleveland Open and then goes on to the Madison Open in Wisconsin.
“I expect to play the best squash that I can and see how far it takes me in the tournaments,” he said.
The 23-year-old Caymanian coaches part-time at the South Sound Squash Club when not playing in professional tournaments. He enjoys “helping the future generation of up-and-coming junior players.”
In the Caribbean Championships, Stafford lost to perennial champ Chris Binnie, who won it for the sixth time in seven years.
“In order to become better than Chris, I need more tournament exposure,” Stafford said. “I need to be able to hit and train with more world-class players to help up my game.”
In addition to the benevolence of his family, Stafford is grateful to the corporate sponsorship he has received, but has found it difficult to come by in the three years since he turned pro.
“I use whatever prize money I win on the tour to help me out. I did receive funds from the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee for winning a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Vera Cruz, Mexico, last year, but any money I earn on tour is reinvested in my career.”
Despite the financial hardships, Stafford is pleased with his career trajectory.
“At the moment, I am playing some of the best squash of my life. I reached my first semifinal on the world tour in the British Virgin Islands in June and reached my third Caribbean Championships final in Cayman. I also had one of the best wins of my career [in BVI].”
When he finishes playing, Stafford intends to coach squash in Cayman and help nurture the next generation. But that is a long way off. In the meantime, he aims to fulfil his potential.
“I had a lot of ups and downs at the start of the summer, so I went and based myself in San Francisco with my close friends on tour Charlie Johnson and Jack Jago,” Stafford said. They are world-class England players and Stafford trained extremely hard with them, which helped him “rise above it all.”
At the Caribbean Championships, he is proud that he “was the last Cayman player standing in the individual event.”
Patriotism is a recurring sentiment.
“I do enjoy promoting the Cayman Islands. I do it for the love of my country, because Cayman is very close to my heart.”