Prodigy set to test his progress in Ed­in­burgh

Teenager Ste­wart tipped for a sparkling fu­ture after na­tional Un­der-19 crown

The Herald - Sport - - SQUASH - KEVIN FER­RIE

THE lit­tle lad did not look like he had a care in the world as he was ap­proached by Scot­land’s new na­tional team head coach ahead of his ap­pear­ance in the Un­der12s event at the Welsh Ju­nior Open. Roger Flynn had al­ready struck up some­thing of a rap­port with then 10-year-old Rory Ste­wart. But fresh from run­ning the highly-re­garded Vic­to­rian In­sti­tute of Squash pro­gramme, the gnarled Aussie – who was on his first trip as head coach of Scot­tish Squash – still did not know what to ex­pect.

“For what­ever rea­son, I had al­ready es­tab­lished a good re­la­tion­ship with Rory and was coach­ing through the event,” he re­calls.

“As it turned out, he got to the fi­nal. I went down to see him be­fore the match started and found him sit­ting on a ta­ble out­side the court swing­ing his legs.

“I sat down be­side him and swung my legs too while I asked him: ‘Well, Rory, what’s the game plan?’

“He looked up at me and wryly said: ‘Well, Rog ... I thought I’d start with drive-boast pat­tern, see what he’s like in the four cor­ners and then bring in my counter-drop in the sec­ond half of the game’.

“I was just blown away and could only say: ‘Okay Rory, I’ll just go up­stairs and watch you do it!’.”

In the event he was beaten by a player Flynn de­scribes as “two years older and about twice the size,” but Flynn had seen and heard enough to know this was a tal­ent to keep an eye on

Eight years on and Ste­wart re­cently served the lat­est no­tice of his po­ten­tial when he be­came the first home­grown player since one Peter Ni­col, more than 20 years ear­lier, to win the Scot­tish Open Un­der-19 Cham­pi­onship.

“I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet that I’ve won a ti­tle when it’s taken so long for a Scot to win it again,” said Ste­wart, who was born three years after the then fu­ture mul­ti­ple world cham­pion Ni­col won that par­tic­u­lar trophy.

“It was great to win it and to do it as com­fort­ably as I did, main­tain­ing my con­cen­tra­tion through­out, stay­ing in con­trol and not be­ing fazed by the fi­nal. It gave me a mile­stone.”

Part of a com­mit­ted squash fam­ily, Ste­wart has fol­lowed the Andy Mur­ray route to suc­cess in rac­quet sports, be­ing coached ini­tially by mum Susan. He re­mem­bers tag­ging along as an eight-year-old while big brother Greig was win­ning the Scot­tish Un­der-11s ti­tle.

The fam­ily are from Cri­eff but Susan was squash head coach at Judy Mur­ray’s for­mer club Bridge of Al­lan and Ste­wart, in­evitably in Scot­land, was ini­tially drawn to foot­ball be­fore see­ing the light.

“The suc­cess I was hav­ing with my squash at such an early age meant it was the log­i­cal decision to fo­cus all my at­ten­tion on it,” he ad­mits.

Now part of Scot­tish Squash’s elite na­tional squad, his aim is to make the na­tional team for the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games and this week of­fers a chance to mea­sure his progress when he com­petes in the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Open, con­test­ing the qual­i­fy­ing round tonight at the Ed­in­burgh Sports Club as he seeks to get into the main draw where Eng­land’s world No.5 Dar­ryl Selby is the top seed. “I’m aim­ing to get on to the PSA World Tour so with the pros play­ing in this it is good for me to be able to par­tic­i­pate in this event while I’m still a ju­nior,” Ste­wart noted.

“I played in it as a 17-year-old last year when I was quite weak and I was beaten in the qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion so hope­fully I can progress this time.”

As to what can be ex­pected beyond that, back to Flynn...

“Rory’s what I call ‘a player’ – some­one who can just lift him­self for the oc­ca­sion and has the skills to go all the way,” he reck­ons.

“He’s been train­ing with us in Ed­in­burgh since Septem­ber last year and is pro­gress­ing amaz­ingly.

.

“He will lead the Scot­tish Un­der-19 Team to the Euro­pean Un­der-19 Team Cham­pi­onships in Prague at the be­gin­ning of April and, along with our very strong girl mem­bers, could go close to win­ning the ti­tle for the first time.

“He is in the run­ning to make the Scot­tish Se­nior Team for the Euro­pean Se­nior Team Cham­pi­onships in late April .

“How he per­forms in the Scot­tish Na­tion­als in March will de­ter­mine whether he makes the team or not.

“I ex­pect that, with a cou­ple of do­mes­tic wins over the Scot­tish No.5 un­der his belt al­ready, he is quite likely to make it.

“He is def­i­nitely one to watch.”

FO­CUSED ON THE FU­TURE: ‘It is good for me to be able to par­tic­i­pate in this event while I’m still a ju­nior,’ says Ste­wart

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