Prodigy set to test his progress in Edinburgh
Teenager Stewart tipped for a sparkling future after national Under-19 crown
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