By Doug Woodburn
Whether it’s a ‘hotdog’ winner in tennis, triple overtake in F1, or no-look basketball pass, it’s often the unexpected that provides the electric moments in sport.
But can any sport compete with squash when it comes to producing the unpredictable, the logic-defying and the hair-raising?
If there’s one player who knows something about producing the unexpected, it’s world number 38 Lucy Beecroft. Regarded as one of the tour’s true shot players, in March she pulled out one of the shots of the season when – facing the back wall – she carved a long backhand drop into the nick, in the process breaking several laws of physics and visibly stunning her opponent (see 8.14 in this video).
Talking to Squash IQ for Squash Site, the 26-year-old opened up on how she sees her game developing following her move to New York, working with Joel Makin’s fitness coach, and which of her fellow pros inspire her most.
‘I never want to lose my creative side’
As Nour Gohar and Hania El Hammamy’s record 130-minute World Tour Finals battle earlier this month illustrates, top-level women’s squash is increasingly defined by its physicality.
Although achieving elite-level fitness is an area of her game she is working to bolster – in tandem with fitness coach Mark Burns – Beecroft is determined this will not come at the expense of her expressive game.
“I really want my personality to come through on court. That’s a huge part of my game – the creative style and playing shots my coach would probably tell me off for,” Beecroft said.
“Being as creative as I can be, while still being disciplined, is something I’ve had to balance as I transitioned from playing junior to college squash [at Yale], and now professionally.
“Some coaches very much want you to play a certain way, and I think there are areas of my technique and game I need to improve. But I never want to lose that side. That’s how I have fun and express myself on court.”
Big Apple bound
Having moved back to the UK after graduating from Yale in 2020, Beecroft returned to the US in 2022 and has just settled in New York (following 14 months based just outside Washington DC).
Currently the English number 5, Beecroft rose to a high of 37th in the PSA world rankings in May 2023 (up from 63rd and 367th a year and two years previously, respectively).
Although upping sticks to the Big Apple was driven by the location of her partner’s college course (Columbia University), it is a happy coincidence that the New York squash scene is livelier than in Northern Virginia.
Potential hitting partners in the city include current pros Nicole Bunyan and Jana Shiha, as well as player-coaches Peter Creed and Jaymie Haycocks. Former number one Peter Nicol is also based there.
“I felt I managed quite well in Northern Virginia, where I probably only had 5 or 6 people to hit with. I don’t think it hindered my growth on tour in the last year, so I’m excited to be in New York where there are a lot more players and opportunities to train,” Beecroft said.
Although Beecroft will continue to work with her Philadelphia-based coach Alex Stait, she is hunting a second coach based locally who can complement her current set up.
“Just to have that point of contact here who I can get on court with, and who can feed me and work alongside Alex too. But that hasn’t been 100% figured out yet,” she explained.
Beecroft on her biggest weakness
The remote sessions with Burns – who notably works with Joel Makin and Mohamed Elshorbagy – will continue, meanwhile, as Beecroft looks to go toe-to-toe with the top players.
“[The fitness aspect of squash] has never been a strength for me, and it never will be,” she confessed.
“I’m never going to be Georgina or Sabrina. I’m never going to have that physique – it’s not how I’m built. But it’s something I’ve improved on a lot in the last 12 months.
“Mark does my programme. He puts everything up on an app and I know what I’m doing every day. Just having that planning and structure from someone who knows the game on a fitness and bio-mechanics level works really well – he’s super indepth.”
‘Proud to be on the women’s side’
That work will stand her in good stead if she is to meet the likes of Gohar or Hammamy, whose “ding dong battles” at recent events – as well as the level of play and respect on the women’s tour more generally – Beecroft was quick to praise.
“I’m proud to be on the women’s side, because I do think it’s getting a bit out of hand on the men’s side,” she said, addressing the current furore around stoppages and conduct in squash.
“It’s hard, because in some ways it’s exciting and it’s controversial, and some people want to see that. It’s like Nick Kyrgios in tennis – people thrive on bad behaviour.
“But I think for true squash fans who want to see the game played the way it should be, it’s not a good thing.
“I think there’s a balance in terms of not going down the way it’s going but trying to make it exciting in other ways. I quite like the way they did it in the World Tour Finals with the power plays. It was exciting to watch and that could be explored more.
“It’s a tough one, as I don’t really know what the answer is. But I definitely don’t think it can go on like this – especially if we’re trying to get the sport into the Olympics.”
Most inspiring players
Two players whose games would act as a good showcase for squash’s Olympics bid are Raneem El Welily and Nour El Sherbini, whom Beecroft cited among her inspirations growing up (even though she is only a year younger than the latter).
It is, after all, the holds and unexpected angles produced by this duo that represent the ideal when it comes to Beecroft’s style of play.
English number 2 Sarah-Jane Perry is another Beecroft looks up to.
“I know Raneem’s not playing but they both [Raneem and Nour] make it look so effortless. SJ wouldn’t mind me saying that she definitely doesn’t make it look as effortless. But I appreciate and massively look up to her. In a similar way to me, she doesn’t find the [movement] side easy at all, and she’s worked so hard to get to the level she’s at. She’s extremely skillful. She’s a good friend and helps me a lot.”
Beecroft pulled out a shot even SJ or Sherbini would have been proud of against US’ world number 15 Sabrina Sobhy at the Canadian Women’s Open in March.
The moment was made all the sweeter by the fact the duo share the exact same coaching team, including Stait.
“It was towards the latter end of the match and it was a last-ditch effort to do something,” Beecroft recalled.
“I think Sabrina said something along the lines of ‘did Alex teach you that one?’, she said of Sobhy’s reaction to the physics-defying winner.
“Before the match, there was a bit of banter going on, and we knew it was going to be a good, fair match.
“It was all in good jest, but maybe if it had been a different point in the match she might not have been as gracious!”
Remembering her roots
With two squash-playing parents, Beecroft was “brought up” at her local club from a few weeks old, and was always complimented on her exceptionally soft hands.
“I would just hit so many balls and would watch the pros play and try to mimic them. That’s where I got the creativity – being on court for so long by myself and practising and enjoying that side of it,” she said.
Despite her years at Yale and decision to move back to the US last April (after she was granted a P1 Visa), Squash IQ was relieved to hear that the North Shields-born player hasn’t lost the Geordie twang she grew up with.
“It felt like my whole life was over here [in the US], and the opportunities in squash in the US are quite different to the UK, so it made sense to be based here,” Beecroft said.
“But I don’t think I’m ever going to lose my accent – I’ve been here for so long already and it’s too strong.”