U.S. champion Olivia Blatchford is hoping to harness the energy in Grand Central Terminal to produce her first career main draw victory at the 2018 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions.
Since the 2017 ToC, Blatchford has risen from world No. 27 to world No. 13 this month, which sees her bypassing qualifying into the main draw for the first time in her career. The Wilton, Connecticut-native sustained first-round losses—both against world No. 4 Laura Massaro–in 2016 and 2017, but this year awaits a qualifier as the thirteen seed Saturday, January 20, at 9pm ET.
“It’s electric,” said Blatchford, who turns twenty-five on January 23 during the tournament. “Walking onto that court in Grand Central is exhilarating—I think that the bustling atmosphere only adds to the drama that is the ToC, the energy outside the court equaling that of the competitors on court. The Tournament of Champions is a very special event for me; I grew up watching it year after year starting when I was still in diapers.”
After a difficult end to 2016, Blatchford turned things around in 2017, where she recorded her first career World Series main draw victory at the Windy City Open, which she subsequently followed up with four more main draw victories at both World Championships, the U.S. Open and Hong Kong Open.
“I’d really been struggling at the tail end of 2016 and it all culminated at the World Team Championships in Paris,” Blatchford said. “I had a lot of truths to face and for the first time I actually did face them. Most of it was really just realizing how lucky I am to do what I do, to have the life that I lead, and also truly how much I love the game.”
The ToC is Blatchford’s second World Series event of 2018 following the historic Saudi PSA Women’s Squash Masters, where she exited the second round against world champion Raneem El Welily. The Saudi PSA Squash Masters made history by becoming the first professional women’s sports event ever held in Saudi Arabia.
“Going to Saudi and competing at the event was, for me, about resisting succumbing to misconceptions and giving myself over to hope and fighting for change,” Blatchford said. “It was about being a proud independent woman giving herself over to an experience so much larger than herself. To be part of a growing movement that promises growth and development. In the build up to the tournament there was a lot of speculation regarding women’s rights and whether or not we were doing the right thing by being there. ‘No-one could watch, where’s my streaming, what about women’s rights?’ But this tournament was unlike anything that has been done before and that is entirely the point—it’s different. Change takes time, nothing happens overnight, but I met so many people who care about change and with their strength and determination, change will happen. I don’t see how anyone could call it anything but a step in the right direction.”