By RJ Mitchell
David Palmer has backed coaching charge Hollie Naughton to make a top 10 place in the PSA World Rankings her own.
The Canadian No.1 reached a career high ranking of No.20 in November after reaching the last 16 of the final three ranking events of 2020 at the Manchester Open, Egyptian Open and CIB Black Ball Open.
The 26-year-old will open her competitive campaign this year at the 2021 CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open with a first-round draw against Holland’s World No.62 Tessa ter Sluis on Friday and is in the same quarter as No.3 seed Camille Serme.
Palmer reckons that the Barnsley-born Canadian’s impressive work ethic and big game attitude can prove crucial in her quest to break into the elite echelon of the women’s game.
Now the former World No.1, who has coached the Canadian over the last seven years, is confident that the second half of the current campaign can see Naughton continue to move up the rankings.
The two-time World Champion said: “I just would really love to see Hollie push on now with her next goal to be in the top 16 and then edge our way towards a top 10 position and I see that happening over the next few years.
“I’ve been working with Hollie for around seven years. She was with me when I was in Orlando and then when I moved up to Cornell she followed. We just clicked from day one and I feel like her work ethic really appeals to me.
David Palmer in action
“There is no doubt that she is one of the hardest workers out there and she really puts the leg-work in. Hollie’s aim for a long while has been to break into the top 20 and she did it that at the back end of last year and I am very happy with her progress.
“I believe she has a lot more to come as she is still fairly young at 26 with her best years definitely ahead of her. I also feel she has been banking more experience at the higher levels by getting into the main draws for the bigger tournaments and now starting to go deeper in them.”
Having claimed the scalp of World No.14 Rowan Elaraby in the opening round of the previous Black Ball Open in December, Naughton has demonstrated that she is a dangerous draw for any player at the elite level.
For his part Palmer is confident that the more experience Naughton gains in these encounters, the stronger her game will get.
The four-time British Open champion said: “Hollie has played a lot of the top players and she has a good glass court game which I believe is very important in the women’s game and not everyone has that.
“Sometimes it can be a challenge on the glass court, but Hollie is pretty settled on there and the further you go in these bigger tournaments the more often you will play on them. I know over time certain players struggle to get used to the glass court game but that isn’t the case with Hollie and in fact, as I said, it’s a strength of hers.”
With Naughton having family in the Pontefract area, Palmer has revealed that he has been keen to make the most of his prodigy’s English heritage.
“Hollie’s Auntie lives in Pontefract and that is a good connection to have and gives it all a bit of a home from home feel which is great for her, while she also spends time training in Canada and then with me at Cornell but obviously that has all been tough during the pandemic.
Naughton takes on Rowan Elaraby at the CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open
“Obviously, there are periods of time when it is best for Hollie to be based in Europe and she feels very at ease in Pontefract with her Auntie there and also just with Malcolm Willstrop’s whole set up.
“Malcolm’s coaching ability is second to none and he has obviously produced so many top players, but we don’t have any formal partnership arrangement, we just have a pretty open mind towards each other and that is great.
“So, I am happy to send players like Hollie over to Ponte as I know they will get a lot out of it, and I think Malcolm has a similar view point with some of his players coming to me.
“Again, Hollie is working hard on her skills and any time spent in Pontefract with Malcolm Willstrop means she is getting good experience there in which she has also spent time on court with James [Willstrop].
“Anyone who gets the chance to spend court time with James and do routines and hit balls with him will benefit from that and I know that Hollie has taken a lot from it so there is definitely more to come from Hollie.
“Obviously I had a lot of matches with James (Willstrop) over our respective careers and Malcolm was always good to me and I spent a week with him and John White a few years back when John and I were teenagers, and it was a fun time.
“We landed on Malcolm’s door and he let us spend a couple of weeks there and over the years that has grown, and I have a huge amount of respect for Malcolm.
“Over the years I have come up against several of his players as well as James and of course Lee Beachill and now Sam Todd is coming out of there and has a big future.
“I’m always looking at things to improve my skills. There is no such thing as the perfect coach and you have to look at Malcolm, David Pearson, Mike Way and my former coach Shaun Moxham, and I’m always looking for little ideas and insights to improve my coaching.”
Palmer celebrates his victory at the 2008 British Open
Any talk of Palmer’s connection to the Willstrop family is bound to bring a recollection of the Aussie’s most famous encounter with his fellow former World No.1 James Willstrop.
This came in one of the most famous finals in the tournament’s history, the 2008 title-match which Palmer edged in a fifth set-tie break after saving two match balls.
“I don’t know if he has forgiven me or not,” said Palmer.
“It still comes back in flashes and on social media the other day it came up that we had both had match points and interesting decisions with different viewpoints.
“It was quite a match with the final going to a fifth set tie break and obviously it could have gone either way with me having been two games up and then having to save two match points to win the final game tie break.
“But it is a match that will always tie us together and with it being my fourth and final British Open win it means a lot to me.”