Commonwealth Games 2002
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Squash Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Fit-again Fitz fired up
Sarah Fitz-Gerald in action last year
Fitz-Gerald is the main contender for the women's title

Sarah Fitz-Gerald is one of the greatest squash players of the modern era.

Gifted with an exceptional eye and uncanny timing, the slimly-built Australian has been able to out-hit many more powerful opponents, continually surprising people with the pace of her driving and dominance of her volleying.

This has helped her to four world titles in a row, one of which was captured in one of the great finals of all time with a hatful of match points saved against her arch-rival compatriot Michelle Martin.

But what many never knew was that the image created by Fitz-Gerald's imposing style is misleading.

Her victories over herself have been almost as great as those against so many opponents.

She has been haunted by a self-doubt which, to overcome, has required constant reappraisal, courage and positive thinking. It has been a lesson in life.

Fitz-Gerald wins the World Open
Fitz-Gerald's plan after the last year's World Open suddenly changed
These mental achievements have also helped save a career which for two years was plagued by a repeated knee injury.

When finally she recovered, early last year, another barrier came down - the mysteriously obstinate one which had prevented her in a decade of trying from winning the British Open.

"It was a great relief," Fitz-Gerald acknowledged after winning the ancient event in Birmingham last year.

"Now I have achieved it, I have a completely different expectation of myself."

In fact it led to a complete change of career scenario.

She had originally intended to retire after making a successful world title defence in her home city of Melbourne in 2001.

But, instead she decided that far too much was going too well for her to give it all away, even at the age of 33.

It was particularly good news for the Women's International Squash players Association (WISPA), for whom Fitz-Gerald has been a pioneering president.

Michelle Martin celebrates winning in Kuala Lumpur
Michelle Martin beat Fitz-Gerald to gold in 1998
Her engaging outgoing personality was exactly what was needed in help forge, in an often harsh men's world, a five-fold prize money increase on the women's tour in the past five years.

This led to a remarkable double at the Australian Sport Awards in Canberra this year.

First Fitz-Gerald collected the female athlete of the year award, and then won the Dawn Fraser award for achievement on court and in the community, upstaging such stars as the Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Ian Thorpe and the world's number one tennis player Lleyton Hewitt.

All this followed her successful defence of the British Open title in April, at the same Manchester venue where she will now attempt to win the Commonwealth title.

It was an ideal rehearsal for a show in which Fitz should not only be the star attraction but favourite for another first.

Four years ago in Kuala Lumpur, as squash made its debut in the Games, she was too inhibited to unleash her imposing game upon Martin in the final.

But at Manchester 2002, we are likely to see the Fitz-Gerald who has won the inner struggle as well as mastered her profession.

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