By Chris McClintick
Olivia Blatchford’s U.S. career came full circle during the 2017 U.S. Women’s Championship at Chelsea Piers Connecticut.
Although only twenty-four years old, Blatchford was making her tenth consecutive appearance in the National Singles, which was held alongside the U.S. Junior Bronze Championships on the last weekend of April.
As documented in a Squash Magazine’s December 2013 profile, the Wilton, CT-native put her teenage full-time professional ambitions on hold by taking up a coaching position with Natalie Grainger at the newly-completed Chelsea Piers in 2012. After a year of regrouping, combined with the rollout of US Squash’s innovative Elite Athlete Program in the fall of 2013, the timing was right for a refreshed Blatchford to rejoin the PSA Tour full-time once again. Blatchford returned to the tour a more fit and improved player.
She bounced around roughly the world No. 30 ranking position for her first two seasons back and established herself as the U.S. No. 2 behind teammate Amanda Sobhy. The 2016-2017 season proved to be a breakout season for Blatchford. She won first-round upsets at the Windy City Open in Chicago and the World Championship in Egypt, and as well as a stunning run to the final of the Floridablanca Open in Colombia. All of this resulted in a career-first top twenty ranking of world No. 19 in April.
There was an obvious absence in the National Singles draw, as two-time defending champion and world No. 7 Amanda Sobhy was out due to a torn Achilles sustained while holding match ball against Blatchford in Colombia in early March. Having lost against Sobhy in the last two finals, the door appeared to be open for the top-seeded Blatchford to claim her first women’s national title. She progressed to the final with three-game wins, first over U17 national champion Elisabeth Ross in the quarters and then against world No. 52 and 2011 World Juniors teammate Haley Mendez in the semifinals.
Penn sophomore and two seed, Reeham Sedky, had other ideas. In the bottom half of the draw, Sedky dispatched Kelsey Engman in the first round, before coming back from a game down to defeat 2013 champion and former world No. 1 Grainger in a four-game semifinal.
With a packed gallery of juniors and local supporters, the final marked the first competitive match between Blatchford and Sedky. From the start, Sedky set the pace with her signature power and speed, claiming the first game 11-8. The second game went to 11-all, at which point a no-let call handed Sedky game ball, which she converted. A vocal and visibly frustrated Blatchford left the court and sought counsel from Grainger.
Blatchford and Grainger adjusted her plan in hopes of opening up the court more to counter Sedky’s power. This strategy paid off immediately as Blatchford won the third game. Blatchford pressed on in the fourth game, until Sedky fought off four game balls to level at 10-all, two points away from the title. Blatchford regained her composure and forced a fifth game 13-11, spurring herself on with a roar. The fifth was all Blatchford, who ended the eighty-five-minute encounter 11-5.
Surrounded by coaches and family members after the match, Blatchford praised Sedky’s play, said a word for her missing teammate Sobhy and then revealed a key to her recent flourishing success. “I’m not able to do what I do to travel around the world and compete without the support that the US Squash Elite Athlete Program gives me,” Blatchford said. “I love what I do so much, and it’s only because of them that I’m able to do that. They are completely behind me and I appreciate their support so much.”
Two days after her maiden title, Blatchford’s season ended on a high note—a career-high of world No. 17 in the May rankings.