Greenwich resident Grainger wins squash title at Chelsea Piers

Greenwich resident and Chelsea Piers squash director Natalie Grainger receives her trophy for winning the United States Squash National Championship on her home court.

Greenwich resident and Chelsea Piers squash director Natalie Grainger receives her trophy for winning the United States Squash National Championship on her home court.

For Greenwich resident Natalie Grainger, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for her return to competitive squash.

Grainger, who is the Chelsea Piers Connecticut Racquets Director, got a unique opportunity and made the most of it.

It turns out that Chelsea Piers hosted the United States Squash National Championships and Grainger jumped at the idea of competing once again on her home turf. Not only did Grainger get to play the game she loves, but she won the national championship and reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in the country.

“It was fantastic,” Grainger said. “To see so many friends and family come to the club to watch and support made it that much more special. There were little kids there watching and being able to produce a good outcome on the day in front of those people that wanted me to win was great.”

During the U.S. Championships Women’s Open Singles event, Grainger was the No. 2 seed and was able to take care of her first round opponent, Niki Clement of Bryn Mawr, Pa. (6,2,5). The semis had Grainger up against Wilton’s Olivia Blatchford, but again it was Grainger with the 4,4,3 victory.

In the championship match, Grainger was up against a familiar foe, top-seed, Amanda Sobhy from Sea Cliff, N.Y. and Grainger won the championship with a score of (8), 3, 3, (5), 7.

“I knew it was going to be a very tough match against Amanda,” Grainger said. “It meant that in order to win that title, I would have to play a phenomenal opponent, who is on the rise of her own career and she’s someone that I’ve coached and mentored in the past as well. It was a great match and it was clean. Amanda is a champion, so it meant a lot to actually have a tough and accomplished opponent.”

The victory against Sobhy gave Grainger the sixth national championship of her career. However, this title was more rewarding.

During her previous five championship runs, Grainger was an active member on the squash tour and was also ranked one of the top players in the world.

Now things are different. Grainger has been retired from the tour for a few years now and is currently teaching and directing squash full-time at The Squash Club at Chelsea Piers Connecticut, a 12 International court state-of-the-art facility in Stamford.

“I could have showed up with the expectations of really having to play well, but I felt like there wasn’t as much pressure because of being retired,” Grainger said. “It meant a lot to me to win the event.”

In order to get ready for the championship, Grainger had to change things up a bit. With the success of The Squash Club at Chelsea Piers Connecticut, Grainger has been coaching quite a bit, but didn’t really have the time to play some competitive squash.

Leading up to the national championships, Grainger did her best to prepare. In the weeks before the championship, Grainger got in a couple of matches a week with some of her fellow pros that work at Chelsea Piers and from other pros from around the area.

While lightening her coaching in the days before the tournament, Grainger also entered a tournament in New York and played in the men’s division so she could get a little bit of match practice under her belt.

“We just finished with the height of the season and I just finished coaching in the junior championships, so my focus had to be on them,” Grainger said. “I was able to get a couple of matches a week with some pros and I entered a tournament in New York and played in the men’s division there, so I could get a little bit of match practice. That was really helpful and that gave me a wake-up call to remind me not to do too much coaching in the lead-up to competing because it makes your legs so heavy. I lightened my coaching mode a day or two leading up to the event.”

While winning the championship in front of all the local supporters was an amazing feeling for Grainger, seeing the Squash Club at Chelsea Piers roar to life was equally exciting.

“The club was able to hold a great championship,” Grainger said. “Everybody that I talked to had such a phenomenal time at the tournament. The masters players really enjoyed the club and seeing people enjoy the facility and having it spring to life with such a major championship was really exciting.”

Although competing at a high level, as well as winning championships, never gets old, don’t expect to see Grainger giving up coaching the sport she loves any time soon.

“The interesting thing about Chelsea Piers is that we have a lot of kids in our program that have never been exposed to the sport of squash,” Grainger said. “It’s great to have this facility Chelsea Piers and the ability to take squash outside of some of the private clubs and have kind of an all-access facility. To build a program where kids can enjoy the sport is phenomenal because it’s such a fun sport for young kids to try.”

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