After the best three weeks of his squash career, Englishman Charlie Lee is reflecting on an ongoing season which has ushered in a change of coaching stable and an invaluable chat in defeat with a current great, which has set him up with a place in May’s World Championships.
The 24-year-old Lee had been a long term member of the West Warwicks based Rob Owen collective. But he changed earlier this year to join up with former World No.1 David Palmer – the man they used to call ‘The Marine’ on tour for his work ethic and fitness – enjoying a training block at the Australian’s Cornell University base in Ithaca, New York.
That has prompted back-to-back titles at the E.M Noll Classic and Guilfoyle PSA Classic and a quarter-final appearance in the B&R Open which has insured a place at the World Championships as well as a wild card at next week’s Optasia Championships.
Yet it is the stable switch after seven years with Owen that has taken many by surprise, even though the likeable Lee was keen to affirm there was no acrimony between the two, and that both are still on excellent terms.
The World No.59 said: “I had worked with Rob Owen for the last seven years and I always worked with my dad (former world top 30, Danny) until I was 17 and he has always remained in my team but now I am working with David.
Unseeded @leecharlie98 removed 4 seeds at the @PSAChallenger Guilfoyle Classic in Toronto to win the 4th Tour title of his career https://t.co/QNANhLUsCy@englandsquash @DannyLeeSquash @stghltc @clarkysquash @SquashMadDotCom @squashplayermag @SquashSite pic.twitter.com/DYWpuDaZX8
— Squash Info (@SquashInfo) March 5, 2023
“I had a great seven years with Rob and we still remain close friends and he did amazing stuff for my squash, was a massive part of my career but it was just a good time to seek some fresh ideas for my squash.
So I got in touch with David (Palmer) and spent a couple of weeks with him just before Philadelphia at the start of the year and he has set me up with a lot of new things to work on.
“They do have different ways of operating and I have tried to take the best from working with both, but I am not working with Rob anymore so it is about focussing on my work with David.
“But Rob was supportive of it and he understood so it was all good and we are still on great terms and I appreciate everything he did for me both on and off court.”
Reflecting on his hot streak, the Kingston-Upon-Thames born ace said: “The first couple of weeks at the E.M Noll and the Guilfoyle were definitely the best two weeks of my squash career so far in terms of putting match by match together and the opponents I beat in the second one was very satisfying.
“It was the strongest 10k draw I’ve played. I looked at my run through to the final and it was tough with Tsz Kwan Lau in the quarters who beat Youssef Ibrahim the week before, David Baillargeon won a 10k the week before and Nathan Lake beat (Omar) Mossad this season and had a very close one with (Saurav) Ghosal.
“So these players had pedigree and I was delighted to come through that and hopefully it showed I am going in the right direction. I am happy with the improvements I am making and the results I have of late have been the icing on the cake in that respect.”
Lee has also started increasingly to feature in the main draws of the PSA World Tour and it was during one such foray in New Zealand that he renewed contact with another source of inspiration.
He says: “I played Mohamed (El Shorbagy) in New Zealand and that was an invaluable experience. He was about three foot in front of the T for most of the match and he really made me feel his presence, so to talk to him about that and get his thoughts on the areas he hurt me and vice versa was invaluable and validated what I was working on in training.
“I have known Mohamed for a while now and through the lockdown Jas (Hutton, Lee’s girlfriend) and I headed to Bristol, where I am close with Eain Yow (Ng) so I would go and train with him and Mo and it was a great opportunity to get some top class hits but I was also PSL team mates with Mo at St Georges.
“So he was always very open and helpful even before he became English! Especially in the PSL between games he would give me a lot of advice and share his experience and that is invaluable for someone like me making my way up.
“So to train with him, see how he operates and just converse with one of the greatest of all time is a massive help in terms of improving your game. But it really is very different training with him to playing him in a real match I can tell you.”
While the Englishman has failed to make the British Open draw he has earned a wild card for next week’s Optasia Championships where he will face Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi and that is a prospect he is relishing. He added: “I feel like I could have held my own at the British but I have got in to the World Champs and hopefully I can get the points I need there to haul me up into the Platinums.
“I have Abouelghar in the first round of the Irish but would rather be playing him in the British Open than a 20k which is an extremely tough draw, but to get the wild card in the Optasia against Al Tamimi is great and at this stage I feel I have a shot at it.
“Right now I am in a great place and I don’t think these guys will be that desperate to play me. At 24, I still feel I can achieve good things and I don’t look at my age too much and believe I can still go a lot further in the game for sure.”