It hurt him at the time, but Edinburgh squash player Doug Kempsell now believes that the national selectors did him a favour when they left him out of the Scottish team for last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
As he continues to celebrate his first professional title, won in Switzerland last week, Kempsell can still remember how he felt last April when he and Lyall Paterson were the unlucky two players to be omitted from a shortlist of five.
His 21st birthday, just a few days later, was not surprisingly a subdued affair, but did the sense of disappointment actually have a positive effect on him?
“100 per cent, yes,” agreed Kempsell. “Once I got my head straight, I wanted to prove that I should have been picked.”
His recovery was rapid, reaching the Ipswich Open final last May plus four other semi-finals before eventually clinching his maiden title at the Geneva Open last Sunday.
“It was relief more than anything, finally getting my first title,” he recalled. “Losing in the first round in Zurich the week before really spurred me on in Geneva and gave me an extra push when everything seemed to be against me. I lost my squash bag and keys flying home from Zurich!”
Training with Scotland’s top two players – Alan Clyne and Greg Lobban – at Heriot-Watt University has also toughened up Kempsell, who admitted: “It’s good for everyone to see what they are achieving. Greg is just a little bit older than me as well. We’re quite close, but it can be very competitive at times, especially at the Scottish Nationals. There’s no mercy then!”
The three amigos are set to put their rivalries aside at the European Team Championship in Denmark at the end of April when Scotland will be desperate to end a frustrating sequence of results.
“We’ve finished fourth for the past three years, always being pipped to the bronze medal by the same German team,” sighed Kempsell. “But we’re still a young team and we’ve got really high hopes for at least a bronze.”
A medal of any colour would be doubly satisfying as he has a soft spot for this tournament, having made his name at the 2013 event in Amsterdam before enjoying even greater success at that summer’s World Team Championship in France.
“It’s a weird scenario,” said Kempsell. “You’re playing matches as an individual, but it’s also a team event, so in a strange way there’s maybe less pressure on you because you know that your team-mates are there to back you up if you lose.”
As part of their build-up, Kempsell and Lobban could go head-to-head at this week’s North of Scotland Open in Aberdeen, where Kempsell was a quarter-finalist last year but has been handed an awkward first round draw against Dutch fourth-seed Piedro Schweertman.
“It’s one of the few home professional tournaments, and with $10,000 in prize money it’s one of the bigger ones,” he said. “Greg is the number two seed, but Alan is away playing in Egypt instead.”
This week also means a nervous wait for the new PSA world rankings to be published, and although Kempsell’s Geneva victory may not be quite enough to see him break into the top 100 for the first time, his meteoric rise from number 422 in August 2012 will definitely continue.
“I should get into the top 110 at least,” he predicted. “Maybe I’ll be a couple of places outside the top 100, but if I do make it then I’ll be ecstatic.”