Tesni goes for world glory at the pyramids

Tesni Evans heads to Cairo later this month, hoping to make more history in the suitably dramatic surroundings of the Egyptian pyramids.

Already the first Welsh female squash player to break into the world's top 10, Evans will hope to nudge that ranking a little higher as she competes at the PSA Women's World Championships (Oct 24 - Nov 1).

Having just celebrated her 27th birthday, one of the country's most impressive but least recognised global sports stars is feeling relaxed and at ease. Once a self-confessed brooder when her impatience got the better of her, the Commonwealth Games bronze medalist of last year spent the summer working on both mind and body.

Tesni Evans

And it seems to be paying off. The Bangor University-based athlete was back in Cardiff in the middle of October to play for the Welsh Wizards, Wales only Premier Squash League team.

She beat Joelle King - the world number six and Commonwealth Games gold medal winner last year - as the Wizards started their home campaign with a 4-1 victory over St. George's.

"I worked really hard over the summer on certain things that I felt I was lacking last season," says Evans.

"It was mainly off the court stuff - my physicality, for instance. I put a big concentration on that and worked hard.

"I wanted to be physically stronger. At the back end of last season, I wasn't always feeling amazing and fresh."

But she also worked on her mind - how to stay level-headed in an individualist sport where she often has to travel the world alone and there are no teammates to lift her after a poor performance or setback.

"The mental side is also really huge. I used to be really up and down and that was difficult to cope with. But I've worked hard with my psychologist to try and level out my feelings, to not get so up or down.

"I don't want to be too excited that I'm not relaxed, or too down about things. It's about finding that middle ground, which isn't always easy.

"I'm lucky to say I've never really suffered from mental health problems that can come from the sport, but I can completely see how it happens.

"We train every day in a career where we really want to achieve the most we can. When it doesn't work out, that can be really hard to take. You put so much effort and things don't work out, it can be easy to get really down.

"So, it's important to keep a clear head and have people around you that you trust and can easily talk to.

"I find that it is really important after I've played that I talk with someone. I don't want to get too down over a loss, or too over-excited by a win. Keeping on that even keel has a massive part to play in any sport."

Before making her season debut for the Wizards - who are next in action in Cardiff on November 26 against Coolhurst - Evans was in the USA where she reached the last eight of the US Open in September.

Quarter-finals are now the minimum requirement for Evans at most worldwide tournaments if she is to play to her ranking or above - a fact that has brought added pressures as well as the satisfaction of making that top 10 breakthrough.

"When you get into the top 10, there is a whole new pressure of expectation. That can be really hard when you go to a tournament and you have this new status. It can bring extra stress before you've even got on the court.

"When you scrape into a draw and no-one expects anything of you, it's still fun. You feel that even if the player is better than you, you can just be free to give it a really good go.

"But now, I know that other players are feeling that about me. You have to adjust. There is always another level to get to and you have to work on those fine margins in order to look forward and improve."

Reaching the quarter-finals in Cairo would be another huge achievement for Evans - especially as the sport is dominated by Egyptians in both the men's and women's game and their home support is noisy and intense.

Between them, Nour El Sherbini and her compatriot Raneem El Welily have won the last four world championships and Evans says: "Being in Egypt, the Egyptians are going to be really fired up - and they take up most of the draw!

"It's always going to be tough at the World Championships because everyone wants to do well there. But I feel good and I've had a good couple of first tournaments this season."

And if things don't work out, then at least no-one can spoil the view.

"It's being held at the pyramids, so that's a pretty cool venue. It's going to be something pretty special."