England international Jenny Duncalf is determined to retain her women's title in next week's British National Squash Championships in Manchester - despite the "shock" that greeted last year's surprise winner on the eve of the event.
The championships, which will take place for the sixth year at the National Squash Centre in Sportcity from 12-17 February, have attracted world class fields from throughout the UK. In addition to the men's and women's open events, the tournament - in its 12th successive year in Manchester - will feature Masters championships in age-group categories ranging from Over-35 to Over-70.
At the request of the Women’s International Squash Players’ Association, which wants to trial the system adopted on the men’s professional tour for the past three years, the Nationals' organisers are introducing 'point-a-rally' scoring for the women's event, instead of the traditional 'hand-in hand-out' scoring.
"I was pretty shocked," said Duncalf when news reached the 25-year-old world No8 from Harrogate in Yorkshire. "It had never been used before in a big tournament, and no-one asked our opinion.
"I don’t think I have ever played in a tournament with it, but you have to try to move forward with the times. I guess it’s good for WISPA to use the nationals as a measuring stick. It will be interesting to see if it makes the game more attacking."
Duncalf feels that the new scoring system may work in her favour - she has an attacking style and is one of the most naturally-talented players.
After a bad patch in 2006, when her world ranking fell from a career-high number six down to 12, Duncalf made a breakthrough at the beginning of last year - coming through the Nationals as sixth seed to beat favourite Tania Bailey, then Irish international Madeline Perry, before ousting her second England team-mate Alison Waters in the final.
The triumph raised her morale, and suggested that she could still improve. Individually it was, she said, the most important success of her career.
Duncalf went on to win the European Individual Championship title for the second year running - thereafter making it to the quarter-finals of the World Open in Madrid and then the final of the Carol Weymuller Open in New York. The result was a deserved return to the world's top ten.
Whilst not the favourite to defend her title in Manchester, Duncalf believes she will have more pressure upon her than last year.
Seeded three, Duncalf begins her 2008 campaign against Derbyshire fire-fighter Laura Hill - and is likely to have to beat England team-mate Vicky Botwright - the No2 seed and local favourite from Manchester - in the semi-finals if she is to make the final for the second successive year.
Women's 1st round draw:
 Tania Bailey (Lincs) v Laura Mylotte (Ireland)
 Alison Waters (Middx) v Qualifier
 Laura Lengthorn-Massaro (Lancs) v Sarah Kippax (Cheshire)
 Dominique Lloyd-Walter (Middx) v Qualifier
 Lauren Briggs (Essex) v Rebecca Botwright (Lancs)
 Jenny Duncalf (Yorks) v Laura Hill (Derbyshire)
 Madeline Perry (Ireland) v Qualifier
 Vicky Botwright (Lancs) v Qualifier
Check out www.psalive.tv for details on web-streaming coverage of the 2008 British Nationals
For ticket details, visit the official website: www.nationalsquashchamps.co.uk
photo Getty Images
photo Getty images