November 29, 2009

SOUTH AFRICA: Roland Watson rocks in old age

. JOHANNESBURG, South Africa / / November 29, 2009 Where Are They Now? By Neale Emslie Thirty years ago, when Roland Watson ruled the squash courts of South Africa, his passion for the game burnt brightly. That passion is still in evidence except Watson, 63, now directs his energy towards his family, his ministry in the Methodist church, his woodwork and his plants. TRANQUILITY: Roland Watson with plants he grows and sells. South Africa's former top squash player focuses on home improvements - when he is not making rocking chairs Picture: Mark West Living in a quiet cul-de-sac in Port Elizabeth, Watson happily calls the Eastern Cape - he moved there with his wife of 40 years, Ruth, 11 years ago - home, despite spending most of his life in Gauteng. He has a son who lives in Pretoria but his two daughters, who were studying when they moved to Port Elizabeth, also live in the Eastern Cape. "We love it here, it's quiet and peaceful," says Watson. "We kept a place in Pretoria for a while, but every time we went back we noticed changes and decided this was the place, so we sold and bought here." Watson was South Africa's highest-yet ranked squash player in the 1970s and early '80s. He retired in 1984, aged 38, and turned full time to the ministry, gaining a theology degree from Unisa. He spent seven years in Bela Bela (formerly Warmbaths) in Limpopo and seven years at the Lorraine Methodist in Port Elizabeth before retiring in 2006. But despite his retirement, he's not slowing down. "I'm into home improvement," he says, showing off his house with pride. He built a small swimming pool and two inter-linked fish ponds he fills with rainwater from 5000-litre tanks he installed. He also sells plants, but his main love is making rocking chairs. "Only two of us in the country make this type of rocking chair - mothers go mad over them," Watson says. "I have made 110 and I sell them from home through word of mouth." Watson is no longer active on the court, although he still plays squash occasionally with relatives. But he may also be about to call time on that. "I did my Achilles a while back and when I tried again, I was hit by a racket and my wrist swelled up, so I thought maybe it was time to end this," he says. Nonetheless, he has fond memories of his time at the top of South African squash. "My best year was 1977," Watson recalls. "I got to the final of the Aussie Open, the New Zealand Open and the SA Open and (Australian Geoff) Hunt beat me in them all." Watson earned his SA colours in 1972 before, still an amateur, registering the best win of his career by beating world No2 Ken Hiscoe. In 1973, he turned professional, forced his way into the top 10 and stayed there for the next 10 years, attaining a world ranking of six, a feat that has not been matched by any other SA player. What elevated Watson above the rest during his reign? "Like any top sportsman, you have to love the game, that's No1," Watson says. "And being No1 in squash you've really got to work. "Players such as (Pakistani) Hiddy Jahan and Hunt were gifted, but once (British player Jonah) Barrington made it an endurance sport, Hunt had to concentrate on his fitness as much as his strokes." Like Hunt, Watson was also disciplined about his conditioning. "I did a 12km run Monday to Saturday, went to gym five days a week and was on court for two to three hours a day. "That was before going on the circuit because once you're playing tournaments you've got to look after your body. But that's how I used to train." Comparing eras, Watson believes players are more willing to go for their shots in the modern game. "Our game was more endurance. Today, they go a bit more for their shots, but I don't keep up with it that much because it's late at night on TV and I don't feel like taping it." [rc] © 2009 AVUSA, Inc.