Ball fights back

WORLD-class squash player Bradley Ball has made a spectacular comeback from a career-threatening injury just weeks before he was about to drop off the bottom of the world rankings list.

WORLD-class squash player Bradley Ball has made a spectacular comeback from a career-threatening injury just weeks before he was about to drop off the bottom of the world rankings list.

Having already missed the majority of 2003 with a knee injury, Ball's injury curse struck again at the end of last year when a back problem that he had tried playing through turned out to be a herniated disc.

Ball explains: “After one particular game I decided to go and get it checked out as the disc was protruding quite a bit out of my back and it turned out it was pushing through my cytic nerve.

“The pain when I moved on it felt like a little electric shock going down my leg. I went and had a scan and they knew straight away I had to have an operation.

“It was frustrating because I had been doing really well, I was up to 23 in the world, my highest ever ranking, and had been picked for England.”

Ball, who turns 30 this year, went to Cambridge hospital for the surgery in December 2005. He said: “The pain that I was in before the operation was unbelievable, I couldn't walk or even just sit in a car.

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“After the operation, straight away I felt much better, but two or three weeks later the pain came back again. The first four months I was just sitting around doing nothing, resting and laying around on the floor.

“It was just killing me sitting at home and there were points where I thought I was never going to make it, all sorts of things were going around in my mind.”

Just to keep busy and to keep some funds flowing with competition winnings non existent, Ball started to work behind the bars at both Ipswich and Martlesham Sports Clubs, his two training and playing venues.

He continued: “By the end of February I tried a bit of swimming, but I still had back problems and it was hurting. I had to have continuous rehab physio and spent hours and hours in the pool, but it was just knock back after knock back and it didn't seem as if it wanted to go away.

“By June, I went to New York and did a squash camp with some kids and was offered a job there. I was very close to quitting and taking them up, but I just suddenly decided to persevere.

“At the start of July there were a few signs it was picking up. I was doing pilates, some more advanced stretching and a programme of weights. Eventually I was able to start training one or two times a week and then slowly I increased that to three times a week, although I still had little setbacks and often had to have two or three days off to recover.”

By this stage, Ball had dropped to No. 58 in the world after 10 months without playing a ranking tournament, and with his early season results slowly slipping off the end of the moving calendar, he knew he had to move quickly.

He said: “I knew that if I didn't play in a tournament at that stage, I would have dropped off the rankings list into the 200s, meaning I would have had to build up from the bottom again in all the satellite events.

“Come August, I had been playing constantly for three or four weeks, but still had played no real competitive matches and everyone was telling me not to rush back but I still decided to give it a go.

“In my comeback match, I beat the No. 50 in the world 3-0 in a qualifier. I was just smiling the whole game and was just so happy to be playing again.”

From there, Ball travelled to Barcelona in September to play in a tournament he had won twice before. Amazingly, despite the speed of his return, Ball won it once again.

Then, last month, Ball travelled to Canada to play in four tournaments in order to further rescue his world ranking.

Ball said: “In the first two, I made both semi-finals, which was OK.

“In the third however, I knocked out world No. 32 and ex-British champion Simon Park in the quarter-finals and in the semis, I beat world No. 19 and No. 1 seed for the tournament Graham Ryding 3-2.

Again I was just smiling the whole time.

“I was playing the best squash I had ever played, even before I was injured.

“In the final I eventually lost to my training partner and good friend Peter Barker, but in the fourth tournament I beat the No. 1 seed in the final 3-0.

“That week was just unbelievable for me. I just thought about the whole year I had had and it was extremely emotional.”

The current world rankings, which are made up of results from the year proceeding November 1, see Ball back up to 47th place. He hopes to be in a higher position come the start of December.

He said: “I have only got seven tournaments contributing towards my ranking at the moment whereas everyone else has got 12 or 13.

“So whatever I get now, I can only move up. Eventually, I want to get back into the top 20 and try to get back in the England team.

“In terms of my injury, I am very aware of my back and my No. 1 priority is to maintain it now.

“It is always in the back of my mind and I can't just forget about it because that is when I will get injured.”

Ball added: “I wouldn't have recovered from this without the help of a number of people including, England Squash, who never abandoned me, and some good friends, who without I wouldn't have got through it.”

Ball's next tournament will be in Tenerife on December 12. He will be seeded at No. 2.

He will then go on a six-week tour of Canada and the US in the New Year, before he once again plays for Martlesham in the new season of the Super League in February.