51-year-old Carin Clonda plays in an Australian Open qualifying match at Woden. Photo: Graham Tidy
Former national selector Carin Clonda fears Australian squash is in a deep freefall unless there is an increased emphasis at the grassroots level.
Australia has just four players ranked inside the top 20 in the men's and women's divisions - Rachael Grinham (nine), Kasey Brown (10), Donna Urquhart (18) and Cameron Pilley (20).
The quartet are all in action at the Australian Open in Canberra this week.
Clonda - who has been ranked in the top 10 in the world and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2010 for her contribution to the sport - said urgent change was needed before the damage became permanent.
''Our sport is in crisis,'' Clonda said. ''There is hope, but until we get our heads out of the sand and stop being in denial, we're going to go nowhere.
''The Egyptians, the Americans and the English have got the right formula and we haven't caught up with them. There's no solid grassroot programs and that is an absolute must. We are not driving the sport into the schools.''
The 51-year-old continues to test herself at the elite level, getting wiped off the court in 14 minutes by Victorian Vanessa Pickerd at the Woden squash courts yesterday.
The 11-3, 11-5, 11-3 scoreline against a player almost half her age didn't dull Clonda's enthusiasm. The Sydneysider has been as high as No.5 in the world before her long run of injuries and illness began, which included:
■ Having her spine fused when she was 28;
■ Playing her entire professional career with life-threatening asthma;
■ Having permanent lung damage in her left lobe;
■ Having two hip operations - with her right hip still causing discomfort;
■ And has no cartilage in her right knee.
Yet she plays on, motivated by a simple desire to leave every last ounce of effort out on the court.
''I love squash, it's in my blood,'' she said. ''Training helps me keep alive because if I wasn't so fit I'd be dead by now with all the health issues I've got.
''I didn't get to No.1 because of my asthma and I want to challenge myself to see how high I can get in the world rankings.''
Currently ranked 139, Clonda's aim is to force her way back into the top 100.
In other matches yesterday, Australian qualifier Justin Beard was bundled out by New Zealander Martin Knight 11-5, 11-9, 9-11, 11-4.
Czech No.1 Jan Koukal ended veteran Australian Mike Corren's brave run with a 11-5, 11-2, 11-4 win. Corren, 38, had beaten players almost 20 years younger than him to make the main draw.
Egyptian Amr Khaled Khalifa downed New Zealand qualifier Evan Williams 12-10, 11-5, 11-8 and Ong Beng Hee beat fellow Malaysian Ivan Yuen 12-10, 11-8, 11-7. with AAP
Australian Open day three. Matches at the Woden squash courts from noon and National Convention Centre from 2pm.