In a glass cage at Amsterdam’s France Auten stadium, she won her sixth national title on Sunday and fourth in a row. Reward after the four-day tournament: €500. Secret information, according to Milo van der Heyden. I had to travel back and forth from Eindhoven to Amsterdam for four days. That is why winning the NK title is more honorable than making a lot of money with it.”
Van der Heijden thinks the Squash Bond Nederland (SBN) mini-game could have been a bit more generous. “500 euros for the winner is the only amount that the federation issues annually for me as a player. In fact, there has been no financial support from the federation throughout my career.”
However, she has recently committed herself to SBN. She has also been the National Trainer for Dutch Women and Girls for a few months now. On Sunday she won the final of the Dutch National Championship (3-1) against Tessa ter Siles, a competition she now shares with as the national coach. With her new position, Van der Heijden followed in the footsteps of Father Sjef. He was a national coach for many years and has his own squash center. Dylan Bennett’s half-brother is still an active squash player.
Her father and brother tried to wean Van der Heyden away from squash at a young age. “But I spent whole days at the gym. Then you automatically go on the right track yourself. I used to dance before, but I missed the competitiveness there. That’s what I love most about squash, and also that you take responsibility if you lose.”
She proved to be good at squash and became – by far – the best in the Netherlands. Van der Heijden is relatively small (1 m 60), agile and fast. She decided to pursue her passion and has been a professional player since 2009. In order to earn a living, she has traveled around the world for years to play tournaments and competitions. She occasionally ran a crowdfunding campaign to fund it.
In addition to the small SBN, it also received a small amount of financial support from the university sports organization NOC-NSF. Squash is not an Olympic sport, and it did not take first place (with a minimum wage). “There is simply no money for squash,” says van der Heyden, who is now 39th in the world rankings.
She says the coronavirus epidemic has had a major negative impact on squash. Many vacationers turned to the popular paddle game – after all, you can also play it in the fresh air. “I like squash so much more because it goes faster.” She herself can no longer earn money at the start and prizes in the ring. Many foreign competitions and tournaments were dropped. “I always say I’m a professional athlete, but if I’m being honest I can’t say I’ve been that way for the past year and a half.”
Van der Heijden had to find other ways to make money. She created her own brand of squash apparel. “And now I teach amateurs at my father’s squash center. While I really like this, I realize this is pretty crazy. As the best Dutch tennis player, Kiki Bertens has never had to teach to earn extra money.” She is now allowed to travel again. Since this summer, she has already played in Manchester, Hull, Cairo, Bremen and Philadelphia. As well as the Dutch National Championship in Amsterdam.
Her big goal now: “We will do everything we can to make the future of squash in the Netherlands more rosy. We need new growth. It’s still very difficult, because squash is not a well-known sport that children play quickly. Most children who start playing squash have a parent who plays it as well. There must be a turning point.”
Will there soon be a padel stadium at Wimbledon Central?
Padel, which came from Spain, is growing explosively. Players say its strength lies in its accessibility. “After an hour of lessons, you can already play a nice game.”
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