The vicissitudes of the weather in Scotland's Highlands may not always be considered ideal for sports development but they played a part in the country's latest success story, as Greg Lobban revealed yesterday.
The 20-year-old arrived back in Edinburgh last night with his first senior professional trophy in his possession after winning the Professional Squash Association's Imet Open in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava. It was the perfect end to his first year in the pro ranks as he became the first Scot for two years to win a PSA event, in what was only his ninth outing.
The promise shown in his displays in the previous eight was reflected in his seeding at No.8 and, having matched that expectation by reaching the quarter-finals, his major breakthrough came at that stage when he beat Aqeel Rehman, the tournament's No.2 seed from Austria, in four games.
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He again upset the odds by beating the fifth-seeded Frenchman Lucas Serme in a tougher clash – he had to come back from two games to one down having lost the third 11-2 – while the other semi-final produced another upset, as England's Joel Hinds, seeded No.3, beat the top seed, Denmark's Rasmus Nielsen, also in five sets.
Lobban showed his strength to win the final in four games, exceeding even his own expectations.
"I think I set myself high targets but I didn't think a title was realistic before 2013," he said. "My target for this year was to get into the world's top 150 which seemed pretty ambitious considering that, at the start of the year I came in right at the bottom, at around number 400. When the December rankings came out, I was 116th and, with the points I've picked up from winning this, I could be around the 100 mark."
He still has a fair way to go to catch his fellow native Invernessian Alan Clyne – the 26-year-old currently occupies his career-best position at No.27 in the rankings – but Lobban knows he has to maintain this rate of progress if he is to get to the very top in his sport.
"The way squash is at the moment, it's hard to get into the big events so if I can keep climbing it opens the door," he said. "It's all to do with the rankings because only a set number of players get into each event. To get into the mid-range, bigger tournaments you have to get into the top 80 and, for the very big ones, you really have to be in the top 50."
It reflects well on Lobban, who is based in Edinburgh working under Roger Flynn, the Scottish national coach, and Neil Gibson, the strength and conditioning specialist, that he readily paid tribute to Robin Hamill, the coach who got him started in the sport.
However, with his younger sister Kirsty also climbing the ranks – she is currently fifth in the European standings – Lobban admitted that there genuinely is something in the air in Inverness that has played a part in their success: the wind, snow and rain.
"Our parents were both very talented in racket sports generally, but it was our coach Robin Hamill who was the inspiration," he said.
"There was one winter where it was just too cold for me to play tennis so I played squash instead and enjoyed it and Robin saw I had a decent eye for the ball and a wee bit of talent."
More than a wee bit it seems and he may have to do something about that natural modesty as he resets his targets for 2013.