EXACTLY one year ago, Lisa Aitken made her return to squash. Early in her career, the internationalist had made her mark on the global squash scene by reaching the world’s top forty and representing Scotland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games but in the summer of 2014, disaster struck.

While competing in the Malaysian Open, Aitken was bitten by a mosquito and was struck down by dengue fever, which is a tropical disease that causes extreme tiredness amongst other things.

Aitken was hit particularly badly by it, and was forced to take a prolonged break of almost two years from the game. However, the Montrose native never lost her love of squash and remained driven to return, despite the low points. She overcame the challenges of her illness and made her return in January of last year at the prestigious Edinburgh Open.

One year on, with the 2018 Edinburgh Open beginning next week at the Edinburgh Squash Club, Aitken could not be more pleased with how things have gone over the last twelve months. Last summer, she won her first-ever World Tour title, the New Zealand Open, before following that up a couple of months later with another title in Switzerland.

Aitken’s form in 2017 saw her rise consistently in the world rankings, improving her position each month to 59th, where she ended the year. But what was most encouraging for 27 year-old was her final tournament of last year – the World Championships. Aitken defeated the world number 25, Coline Aumard of France before ultimately losing out to former world number one Rachael Grinham.

The defeat of such a highly ranked player though gave Aitken the belief she needed that she is going in the right direction and she entered 2018 eager to build on her impressive form “The win at the Worlds was such a big confidence boost – I’d won quite a few tournaments throughout the year but I hadn’t beaten anyone of her calibre,” she said.

“I was feeling good because I’d got some good results in the smaller 5k tournaments so to then get a win against someone of her ranking was great. That win did feel better than when I’d played against some of the lesser-ranked players because that’s what it’s all about – beating higher ranked players.”

With Aitken now a resident of the capital city next week’s Edinburgh Open takes place at her home club and she cannot wait to get on court. She is a different player from the player who came through the ranks a decade ago though and is confident that despite the strength of the entry list - there are a number of the world’s top 50 competing - she can be fighting for the title.

Aitken’s enforced lay-off due to dengue fever may have been intensely frustrating at the time but there are, she insists, positives that have come from her time out, namely a change in mindset when it comes to her training. “I’m doing things a lot differently now – I’ve made a lot of changes in my training,” she said. “I’m making sure that every session has a purpose. And I’m making sure that I’m not doing too much – although that’s quite hard to do. Before, I’d do so much training each week - maybe only about 50 percent of it was beneficial but all I’d be thinking was about the volume of training that I was doing and I’d think that was the most important thing. It’s hard to get used to less being more and that’s something that I’m still battling with. But I’m seeing the benefits of the changes I’ve made so that’s been great.”

To date, two squash players, Greg Lobban and Alan Clyne, have been selected for Scotland for the Commonwealth Games, which begin in less than three months time.

Aitken has still not had the call-up but she has been concentrating on the mixed doubles alongside her partner Kevin Moran, which is where she believes the pair have a real medal chance at the Commonwealth Games. And with an extremely successful selection tournament last month, she is hopeful that with further selections for Team Scotland due in the coming weeks, she will be on the plane to Australia’s Gold Coast. “Kevin and I have done all we can so we just need to wait and see if we’re selected.,” she said. “At the selection tournament in Manchester, we beat the silver medallists from the World Championships and the last Commonwealth Games twice so we’ve gone from thinking that we’re very lucky to be in contention to now thinking that a medal at the Games is a realistic prospect.

“We’re both willing to really focus on the doubles and so we’re really excited about where we can go with it – we still have a lot to work on but we’re feeling good. And Scotland have a good record in doubles so hopefully we can continue that.”