It's not surprising that Alicia McConnell plans to take some time off from squash after she graduates from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring. She's the best female player in the world, but she desires a new, more lucrative challenge.
"After graduation, I'll probably play tennis . . . all day," said McConnell, who is the top seed in this weekend's Chivas Regal Classic at the Capitol Hill Squash Club. "I don't want to give up squash completely, just take a leave of absence for a while.
"There's not much money in it," she said. "Even if I played in tournaments and gave lessons and clinics, I still wouldn't make much. And that's a lot of time and energy to devote without the reward."
Indeed, there's a mere $17,500 in prize money for both men and women in this weekend's tournament, $600 to the women's winner.
Aside from the money, competitive boredom might drive McConnell away from squash. She has not lost a tournament match in more than three years. In fact, she rarely is challenged.
"It's always three out of five, and I usually win, 3-0. I should win, 3-0," she said. She's not cocky, just certain.
McConnell, 21, is the youngest of three children from Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Like many good squash players, her skills were born at a club, the Heights Casino Club, and nurtured through the Ivy League.
"I started playing tennis when I was 9, then when squash became more popular I got more into that," she said. "When I was younger, I played every sport I could get my hands on." She is on the Penn women's lacrosse team because she cannot compete as an amateur in squash since turning pro last November.
She gradually devoted more and more time to squash until she reached the point of being unbeatable.
At 5 feet 8, 155 pounds, she is stronger than most of the women on the professional tour. "I hit harder and run faster than most women," she said. "Usually I'll get the shots they hit and they eventually get frustrated."
Because of her dominance, comparisons to another racket-sports nonpareil, tennis player Martina Navratilova, are natural.
"I don't mind the comparison," she said. "I kind of enjoy it. But it's so difficult to compare us."
After all, squash still is a private sport, reserved for the country club set. "Tennis used to be like that, too, but then the sport went public," she said. "Squash has to be spread and talked about."
Almost certainly, McConnell will win this weekend, and almost certainly, she will not be hard-pressed. Is her superiority bad for the game?
"In a way, it is," she said. "But the best part of winning for so long is the other women work harder than they ever have . . . and the game has really improved."
Top-seeded Mark Talbott of Boston defeated Brad Desaulniers of Montreal, 15-10, 15-10, 18-14, in an opening round match of the Chivas Regal Squash Classic last night at Capitol Hill Squash Club.
There were no upsets on the opening day of the four-day tournament. Play continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.