|Venue: Inverness Tennis & Squash Club Dates: 20-24 September|
|Coverage: Watch the semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday live on the BBC Sport website & app and on the BBC iPlayer|
You would think a Commonwealth Games medal would be something to prize. To hold close. To not let out of your sight.
Team Scotland squash player Rory Stewart half grins, half winces as he confesses to playing a little fast and loose with his, won at Birmingham 2022 when he partnered Greg Lobban to a podium place in the doubles.
“I almost lost the medal,” confesses Stewart. “Aye, really. We took it out to the dancing to celebrate when we got back and my friend woke up with it round his neck.
“There was a wee bit of panic. But I think I always knew one of my friends had it.
“There must have been about eight or nine of us and they were all trying it on, making up ridiculous sports and claiming that they’d won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games.
“They were telling folk they’d won it in the pole vault, the 100 metres sprint… aye, right, an overweight guy thinking anyone would believe that.”
Honestly? It sounds like a great night out. Epic. Legendary. Complete with heroic levels of bluffing. The sort of carry-on that makes all the hard work worthwhile.
For Stewart, who made his Games debut last summer, the entire experience in Birmingham felt like reward for a lifetime of effort. Not that he’s in any mood to ease up. Not even a little bit.
The 27-year-old, who hails from the tiny village of Muthill, just outside Crieff, explained: “Just getting there, my first Games, I was a bit touch and go whether I would make it or not.
“Knowing that it’s the biggest stage for our sport, I achieved just by getting there.
“No-one can deny that I then over-achieved massively, in the singles certainly [reaching the quarter-finals]. Maybe not in the doubles, because we would have liked the gold.
“But I’m pretty proud that I didn’t crumble on the biggest stage. I don’t think I would have been able to live with myself if I’d blown that moment.
“Being a squash player, you’re sometimes lucky if you get a lift to the venue. Lucky if the club provides food for you.
“Going into a Commonwealth Games environment, with all the elite athletes, access to everything you needed, whether that was physio or just someone to talk to.
“Even just getting your dinner! That was the big thing for me, honestly. Having a big dining hall for everyone. When all that’s taken care of, it makes it so much easier to focus on competing.
“It was amazing. We’re just unsure if the next couple are going to go ahead, eh?”
‘Covid made me realise what I wanted’
Uncertainty over the future of the Commonwealth Games aside, Stewart can see a clear path for himself over the next few years.
Just outside the world’s top 40, he aims to break into a bracket that would effectively guarantee his invitation to every major tournament on the world tour. After that, anything is possible.
Like so many elite athletes, he was a multi-sport kid, playing football and golf as well as squash. His mum, Susan, is a squash coach, dad Andrew is sporty and brother Greig, two years his senior, was always playing something.
Young Rory was often told to tag along and keep himself busy.
Good enough to be picked for Scotland as a teenager, meaning trips all over Scotland, his life now involves constant movement. Mainly from airport to hotel to squash court, before reversing the journey.
A self-confessed moaner in games, he’s also of the ‘better out than in’ school of thought when it comes to frustrations away from competition. A perfectly normal person, in other words.
“France, Qatar, India and then Inverness,” said Stewart, rattling out his travel itinerary leading into the Scottish Open in the Highlands, where he’s top seed for the PSA Challenger Tour event.
“How do I deal with travelling? Not very well. It obviously comes with the sport, everyone has to do it. Some up in first class and business class. Others, like myself, in the back of the plane.
“I’ve had a lot of bad losses on tour. Being stuck away in some not very nice places.
“It always comes back to France for some reason. Nothing against the place but I’ve been in some not very nice towns there when I’ve played in not very nice clubs – and lost. I’ve found myself thinking: ‘Why am I doing this?’
“But the saving grace for me was probably Covid. Getting five or six months away from the game made me realise it was what I wanted to do. I missed the sport.
“When we were allowed back, I put more effort into training consistently, built up a good level to play in tournaments again. I hit the ground running and it’s been an upward spiral since then.”