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Monday August 26, 2013 MYT 8:37:00 AM
Monday August 26, 2013 MYT 11:07:10 AM
We pay tribute to one of the all time greats of women's squash.
PETALING JAYA: For the last eight years Nicol David has ruled the women's squash circuit. Since her breakthrough year in 2005 when she bagged both World and British Opens, she has been the game's top player. Even if she were to give up the game today, she has already done enough to rank among the all-time greats in her field. How many Malaysians can make that claim?
I still remember it as if it was yesterday. Watching my first ever squash game on NTV7 in 2001, when Nicol beat Egyptian player Omneya Abdul Kawy in straight sets to record her second World Junior Championship win in her home state, Penang.
Even by her mid-teens, she had pocketed adult-level Asian championships and world junior championships, but the future Datuk Nicol Ann David never stopped pushing for more. In fact she was known for a while as the Duracell Bunny thanks to her work rate and determination.
Nicol's father was a state footballer while her sisters, Lianne and Cheryl, were accomplished squash juniors.
Born on Aug 26, 1983, the Convent Green Lane secondary school student dreamt of becoming an engineer but the call was too strong.
Nicol started playing squash when she was five and when she turned eight, she received coaching at the Bukit Dumbar Squash Centre.
She was also precocious and once was drubbed 9-0, 9-0, 9-0 in a junior tournament when she was only 11 and competing against much older players. Nicol cheerfully learnt her lesson and came back stronger.
In 1999, Nicol announced her arrival on the world stage when she won the World Junior Championship in Antwerp, Belgium. At 15, she became the youngest junior world champion at the time! Two years later, she became the first junior female to win the World Junior Squash Championship twice! Incidentally those records have been matched or broken by Egyptian prodigies Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Weleily.
Nicol's early years as a pro were a bit slow (by her high standards) as she focused on academic excellence for a while. The bold decision to move to Amsterdam to train with former world no 2 Liz Irving showed her determination and mental strength that other Malaysians would do well to match.
In 2005, Nicol stamped her mark by becoming the youngest world champion and winning the British Open by beating Natalie Grinham in straight games.
After that, it was all Nicol!
She has won the Asian Squash Championship a record eight times, the British Open four times and the World Open a record seven times.
In fact squash historians will tell you that she is there among the best of all time. Only 16-time British Open champion Heather Mckay-Blundell of Australia has a clear lead in terms of major trophies.
Other challengers include Janet Morgan ( who won 10 British Open titles in the 1950s) and New Zealander Dame Susan Devoy who won the British Open eight times and the World Open four times.
Michelle Martin who won three World Open titles and bagged six British Opens in the 90s and fellow Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald who won the World Open five times and the British Open twice are other contenders, but it is clear that Nicol has a special place even among those at the very top.
Currently she is fighting off players like Laura Massaro from England, long time rival Natalie Grinham from Netherlands and Republic of Ireland's Madeline Perry as well as the two Egyptians.
Yet it feels as if her biggest challenge is lobbying for the sport to be included in the 2020 Olympics. Even though she would be 37 that year, I wouldn't bet against Nicol.
Whatever her future achievements, she will always be an idol to all Malaysians. She has made Malaysia proud through her achievements and her humility. Happy birthday Datuk Nicol David!
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