Nicol David still aiming for squash domination
It takes just one question for Nicol David to reveal why she is the most decorated female squash player of all-time and one of the greats of modern sport.
When asked, on the eve of the 2017 PSA World Squash Championships in Manchester, England, whether she would prefer to win another world title or the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal, the eight-time world champion and two-time defending Commonwealth Games champion replied simply, “Maybe both.”
“They have their different meanings,” she adds, laughing.
“Being a world champion is really something no one can take away from you, to be the best in the world.
"The Commonwealth Games are in the Commonwealth, yes, but it’s a multi-sport games and it’s at the highest level for squash. Nearly all the best countries are there. To get both of them is just one of the best feelings.”
Malaysia’s sporting queen has enjoyed an extraordinary career. Forget the over-used ‘Roger Federer of squash’ label, she is the Nicol David of this high-octane, global sport. And it all started at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, hosted in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was 14 and I came in with the Malaysian team as the last country into the stadium (at the Opening Ceremony) and 80,000 people in the stadium just started roaring and cheering,” David recalls.
“The stadium felt like it was almost about to break apart. They were so loud, so powerful – every time I think about that moment it still gives me goosebumps.”
The teenager went on to win her opening round before losing in the last 16 to England’s No.4 seed, Linda Charman – “Not bad for a 14-year-old,” as David says.
It started a love affair with the Commonwealth Games that is still burning brightly some 19 years later.
“I have been working towards the world championships and hopefully that will set me up to next peak in the Gold Coast, that is the highlight for next year,” says the woman who, at 34 years old, is ranked six in the world.
After the high of her hometown debut, the burgeoning star went to the 2002 Manchester Games and won mixed doubles silver. By the time the multi-sport extravaganza visited Delhi, in 2010, David was utterly dominant. World champion for the first time in 2005, the Malaysian went to the Indian capital with a further four world titles in her kit bag and on the back of a record-setting 56-match unbeaten run which ended in 2009.
“Delhi was really emotional for me. I had missed out on a medal in Melbourne (2006 Games) so to win that one was really special,” David says. “To do it there, you are amongst the greats of squash and the greats of other sports.
“You feel you are at the same level as other Commonwealth Games gold medallists. It’s such a great high. You watch these others on TV, you follow them and they are right next to you and you are part of the same group of athletes.”
Another singles gold in the Glasgow 2014 Games came amid a staggering stretch of 109 consecutive months as world No.1. That remarkable run came to an end two years ago and led on to a 2016 season in which, for the first time since she joined the PSA World Tour in 2000, David failed to make a final. Such an unprecedented dip in form prompted murmurings that perhaps the great career was finally winding down.
David was having none of it. An unquenchable desire to improve allied to a drop in the height of the tin (the strip at the bottom of the front wall above which every shot must go), for the women’s game, has seen her shrug off all the naysayers.
“I have been working on so many things, attacking, playing faster, with no fear – to match the generation that’s here right now,” she says with a smile.
“It’s a really exciting time for women’s squash, the lowering of the tin so the space on the court has opened up a bit more now. You have to work the court when you can.
“I have been playing this game for so long and now I have to adjust. It has taken time but it’s really coming together.”
It certainly is. In March 2017 David won the Ciudad de Floridablanca, her first World Tour title in 15 months. A freedom has crept into David’s outlook, which can’t help but make her even more of a dangerous opponent.
“It is a real bonus, competing at the top still and feeling really good. That is what I tell myself, just to give it a good go,” she laughs.
“I am so enjoying the younger generation coming through, pushing that barrier up higher. It makes it very exciting for the game. The challenge keeps me going and when you see things coming through and working it gets the adrenaline going and makes me want more and more.”
Watch out GC2018, you have been warned: the greatest of all-time will not give up her crown lightly.
The singles squash competition will start on Thursday 5 April, with finals on Monday 9 April. The doubles competition starts on Tuesday 10 April with finals on Sunday 15 April. The memories will last, but tickets won't. Secure your tickets.
This article was produced by AMP Media.