The secret to Nicol David’s squash superstardom
Malaysia’s Nicol David is one of the greatest squash players to ever pick up a racket but her reign as the queen of the sport wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for her Brisbane-born coach, Liz Irving.
The eight-time world champion counts her partnership with Irving as the key ingredient to her success.
David has been training under the guidance of Irving for 15 years, since she was a junior, a tenure almost unheard of in any sport.
“It was the turning point of my squash career,” David told GC2018.com.
“I moved over to Amsterdam to train with Liz and if I didn’t do that, I would have stopped squash before [now].
“A coach relationship like this has never been done before and the success that has come from it, it’s not really known in any other sport as well.
“She’s an inspiration to me and a true mentor that has just guided me along the way.”
David has become an icon of the sport and it’s almost impossible to imagine the last 15 years without her presence on the court.
She famously held the world number one ranking for 108 consecutive months, drawing comparisons to tennis greats Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
The key to her longevity, according to Irving, is keeping it fresh.
“You go through so many different stages as a player and a coach,” Irving told GC2018.com.
“I think we’ve been able to keep it stimulated, not get into this monotonous, saying the same thing over and over again and doing the same thing.
“We’re always exploring new things and absolutely important to work with other coaches as well so we get a different view.”
There is an obvious, deep mutual respect between David and Irving.
When David was coming through the ranks as a junior, Irving was nearing retirement. It was David who approached Irving about the prospect of training with her.
“There wouldn’t have been any coach or person that would find what really gets me going and what the real essentials are all about and Liz has been there,” David said.
“She’s been a champion for Australia and former world number two so she knows what she’s talking about, so I just listened and trusted that she knew what it takes.”
“Trust comes into it,” Irving added.
“And we get on well as people. That’s also really key. We’re friends. I mean, sometimes I have to wear my coach hat and get a bit tougher but other times we have a bit of a giggle and we’re on a really equal level with each other.”
Irving is a star of the sport in her own right and her success has continued through the transition from playing to coaching.
Like training partners push each other to be better, Irving’s partnership with David has taught her some valuable lessons about coaching.
“I think what Nicol has done is pushed me to have to real think about a lot of levels, because Nicol is a champion,” Irving said.
“Since she was a junior she’s been a true champion, she has amazing potential. So that comes with a lot of responsibility on my part.
“I have to think clearly about things, draw on a lot of my experience, talk to other coaches, problem solve, find ways to help her in the best way possible so it’s really pushed me a lot.”
When David talks about her squash career, her words are infused with gratitude.
Gratitude for Irving, for believing in her and sticking by her over the years, and for her home country of Malaysia.
David competed in her first Commonwealth Games at 14, in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, the year squash made its Games debut.
Being a home Games, the sport and its athletes, David included, received significant media attention and support from the nation’s governing sports bodies. It marked the start of squash’s rapid growth in Malaysia, which David largely attributes to the Games.
“Squash has really grown in our country since the Games started in 1998,” she said.
“We had a lot of media attention, we had a lot of funding from the national sports council and all our athletes have been really given that full support from the government to push forward.
“We had a lot of support going into tournaments overseas, coaches, sports psychologists, sports physios all looking after us, throughout my career from that moment on.
“We had a lot of success since that very moment.”
The nation’s contribution to David’s career is one of the reasons she’s so proud to wear the Malaysian colours at GC2018.
It will be her sixth Games, but the feeling never gets old.
“I’m just so excited to be part of the team again and representing Malaysia here in the Gold Coast,” she said.
“It is a true honour and for me to win previous golds definitely was a treat and a dream come true.
“I think the big thing of being part of a big Games like this is you have a chance to really shine true for the country and represent something so much bigger, not just for yourself but for the country.
“This is definitely something I feel proud of, coming into the Games and being part of a big contingent that has a lot of potential in squash and in all the other sports.”
Ranked number eight in the world after a challenging couple of years – she won her last PSA tour title in March last year - David will enter Oxenford Studios in the unusual position of not being the favourite.
That tag belongs to England’s Laura Massaro and New Zealand’s Joelle King, who are the number one and two seeds.
David isn’t fazed about the current rankings and is relaxed and optimistic heading into the Games.
“I just want to give it a good go and see where it takes me,” she said.
“But no doubt, the countries are really coming in strongly and the Commonwealth countries are always the tough countries on the tour, so we’re really looking forward to seeing how the competition is going to pan out.”
Twenty years on since David’s Games debut, she’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Neither does her partnership with Irving.
“You have to come to an end point at some point but these few years are definitely ones I really am going to give it a go, give it my all and have the most fun and working together with Liz on that too,” David said.
“She wants me there to the end, so looks like I’m there,” Irving added.
Nicol will play her opening game at GC2018 during the evening session on Thursday 5 April. Get tickets to see Nicol now.