Monday, December 4, 2023

Nicol David eyes Heather’s record

SQUASH: Eyeing Heather’s record

Nicol plans to better Australian legend’s late retirement

NICOL DAVID, the most successful squash player of the professional era, plans to continue competing till the end of the decade irrespective of whether squash is accepted into the Olympics.

Nicol’s carefully crafted 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 win over England’s Laura Massaro, which on Friday, extended her record of World Open titles to seven, revealed how she is evolving as a player with extremely long term ambitions.

The 29-year-old’s movement was as light and flexible as ever, and was allied to reassuring steadiness of temperament as Massaro threatened to get a grip of the second game.

Afterwards Nicol was clear in her mind about the direction in which she is going.

“I have to keep my body in shape. I might go on another seven years anyway but the Olympics would add meaning to it,” she said.

“I am working to keep going another five to seven years anyway, but the Olympics would be great.”

If she succeeds, which looks quite possible, Nicol would be almost 37 — close to the age at which Heather McKay, the legendary Australian, retired after winning the first two of the fledgling World Open championships in 1979.

Nicol is acutely aware that the physiology and sports science of an ageing body requires specific knowledge and sensitive planning and she may talk about this to the record-breaking 16 times British Open champion.

“I spoke with Heather McKay twice, at the Australian Open, and I was humbled to meet her,” said Nicol.

“I hope I have a chance to speak with her again next time I am in Australia. And with other Australian players.

“I also hope to talk more with players in England, like Fiona Geaves and Suzanne Horner, who have been playing past the age of 35. I am hoping to keep going like that too.”

Though Nicol has hinted at all this before, the firmness of her utterances now reflect how she is becoming her own person, clearer about the importance of squash to her long-term destiny.

This growing independence is also suggested by the fact that this will be the first Christmas spent at her adopted home in Amsterdam rather than at her origins at Penang.

“I am growing older. It’s partly about having time with my friends. I am growing as a person,” Nicol said.

“Of course Penang is my home. But in the last nine-and-a-half years I have been living in Amsterdam and now have a group of people I am close to and have a good time with. I have had my own apartment (in Amsterdam) for a year.”

This change reflects other changes — in her self-image, self-knowledge, and capacity for stability under the constant pressure of expectations.

These have developed markedly in the last two or three years, something for which she gives much credit to Frank Cabooter, a sports psychologist at the University of Amsterdam.

“It’s been a learning experience, and I am still working on it. There are so many things you can’t describe (that go through your mind). There are many questions you have to answer for yourself, rather than being told what to do you have to deal with it yourself,” Nicol said.

This is reflected in her off-court promotional presentations, as well as training choices, and tactical decisions on court.

Her state of mind in Grand Cayman was more upbeat than for a while, and her patient tactical choices, especially as Laura threatened to get back into the final, were vital to her seventh world title in eight years.

Vital too are squash’s Olympic hopes, to be decided by the IOC in Buenos Aires in September next year.

Nicol will remain active in the sport’s public voice and its private lobbying until then.

“We are wait to hear what comes up from our last presentation,” she said.

“I have to contact the World Squash Federation to see what they want me to do.

I will do as much as I can. I want to make sure we keep the momentum going.

“If squash gets into the Olympics it will be wonderful. It will also make me more eager, and give more meaning to my wish to play for many more years.” AFP

Read more: New Straits Times

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