‘I love squash with all my heart and it will always play an important role in my life’
By ALAN THATCHER, HOWARD HARDING and SEAN REUTHE
Nicol David once famously revealed that she would happily swap all eight of her World Championship titles for just one Olympic gold medal.
That statement underlined her devotion to the game that she dominated for a whole decade. As well as winning titles galore, she has always been a fervent supporter of squash’s Olympic bid, a proud ambassador for Malaysia and the game of squash, and an ideal sporting role model for children across the globe.
Today’s announcement in her home country of Malaysia that Nicol, now 35, is bringing to a close her illustrious playing career signals the end of a unique era in squash.
Since making her debut on the international stage in 1996, when she won the British Junior Under-14 Open title as a 12-year-old, this formidable woman from Penang has blazed a phenomenal trail through the sport, creating record after record.
She became the first player to win two world junior titles in 2001 before going on to accumulate a record eight senior individual world titles among a total of 81 PSA World Tour titles from 102 final appearances.
In 2015, David established a record 109-month unbroken run as world No.1 – and in Malaysia she is recognised as the country’s most successful Asian Games athlete with seven gold medals (five individual and two in team championships) in the quadrennial event.
David was inducted into the World Squash Federation ‘Hall of Fame’ in 2011.
In the statement issued in Malaysia today, David said: “After more than 20 years playing squash for Malaysia, competing on the professional tour and achieving the utmost best from my career being the only Malaysian athlete to achieve these accolades and to be recognised as the greatest female squash athlete of all time by my peers, I can proudly say that I am ready and happy to announce my retirement at the end of this seasonal tour.
“This is a moment that every athlete must go through – to explore fully on what more there is in store for them. I am now at this point in my life, ready to take on more beyond the pro tour.
“This decision has been thought through for quite some time and I do know this is my last season. My mind and body have battled it out to stay at the very top of my game for such a long time that I feel that I only have this last big push left for the final season to give it all I have before I enter the next phase of my life.
“I love squash with all my heart, and it will always play an important role in my life. Which is why I would like to give back in three ways:
“1. To Squash by joining PSA (Professional Squash Association) to work with them closely to raise the awareness of our sport globally and to build a support team for our professional squash athletes as they continue to raise the bar on tour.
“2. To Malaysia’s younger generation through the Nicol David Foundation which seeks to empower girls through sport to reach their full potential. This will be refined fully in a strategic partnership with PwC to create the best structure and programme moving forward to have more girls playing sport, improve their study skills and soft skills too.
“3. To the People in Malaysia, I will be sharing my story, ‘Nurturing Belief’, through a series of talks and writings.
“This is just the initial start of more exciting things planned and I cannot wait to venture into this next phase with all of you after my squash on tour.
“Throughout these next few months till the end of the seasonal tour in June, I will be sharing through my ‘The Dream Remains’ campaign, everything that my life in squash has given me.
“I would like to enjoy my last few tournaments together with everyone through this campaign in the hopes of giving all a chance to have their own dreams to go forth the way I plan to keep striving for.”
Andrew Shelley, CEO of the World Squash Federation, said: “Nicol’s playing record speaks for itself. She had already become a legend several years ago. Her results have been very special, but so is she.
“I can well remember trying to manoeuvre the winner and runner up of the British Junior Open under 14 event in 1997 into standing and smiling for a presentation photograph. The winner was Nicol, the runner up Omneya (Abdel Kawy) – and yes, at that time the girls hadn’t got to grips with smiling!
“Since then Nicol has not only developed a smile, but grew from girl into woman with such a warm and winning personality that has marked her as special both on and off court.
“It has been a privilege of mine to have watched her blossom in both respects. Running the Women’s Tour during so many years of her success, like everybody else I saw her wonderful athleticism so well-honed by Liz Irving, her drive to succeed, but also her humility. Her opponents have always been respected, those who have helped or simply supported her received sincere thanks, never a hint of diva, dealing with defeat, …. and always that smile.
“More than this, she would always give of herself. ‘No’ was such a hard word for her. From the Women’s Tour perspective, the burden of interviews was accepted with good grace. More than that, from 2002 onwards, Nicol would always say yes to the onerous WISPA Promotional Tours and latterly the WSF Ambassadors Programme (above image showing David with youngsters during the Malawi visit in 2012) whenever she could. And how the players and organisers from the ‘young’ squash countries loved her!
“All this followed the 19-year-old realising that in order to achieve her potential she had to move to Europe, leave her family and friends, and make her way on her own. She succeeded as we know – another accolade.
“For so many years as world number one, Nicol ‘carried’ the Tour. She was the face of it – and Malaysian sport too. She was the Ambassador. She was being pulled this way and that. She graciously dealt with it all.”
PSA Release issued today:
Malaysia’s eight-time World Champion Nicol David has announced that she will call time on her record-breaking career at the end of the 2018/19 season.
The 35-year-old from Penang is one of the most successful squash players of all time and spent an unprecedented nine years at World No.1 between 2006-2015.
In addition to her eight World Championship wins, David also lifted five British Open titles, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and three World Games gold medals.
David’s reign atop the PSA World Rankings came to an end in September 2015, but she continued to write her name into the record books, setting a new record for the longest unbroken run inside the world’s top five at 143 months, before staying inside the top 10 for a record 177 months.
Since turning professional in 2000, David has won 81 tour titles and reached 102 finals, winning 567 of her 680 matches on the tour. Her most recent title win came at the Ciudad de Floridablanca in March 2017, when she beat America’s Olivia Blatchford Clyne to take the trophy.
David was also voted as the greatest female squash player of all time in a poll conducted by the Professional Squash Association (PSA) in summer 2018, with squash fans voting in their thousands.
Away from the court, David became the youngest person ever to be awarded the title ‘Dato’’ from the Penang State Government and in 2008 was honoured with the Order of Merit. The highest order of ‘Datuk’ from the Federal Government was conferred to David by HRH The King in 2017.
David’s last PSA tournament will either be the Allam British Open, which takes place in Hull between March 20-26, or June’s PSA World Tour Finals, which she will participate in if she qualifies.
“This decision has been thought through for quite some time and I do know that this is my last season,” said David.
“My mind and body have battled it out to stay at the very top of my game for such a long time that I feel that I only have this last big push left for the final season to give it all I have before I enter the next phase of my life.
“Competing on tour and being in these amazing venues all around the world is the first thing I’ll miss. However, I’m going to make the most of it over these next few months the best I can. After having time to reflect, I can honestly say that staying at No.1 for nine years in a row is what stands out for me most. I never fully understood it until I was not there anymore. I’m very proud of this achievement.
“I love squash with all my heart, and it will always play an important role in my life, which is why I would like to give back in three ways. By working closely with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to raise the awareness of our sport globally and to build a support team for our professional squash athletes as they continue to raise the bar on tour.
“By helping the younger Malaysian generation through the Nicol David Foundation, which seeks to empower girls through sport to reach their full potential. And to the people of Malaysia, I will be sharing my story, ‘Nurturing Belief’, through a series of talks and writings.
“Thank you from my heart for the amazing support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Sports Council the Institute of Sport Malaysia, the Penang Sports Council, and all squash associations involved throughout my career – SRAM, SRAP and The Penang Squash Academy. And, of course, my technical and support team with the incredible Liz Irving working with me for 16 wonderful years together – what a great journey it has been.
“Thank you to all my fans, my supporters and my followers for joining me on my journey throughout all these years. I would like to enjoy my last few tournaments together with everyone throughout this campaign, and I would like to encourage all of you to keep on rooting for me. The dream remains.”
PSA Chief Executive Alex Gough said: “Nicol is undoubtedly one of the greatest squash players of all time and her presence on the tour will be sorely missed. She has inspired a generation of Malaysian players and will go down in history as one of the most iconic figures ever to pick up a squash racket.
“Nicol has always displayed an exemplary level of professionalism both on and off court and everyone at the PSA wishes her nothing but the best for the future.”
David will compete for a ninth – and final – World Championship title later this week at the PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family, which will be held in Chicago’s Union Station between February 23 – March 2.
Pictures courtesy of PSA, WSF and Squash Mad archives
As is inevitable for all professionals, and in all walks, one of the Greatest Champions that Squash has ever known, has decided to retire. Nicol David stamped her authority on the game – both on and off the court. She was, as only a World Champion reigning for over a decade can be, fiercely competitive in her match play. Something which had to have required a consuming training regimen! And yet, over the decades, Nicol never allowed a single lapse in her dignified presence on or off court!
Despite all of this Nicol David remained accessible, fully grounded, compassionate and retained a sharp sense of humor. On one occasion at the US Open in Philadelphia, when she was still flying through competitors many years her junior we split a few laughs. I asked Nicol ‘you just do not want to get old do you?’ Her response was a mock glare while sizing me up and down, followed by a laugh! The Nicol that I got to know was too savvy to take offense at the delivery of respect in a non-fawning manner!
I was one of those many amateurs who came to watch the Greatest Racket Athletes who walked the face of the Planet do things on court that we could only dream of doing at one time! As a regular attendee at the TOC in NY and the US Open in Philadelphia, where current and past Champions mingled with us, Nicol’s was an exceptionally friendly and engaged presence. As she liked to say when we spoke it was ‘one of our 2 meetings a year.’
Nicol knew well how much members of the Squash community such as myself appreciated her efforts, as well as those of others, to bring Squash to the Olympics. She also appreciated the position that it could only happen through enhancing communication with Science! Nicol took pains to introduce me as a Scientist who had played competitive Squash and so knew the game. This was for the simple reason that she understood that Science represented something that was a necessity for the growth of the game!
Nicol David’s Leadership has always been respected and her opinions sought both inside and outside the Global Squash community. Nobody doubts that in this next phase of her career she will be leading the game to new heights. Although her grace and presence on court will be missed we know that it will be felt in many other ways throughout the Global Squash community! We wish her the best in this new phase of what will be a long career.
And of course in all such World champions as Nicol David there is a Coach who is as important a part of the winning combination as any! Liz Irving whose own remarkable performances on the Tour allowed her to fill this role well. Liz was a Finalist to some of the greatest players such as Michelle Martin and Susan Devoy multiple World Championships and British Opens. The chemistry between the Player and Coach was clear and explained Nicol’s lasting performances! Liz and Nicol were equally accessible and engaging.