‘What she has achieved will be impossible to match’
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Tributes poured in today following the news that Nicol David has announced plans to retire from playing and revealed her plans to support and encourage a new generation of players.
Messages came not only from Malaysia, where she was regarded as a massive national icon, but from across the globe, where her talents kept her on top of the squash world for a whole decade.
Yesterday’s article on Squash Mad highlighted Nicol’s astonishing career record, which included eight world titles, five British Open victories, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and three World Games gold medals. Since turning professional in 2000, David has won 81 PSA World Tour titles and reached 102 finals, winning 567 of her 680 matches on the tour.
Fellow Malaysian Ong Beng Hee, who reached seven in the world in 2001 and is now Qatar National Coach, said: “What she has achieved will be impossible to match and I am lucky to have seen her develop from junior to senior and now calling time on her successful career. Was amazing being her doubles partner in Commonwealth games and thanks to her we have a first silver for mixed doubles.
“Nicol will be missed not just by Malaysians but for world squash too. It’s definitely the end of an era as nobody will achieve what Nicol has done and we will be waiting for a very long time.”
Low Wee Wern, who has made a successful return to playing with five recent titles after a long spell out of the game through injury, thanks Nicol for inspiring her throughout her career.
She said: “I’m very fortunate to have had someone like Nicol to look up to when I started squash at a young age. She has set the bar so high and because of that, I have strived to do better myself personally and also have a shot at playing full time.
“I’ve had the privilege to not just play alongside her, admire her level of professionalism off and on the court but I’ve also had the honor to challenge her on court.
“It is an end of an era when Nicol hangs up her racket but she has set the path for others to follow. Her achievements are nothing short of remarkable and she will always be remembered as the legend of women’s squash here in Malaysia and possibly in the world.”
Malaysia’s Director of Coaching, Major Maniam, said: “To put it in a positive light, Nicol has been a true legend for the country and for the sport. What she has achieved will stand for a very very long time.
“It will be incredibly hard to see someone else rise to what she has done. I do feel the time is probably right for her.
“She is leaving on a high and I certainly wish her all the best in her future plans. I know she still plans to give back to squash through her foundation and her lectures. But we will certainly miss her.”
Delia Arnold, the now retired former world number 12, together with Nicol and Wee Wern, for most part, made up the Malaysian team between 2011 and 2017. Being a few years junior, the Kuala Lumpur lass has grew up watching Nicol rise the ranks and beating players a few age groups above.
“Nicol has always been a class above most of us. As a budding junior, I have watched her beat much older girls and sometimes, even the boys. I’ve had the honour of sharing team honours with her and it is something I will always cherish.
“Nicol has set a very high bar for our sport. What she has achieved will remain a record for a very long time, if not forever. I wish her all the very best in her next phase of life and I am excited to see what she has in store to help our sport grow further. She has always been a champion of our sport being in the Olympics and I hope she will be able to see that through perhaps.
“Thank you for the great achievements and being the best role model for me and many other young squash players in Malaysia and all over.”
Good friend and former touring professional, Sharon Wee was amongst one of the first to receive news of her retirement plans. Now one of the most popular sports newscasters in Malaysia, Sharon left a personal and touching message for Nicol :
“You are right Nicol – The Dream Remains! I believe after conquering the world of squash, you want to the other beautiful sides of life. Thank you not only for the gold medals, but for inspiring Malaysians and others around the world to believe in striving for our own dreams, and that it is possible with the right attitude and passion.
“I am the luckiest friend, team mate and supporter of yours to see you achieve your dreams, and now at your happiest place. All the best Nicol and I will always be there as your Captain.”
Former world number 10 Azlan Iskandar, who played alongside Nicol in all the major games he participated, has long been a big fan of Nicol. Through the years, he has always had great things to say of his compatriot. In a short phone conversation with Squash Mad, harped over the fact that Nicol had been on tour for 20 years, something which many do not realise what it takes to do that. He said :
“Nicol’s arguably the most decorated in the country and she is definitely up there with the world’s greatest. She’s held the number one spot for 8 years – that is unbelievable. I think people tend to forget her ability to maintain and play till today. The mental ability to do that is just amazing. She’s been on the tour for twenty years! Normal people don’t even have the same job for twenty years. Her perseverance, day in day out, doing the same thing over the period is nothing short of amazing.
“Nicol gave Malaysian squash hope. Beng Hee and I played a small part, but it was really Nicol who put us on the map. The younger generation need to realise that if it wasn’t for Nicol, Malaysian squash wouldn’t be what it is today. She’s given all of us hope.
“As a friend, I wish her good luck and all the best for her future. Her heart is with squash and it will always be with squash. She will be a great ambassador for our sport.”
Malaysian junior coach, Andrew Cross, who guided Ng Eain Yow to a world junior title, has been in Malaysia for the last 12 years. Coming to Malaysia at the start of Nicol’s dominance, he couldn’t have asked for a better time to be part of Malaysian squash given the juniors had such a big role model to aim to emulate.
“Nicol has been great for the sport in the last 12 years I have been here in Malaysia. Nicol has always been welcoming and friendly to myself and all the junior players, always willing to offer advice and have chats with them about her career and lessons that she learned along the way. Nicol was always willing to give them a little extra motivation and discuss how to handle pressure situations that she herself would have been through. World class player and a world class person”, said Andrew.
One other person who knows Nicol very well is Wong Ah Jit, or better known as AJ to most people. AJ served as the Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia for 23 years as the executive director. Apart from his actual job, AJ has always been a father figure to us as juniors, and Nicol was no exception.
In fact, AJ was a guardian to Nicol for a good 10 years when Nicol used to travel from Penang to Kuala Lumpur every weekend to train with the national team when she was a junior.
AJ was full of praise for Nicol’s demeanor in his interview with the Malaysian newspaper The Star and said :
“She has never thrown a tantrum on the squash court like throwing her racquet in anger or anything of the sort.
“Even when she was young, she was always lively and happy. She always wears a smile and has always been the ‘darling’ of the media. She will always oblige the media and never says no. She’s the perfect role model for every Malaysian athlete to emulate.
“I’ve never seen anybody as agile as her on the court. Of course she has slowed down a bit now but at in her prime, it was amazing to watch her play with such effortless movements on the court.
“She has done the country proud and I wish her the very best. I can foresee the new development of Malaysian sports through her experience and guidance of the young ones. She will be a good sports ambassador and a role model.”
On the personal front, one of the closest people in Nicol’s life is Elaine Tan-Nevis. The pair have been best friends since they were six, being mischievous, climbing up trees and getting into trouble together at church. While Nicol has been away touring for the past twenty years, the pair have remained close. Elaine spoke fondly of her friend :
“We are so proud of what you have achieved, but more importantly how you have achieved it ; with true grit, strength and humbleness. People will speak of you and your accolades for decades and centuries to come!
“However, I am more excited about what is to come for you! New adventures, your very own foundation and many other dreams that you have always spoke of but kept in the backburner whilst you focussed on your squash. They are all now waiting to be conquered and within arm’s reach. The dream is so much more, and I will always be here rooting for you and your continued success in all of them. Love you lots.”
Nicol’s biggest supporter has to be Desmond and Ann-Marie David, her parents. Through the years, many have met the lovely couple who often travel to various events. The pair has shared one too many tears of joy of happiness and anguish over wins and losses, but the support have never wavered.
“We are both very happy that she has come through living her dream and winning all there is to win without any major injuries. We are extremely proud of her achievements, especially being named Greatest OF All Time (GOAT) – it’s a big honour.
“As parents, we only want our children to enjoy their lives and what she has achieved, they are just bonuses. We are looking forward to her future ventures as another journey in her life”, said Desmond, or Uncle Desmond as he is fondly known to many of us, when contacted.
On the international front amongst her fellow professionals, there was no shortage of praises too for the 35-year old Nicol. Despite the players’ busy schedule and while most of the top players are busy finding their way to Chicago for the World Championships, they were more than obliging to spare a few words for the legend.
“The Maestro” Amr Shabana, who won his second world title in Hong Kong alongside Nicol when she won her first, was short and concise when asked what he thought of Nicol:
“Nicol David Greatest Of All Time lays down the benchmark for generations to come. Squash wise – legendary, demeanour – razor sharp, attitude – focused and professional. Congrats on a great career.”
Nour El Sherbini, the two-time world champion who halted Nicol in the semi-final of her home World Open in 2013, shared how she grew up watching the Malaysian play and how lucky she has been :
“Nicol is like no other player. What she has achieved in her career clearly shows what a player she is. I grew up watching her and it was a dream to play with her just the once. To have done that more than once and having the chance getting to know her personally, it’s a great honour.
“All young players must watch and learn from her attitude on and off court. I’m sure she will continue to help our sport grow even more.”
England’s Laura Massaro, who won her world title on Nicol’s home soil of Penang in 2013, thought Nicol pushed the level of the women’s game up. Laura was also one of Nicol’s closest rival, especially in 2013-2014, where she was in the 2nd spot on the ranking behind the Malaysian.
“I’m not sure I can add anything to the amazing and deserves tributes I’ve already read towards you Nicol. Your record is simply incredible. You raised the level of women’s squash and everyone had to raise their own level just to compete with you, let alone win!
“You helped me become the player I am because of the standard you set at the top of our sport.
I will remember our amazing battles, both the wins and the losses, and wish you all the very best Nicol.”
Saurav Ghosal of India, currently the highest ranked men’s player on tour, was full of praise for Nicol’s love of the game. The world number 11 from Kolkata said :
“I saw Nicol for the first time at the 2002 Busan Asian Games. Even then, there was a sense of expectation when she was on court. A few lines are not enough to encapsulate the magnitude of her achievements. To dominate the was she did, for so long, is mind boggling.
“But the thing that I will always keep with me is her undying love for the sport. To find so much joy in playing, even after so many years is truly remarkable.”
Over in the United States, two time World Masters Champion and former world number 14 Nick Taylor paid a fitting tribute to the humble Nicol :
“Nicol’s achievements in the sport are remarkable, and will probably never be equalled. Not only is she a fantastic role model for squash players of all levels, she is a wonderful ambassador for our sport. A killer instinct on the court but one of the nicest, kind hearted and lovely person off the court. I am so happy she is staying involved in squash, inspiring the next generation of Malaysian players. I wish her all the best in her future endeavours.”
Amanda Sobhy, the top women’s player in the United States who has catapulted back into the world’s top 10 after an 18-month absence, said on social media:
“One of the most incredible athletes who has achieved so much, but remained extremely humble throughout it all. You have set the bar incredibly high in the squash world and will be dearly missed on tour.”
Perhaps the one player who has played Nicol for the longest time on tour has to be former world number 2 Jenny Duncalf. The pair have been locking horns before they were even teenagers. Whilst it may seem unfortunate to have been in the same age group and having to play second fiddle time and time again. In fact, from April 2010 to July 2012, Jenny was in the number 2 spot right behind Nicol in the world ranking.
Jenny and Nicol have played each other more than 38 times over the years, with the first being in 1996 at the British and Scottish Junior Opens. It wasn’t until 2009 before Jenny actually got her first ever win at the 2009 US Open and then again to do it twice in a row. Since then, it has always been Nicol up to their last meeting at the 2017 World Championships. Despite that record, , Jenny took it in her stride and took the positives out of it. The 35-year old English lass took time off her busy schedule preparing for the PSA World Championships in Chicago to write this :
“I think the first time I came across Nicol was at The Scottish Junior Open U-12s and it was clear to everyone straight away that this tiny little girl was something special. What stood out most was her almost animalistic athletic ability. The speed she was blessed with was incredible and in full flow is a spectacular sight to behold (not so much to play against!). Her natural physical ability was of course a huge weapon over the years but for me it was her added mental capabilities that allowed her to become arguably the best player of all time and an absolute nightmare to play against! She’s always had a huge smile on her face off court and even walking onto court but you knew as soon as the door was closed she was an ultimate competitor with a level of steely determination and focus that was unwavering for pretty much an entire decade! To keep that up for so long having won everything in the game from such a young age speaks volumes.
“Off the court, the amount of effort and selfless endeavours Nicol has put into our sport as an ambassador only adds to her legendary status. She’s been heavily involved in Olympic bids, promotional tours etc in the past when other players may have stepped away to concentrate on their squash. For that, thank you.
“Her accomplishments are what dreams are made of and we may never see the likes of that dominance again. Having played (and lost!) to her in all major finals I could perhaps feel frustrated we fell into the same age bracket but looking back I feel it’s been an absolute privilege to have been in the same era as Nicol and to have been challenged and tested by the very best.
“It’s very hard to put into words to be honest Nicol’s impact on the game and also on my career since a very young age. What she has achieved and the way in which she has done it has been almost unimaginable. The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around a lot but Nicol truly is a legend in every sense of the word.
“We’ve had so many memories over the years, I can’t quite believe it’s coming to an end! Congratulations Nicol and I really wish you all the best for your next chapter in life on and off the court.”
Rachael Grinham is one other person who has had many duels with Nicol. While Jenny might have had the longest period, perhaps Rachael might have had the most matches – on the senior tour at least. The pair has played 42 times in total, with the Aussie winning 7 – of which 5 are from the first 5 meetings between 2000-2004. In 2005, Nicol won her first of eight World Championships beating her in the final. The Aussie veteran, who held the world number 1 spot for 16 months before Nicol’s era of dominance took over, said :
“I can’t say I’m shocked that this day was coming but now that it has been announced the reality has left me almost speechless… All I can think is – Wow, this really is the definition of the end of an era.
“I watched Nicol come on to the scene as a scrawny young teenager and her rapid rise to the top. I witnessed what I can only really describe as the demoralisation of opponents (myself included!) match after match, tournament after tournament, year after year, for almost a decade. It’s hard to put into words just how incredible her achievements have been. Nicol’s records and accomplishments are unrivalled in the modern era of squash – in both the men’s and women’s game – and may very well never be rivalled again.
“Her achievements alone make her the absolute legend, but her personality and temperament both on and off court have made her the perfect role model for squash players everywhere. She has also selflessly given her time and efforts as an ambassador for our game countless times over the years, at times probably to her own detriment, but does it with no complaints and the biggest smile on her face every time. Always the most gracious, even in defeat.
“While it’s sad to think of her no longer being on the tour, it’s great to hear she will continue with her efforts to promote the game and work towards a better future for squash. The ultimate asset to our sport, Nicol you’re a superstar, I salute you and wish you nothing but the very best for the next chapter of your life.”
Have Your Say:
Readers are invited to leave their tributes to Nicol David below.
Pictures courtesy of PSA, WSF, Alex Wan, SRAM.