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International Women’s Day - The Most Influential Players of All Time

#InternationalWomensDay

International Women’s Day takes place today (March 8) and celebrates women’s global achievements.

To mark the event, the PSA picks some of the most inspirational and influential women ever to play squash.

Nicol David

Malaysian superstar Nicol David will go down in the history of the sport as one of the greatest ever players to pick up a squash racket.

With eight World Championship titles, five British Open crowns and an unprecedented nine-year reign at the summit of the world rankings to her name, David is a national icon and one of the most famous faces to play on the PSA World Tour.

Away from the court, David has aimed to make a difference in her native country and was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme in 2002. David has also spoken out on many occasions on the importance of the universal values of understanding, solidarity and respect and communication across all cultures.

Liz Irving

Liz Irving (left) with Nicol David

David’s emergence as one of the sports most recognisable and influential players may not have transpired without the charismatic Liz Irving who David credits as transforming her game since the Australian first took David under her wing 13 years ago.

A former World No.2 whose career saw her reach a World Championship final and three British Open finals, Irving was also part of four consecutive successful Australia teams at the Women’s World Team Squash Championships between 1992-1998.

Vanessa Atkinson, a former World No.1 and World Champion, was also another one of Irving’s charges, highlighting the unparalleled coaching ability that Irving possesses and the fighting spirit that she instils into her pupils.

Sarah Fitz-Gerald

Another woman who is widely considered to be one of the greatest squash players of all time, Sarah Fitz-Gerald racked up five World Championship triumphs in addition to successive British Open wins in 2001 and 2002.

Fitz-Gerald also starred on the international circuit with an incredible seven World Team Championship successes while she has also been recognised as one of her countries leading sportswomen – receiving both a Member of the Order of Australia in 2004 for her services to women’s squash and also being inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2010.

Heather McKay

The winner of the first official Women’s World Championship in 1979, Heather McKay kickstarted the dominance that Australia enjoyed over the sport in the 1960s-early 2000s.

McKay also has one of the longest undefeated streaks in professional sport, remaining undefeated from 1962-1981, winning 16 British Open titles in that period in addition to the aforementioned World Championship crown.

Incredibly, McKay lost just two matches throughout her whole career and went on to represent the Australian Women’s Hockey Team in 1967 and 1971 in addition to penning the book Heather McKay’s Complete Book of Squash.

Maria Toorpakai Wazir

A trailblazer in her native Pakistan, Maria Toorpakai Wazir fought against gender barricades, even posing as a boy to compete in sporting competitions in her younger days.

When the truth finally came out, Toorpakai was subjected to taunts and harassment which resulted in the Pakistani Squash Federation providing security to protect against the threats.

Unperturbed, An unbelievable amount of mental fortitude and strength saw her redouble her efforts to make it as a professional player and, after reaching the semi-final of the World Junior Championship, soon found herself under the guidance of former Men’s World Champion Jonathon Power who helped her push into the world’s top 50. She detailed her experiences in the book A Different Kind of Daughter which was released last month.

Laura Massaro

Laura Massaro with the 2013 World Championship crown

Current Women’s World No.1 Laura Massaro became the first Englishwoman in 22 years to lift the British Open in 2013 and followed that up by becoming the third woman from English shores to win the World Championship a year later – the only Englishwoman to hold both of those titles at the same time.

However, 12 months ago Massaro was ready to hang up her racket after a disappointing run of results and an exhausting schedule saw the 32-year-old take a break to refresh herself mentally.

She was rewarded by a four-month period of dominance at the start of the 2015/16 season which saw her fulfil a lifelong ambition by becoming only the third ever Englishwoman to top the world rankings in January 2016 – a position she still holds.

Raneem El Welily

Raneem El Welily with the Windy City Open title she won last week

Egyptian shot-making sensation Raneem El Welily will go down in squash history as the woman who ended Nicol David’s incredible reign as World No.1 when she overtook the Malaysian icon in September 2015 – and in doing so became the first Egyptian female star in any sport to top the world rankings.

After winning two World Junior Championship titles in her youth, El Welily exploded onto the scene in 2012 by claiming her maiden World Series title with victory over David in the CIMB Malaysian Open final.

She surrendered match ball against David in the final of the 2014 World Championship but recovered to triumph at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Windy City Open and Alexandria International which gave her the push she needed to usurp David at the summit of the world rankings and end one of the most dominant streaks in sporting history.

Rachael Grinham

One of the most experienced players currently playing on the PSA World Tour, 39-year-old Rachael Grinham has racked up a World Championship crown and four British Open titles in a sparkling 22-year career.

Grinham’s consistency saw her ranked inside the world’s top 20 from July 1997 – January 2016, spending 16 consecutive months as World No.1.

Grinham’s World Championship triumph came in the 2007 final in Madrid as she defeated sister Natalie in straight games in what was the first time that two siblings had met in the final of the sport’s most prestigious tournament.

Lisa Opie

Guernsey-born Lisa Opie made history in March 1988 as she became the first British woman ever to top the world rankings.

Opie was one of the sport’s leading players throughout the 1980s and early 90s with two runner-up finishes at the World Championship in 1985 and 1987 preceding a British Open triumph four years later.

Opie also contributed to four consecutive World Team Championship wins between 1985-1990 and was awarded an MBE for her services to squash in the 1995 New Year’s Honours List.

Amanda Sobhy

Charismatic United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy has been a pioneering force for squash in the United States and became the first American-born Woman to break into the world’s top 10 in September 2014.

From there, Sobhy has established herself as a truly top-tier player and made history in the iconic setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall in January’s J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions by becoming the first American to reach the final of the prestigious event in New York.

The Harvard-graduate, who completed a degree in social anthropology prior to embarking on a professional career, looks destined for greatness and is rapidly becoming one of the most popular players on the PSA World Tour.

Reyna Pacheco

World No.79 Reyna Pacheco had to work hard to hone her talent and make it as a professional player and her story is certainly an inspirational one.

A Mexican immigrant who moved to the United States when she was just four years old, she found adapting to life in a different country a challenge but that soon changed when she was introduced to squash.

She became the first player to come through the urban squash programme and begin a career as a professional and is proof that squash is open to everyone regardless of social status or upbringing.

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