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#SeasonReview - David Determined as Ever After ‘Up and Down’ Year

#SeasonReview

One of the most dominant streaks that professional sport has ever seen came to an end last September as Malaysian superstar Nicol David’s unprecedented nine-year reign as the Women’s World No.1 was brought to a close after she conceded top spot to Egypt’s Raneem El Welily.

The loss of her number one ranking, in addition to the change in the Women’s tin height from 19” to 17”, heralded in one of the most challenging seasons of the eight-time World Champion’s career as she had to re-develop her game and deal with the threat of an ever-improving Tour which arguably boasts the most competitive top eight ever.

Nicol David during her PSA Women's World Championship clash with Nour El Sherbini

Despite the disappointments, David says that the past ten months have given her a new perspective and she remains highly-motivated to reclaim her place at the summit of the World Rankings.

“My feelings were up and down throughout the year, from taking in one of my proudest achievements of being World No.1 for nine years then having to get to the grind to continue playing the Tour at the highest level,” she said.

“I guess there is never any time to absorb what I have done while on Tour and these feelings, with a little disappointment, takes time to grasp while I’m competing. It is a challenge I had to face to truly understand what lies beneath it all. The whole experience has really taken me deeper into my core and I’m discovering that I have a lot more in store in myself when squash is concerned.

“It gave me a perspective that I would have never known if I didn’t go through it. There were disappointments in many forms but I could only learn from these experiences to become stronger to approach this coming season in a whole different light.

“All the players had to make adjustments [in response to the tin height change], including myself. It does take a bit of time because we are using more of the court and customising training towards it as well.

“My main goal [ahead of the new season] is to keep building on my performance and to work on gaining consistency for each tournament.”

David takes on Laura Massaro in the 2015 Hong Kong Open final

December though saw David exhibit the sort of squash that has been a staple of her 16-year career as she maintained her dominance at the Hong Kong Open – extending her incredible streak to ten straight title wins.

The 32-year-old hasn’t lost in Hong Kong since 2004 and came up against England’s Laura Massaro in the final, whose semi-final victory over El Welily ensured that she would be the new World No.1 in the following month’s rankings.

But David played with unerring control and confidence as a virtuoso display from the Penangite took her to an emotional victory.

“Hong Kong holds a special place in my heart, from being my first ever international junior event when I was 11 years old playing the Hong Kong Junior Open Under-13s, to winning my first World Championship title in 2005,” David said.

“There have been a lot of great moments with the spectacular glass court setting at the harbour front and it always gives me goosebumps thinking about it. I can’t wait to be back in the buzzing city to start the season off.

“Emotions were flooding through me knowing I won a tournament in Hong Kong again with everything else that has been a whirlwind of a year leading up to that tournament. I brought out some of my top squash performances throughout the event. I was really proud of myself to make that happen for me and to win it 10 years running.

“This will certainly be a highlight for me personally and for a top athlete in any sport.”

2016 has brought with it semi-final finishes at the Tournament of Champions, the British Open and the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals, including an appearance in front of her home fans in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the PSA Women’s World Championship – which was held in an arena named after her.

“It’s always such a privilege to be performing in Malaysia and gaining the crowds support, said David.

“The buzz when I go on court does bring an extra energy to take it on when I compete there.”

David hits a forehand against Rachael Grinham in the World Championship

A tense 3-2 victory against 2007 winner Rachael Grinham on the opening day of action saw David through to the second round stage and a comfortable win over former World No.3 Alison Waters there enabled her to progress to the last eight – where current World No.1 Nour El Sherbini awaited.

El Sherbini was in the midst of a four-match win streak against the Malaysian and, despite a partizan home crowd cheering David from the rafters, the Egyptian saw the win through in four games to break spectator’s hearts.

David congratulates El Sherbini after their World Championship quarter-final clash

At just 20 years of age, El Sherbini went on to become the youngest World Champion of all time, and her emergence alongside a raft of young talent, such as 18-year-old World Junior Champion Nicol David and United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy, looks set to provide a fascinating parallel to the more experienced heads such as David and Massaro in the coming season.

With the new campaign beginning just next month in Hong Kong, David is raring to go and, alongside her renowned coach Liz Irving, has devised a punishing training schedule as she plots her path back to the summit.

“This year’s off season training has been one of the toughest because it is the longest time off we have had during all my years competing,” she explained.

“This allows me time to build my base properly physically and my squash technically to be prepared for the upcoming season. It’s 2-4 hours training days, six days a week that involves both a squash and physical session. I work a lot with Liz, plenty of ball hitting and squash drills/matches.

“The physical training programme is set by the Malaysian Sports Institute, revolving around gym, endurance runs, track sprints, bike sessions and more depending on different phases of the training season.

“This is certainly the season to watch out as the players have had a long off season to build towards it. The excitement is already kicking in but there will be plenty to be excited about once we step foot in Hong Kong to begin a brand new season that lies ahead.”

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