Today (March 8) marks the 2017 edition of International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere.
To celebrate the date, we’re looking at some of the most influential women ever to pick up a squash racket, in no particular order.
The legendary Nicol David is an icon in her native Malaysia and will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time after a record-breaking career that has seen her capture eight World Championship titles, in addition to topping the World Rankings for an unprecedented nine year reign between 2006-2015.
The 33-year-old also has five British Open crowns to her name alongside a host of other commendations, including the honour of being the youngest ever person from Penang to be awarded the title of Datuk in 2008.
David has been a vocal advocate for equality, solidarity, respect, and understanding away from the court and was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme in 2002.
David is seeded second for the inaugural Ciudad de Floridablanca , the most lucrative Women’s South American squash tournament of all time – the beginning of which coincides with International Women’s Day.
The great Susan Devoy flew the flag for women’s squash in New Zealand throughout the late 1980s and 90s as she claimed eight British Open titles and four World Championship crowns en route to writing her name in the history books.
The youngest female British Open winner in history, Devoy first won the prestigious tournament in 1984, with seven more titles being added in the next eight years.
Her maiden World Championship crown followed the year after her British Open title bow with victory over England’s Lisa Opie, and she would go on to claim the sport’s biggest prize in 1987, 1990 and 1992.
That initial World Championship triumph also saw Devoy become the youngest ever Women’s World Champion – a record that stood or 31 years until Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini lifted the crown in April 2016.
Away from the court, Devoy had a number of honours bestowed on her and was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1986, before being elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire seven years later.
In 1998, she also became the second youngest New Zealander in 40 years to receive a knighthood.
Liz Irving (left) with David
David’s emergence as one of the sports’ most dominant players might not have transpired without the helping hands of the charismatic Liz Irving, who David credits as transforming her game since the Australian first took David under her wing 13 years ago.
Irving was also a force to be reckoned on the court, with her career taking her to a World No.2 ranking, a World Championship final and three British Open finals.
Irving was a 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 under Irving’s tutelage, highlighting the incredible coaching ability that Irving possesses and the fighting spirit that she instils into her pupils.
Sarah Fitz-Gerald is another player who will go down as one of the sport’s true greats, with five World Championship wins and two British Open titles proving to be the highlights of a glittering career.
Fitz-Gerald also starred on the international circuit with an incredible seven World Team Championship successe,s while she has also been recognised as one of her country’s 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.
The winner of the first official Women’s World Championship in 1976, 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 a book: Heather McKay’s Complete Book of Squash.
Maria Toorpakai Wazir
A trailblazer in her native Pakistan, Maria Toorpakai Wazir fought against gender barricades and extreme circumstances in order to follow her dreams and forge a career in the sport that would enable her to find a reprieve from the inequality that dogged her formative years – even resorting to masquerading as a boy to compete in sporting competitions.
Toorpakai, who hails from the highly conservative area of South Waziristan in Pakistan, was forbidden from playing squash due to the local Islamic culture’s attitude on women’s participation in sport, so pretended to be a boy in order to compete. Once her cover was blown, Toorpakai and her family were subjected to threats.
Unperturbed, an incredible 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, she 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 year, while her inspirational story has been taken to the big screen in the documentary, Girl Unbound, which had its UK premier at the Human Rights Watch film festival earlier this week.
A trailblazer in her native Pakistan, Maria Toorpakai Wazir fought against gender barricades and extreme circumstances in order to Former 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.
Despite her stunning successes, the early stages of 2015 saw Massaro contemplating her future in the sport 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 – and she has remained ever-present in the world’s top five for the last six years.
Raneem El Welily
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.
While she eventually surrendered top spot at the beginning of 2016, El Welily has remained a regular contender for the sport’s biggest titles and last month lifted the Windy City Open for the third time in succession.
One of the most experienced current players on the PSA World Tour, 40-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, while she also spent 16 consecutive months as World No.1 in 2004-2005.
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.
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 top 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.
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 one of the leading players on the PSA World Tour and made history in the iconic setting of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall in January 2015 – becoming the first American to reach the final of the prestigious J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions.
The Harvard-graduate, who completed a degree in social anthropology prior to embarking on a professional career, looks destined for greatness and is one of the most popular players on the PSA World Tour as she looks to break into the world’s top five.
World No.77 Reyna Pacheco has had a challenging path to life as a professional athlete, but has triumphed in the face of adversity and seemingly insurmountable odds.
A Mexican immigrant who moved to the United States when she was just four years old, Pacheco often got into trouble at school and found adapting to life in a different country a challenge.
For much of the next decade, Pacheco lived in fear of deportation, with heavy immigration raids in her community increasing as she grew older, while her status as an undocumented immigrant prevented her from applying for scholarships that would have enabled her to further her education.
But everything changed when she was introduced to squash through the Access Youth Academy’s Urban Squash Programme.
Within time, Pacheco’s discipline problems had ended, her grades had shot up to straight As and she led her teammates on the programme to five straight Urban Team National Championship titles, in addition to winning the Individuals event on four occasions.
She became the first player to come through the Urban Squash programme and begin a career as a professional and the 22-year-old is proof that squash is open to everyone regardless of social status or upbringing.
Find out more about International Women’s Day here