The Blog

Nicol David: Squash Legend Number Two

Last week I wrote about Amr Shabana, who has through his style of play and achievements ensured a lasting influence on the squash world.

This week it would be apt, after her Tournament of Champions victory in New York, to salute one of the greatest squash players of all time. That is Nicol David, the darling of Malaysia. She is a Datuk over there, the equivalent of a Dame here, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Never mind Dame, Queen of Malaysia might be nearer the mark; on trips from Kuala Lumpur airport you see her face staring out from giant motorway billboards.

She is world champion seven times and British Open Champion four times. She has won the Hong Kong Open 8 consecutive times. She has been the world number 1 for 93 Months, 90 consecutively. Amazing.

Such emphatic dominance in sport will only get harder and harder to achieve as time goes by. The depth in quality is as strong as ever. It is a competitive world, and the lines seem to get finer as training techniques improve, players work harder, equipment gets better and as knowledge advances.

And the competition she faces is seriously fierce. The women's players have been strong for some time now. Laura Massaro is an example of one of the chasing pack, who is doing all she can to stop David. She is utterly committed to diffuse the David stranglehold and is training and studying like never before. The chasing group mounted a strong challenge around this time last year, as one or two started to take wins off the legendary Malaysian. Raneem El Weleily and Massaro became main threats, and when Massaro snatched the British Open, the second biggest title after the worlds, it appeared that the others may have caught up and that her number one position was being very seriously challenged.

But like a great champion, she responded quite awesomely. Under pressure, David put together a supreme run of victories last autumn and in to the new year to dispel any doubts. It was almost as if she had produced the best and most consistent performances under severe duress.

There are many world class players behind her, all working very hard to beat her and reaching very high levels, and at intervals they do beat her. But somehow so far there has always been a response, and Nicol manages to keep winning the big events and stay at number one ceaselessly.

The question is, what makes a Nicol David as good as she is? In this era of colossal intensity and competition how do certain players, sportsmen and women like Michael Johnson, Steffi Graf, Stephen Hendry or Roger Federer manage to beat the rest continuously?

They are all just humans who sleep and eat and do things in the very same way the rest of us do, but somehow become superhuman.

Having reached high levels in world squash, all I can do is admire what somebody like Nicol David is doing. It is unbelievably tough to hit number one at all, let alone for 93 months. So many players give it everything they have, everyday practising and slogging, and will never get even near to doing what Nicol can do.

There is a very complex answer somewhere to these questions I'm sure, that I won't attempt to answer in this article, but there are probably a whole host of things that make Nicol who she is, from DNA, to training, to coaching, even to what she did as a little girl.

Maybe she doesn't even know what makes her achieve the things she does.

James' book 'Shot and a Ghost' is available on kindle