A new beginning for Nicol Ann David

‘My intention has always been about returning the favour. Giving back to the society from the experience I garnered from squash’


THE year was 1999, and she was merely 15. While others her age were juggling between school and dealing with adolescence, Datuk Nicol Ann David was creating history for herself and the country.

Within half an hour at Antwerp, Belgium, she defeated her opponent and bagged the Women’s World Junior Squash Championships, making her the youngest female to win the championship.

And David never looked back ever since. She continued her reign as a world champion — not once, not twice, but eight times, winning 81 Professional Squash Association (PSA) titles and dominated the world No 1 spot for 112 consecutive months from 2006- 2015.

After 20 years of being a superstar in the global squash arena, at the end of the 2018/2019 PSA season in June, the 35-year-old decided it was time to call it a day.

Nicol has bagged 5 Asian Games gold medals in her career among others. – BERNAMA

Life After Retirement

“Retirement has been great. I am absolutely loving it…Waking up in the morning not having to train for competitions or having to make sure I am mentally sound and ready for a season.

“Now, I am just enjoying the load off me and my body is actually not in pain all the time,” David told The Malaysian Reserve in an hour-long interview.

Dubbed as the greatest squash player of all time, David’s training routine to her was a lot like managing a nine-to-five job daily.

Her routine was spent working on her fitness, speed and strength for two to four hours daily, six days a week.

“Everyday, I would hope to make it through and continue the next day. It only got tougher, but I had to push my boundaries in order to grow,” she said.

The Dream Remains

David attests that there isn’t really life “after squash”, retirement simply means she no longer has to compete and bag all the responsibilities that come with it.

Life, after all, to her has been about squash ever since she held the racket for the first time at the age of five.

“I’ve never liked the word ‘retired’ because to me the dream remains. Yes, for the first bit of life after retirement, I took the opportunity to travel around, but this time without the racket.

“At the same time, I am preparing for what has yet to come. My intention has always been about returning the favour. Giving back to the society from the experience I garnered from squash,” she said.

David is now occupied with setting up her own foundation, doing opinion write-ups, giving motivational talks and engaging with the younger generation, encouraging participation in any form of sports.

“All these things are very new to me, but it has been very exciting. The Nicol David Foundation is still in the middle of structuring. Through the foundation, I would like to empower young girls to take up sports as a tool to instil values in them,” she added.

The foundation, according to David, would not only focus on sports, but also teach English to non-native English speakers among the children.

“Right now, we have a team working on the foundation before it goes live next year,” she said.

Starting off at a small scale, David said her team comprises people from different industries and they are working on various aspects of the foundation, such as the squash programme and facilities involved.

“In the initial stages, it would be tough to get families to have their kids committed, but we would need them to know that all these facilities are free to make access as easy as possible,” she added.

After turning professional in 2000, David won 81 tour titles and reached 102 finals, winning 567 of her 680 matches on the tour. – BERNAMA

Squash Then and Now

The sport was first introduced in the 18th century in England. Squash spread rapidly in its early days and the major growth areas were wherever British forces were stationed.

Likewise in Malaysia, squash was introduced during the British colonial era.

According to the Malaysia Squash Organisation, the sport was played in private clubs and among the officer corps of the British Military bases scattered around the Malayan colonies and at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar — an institution modelled on a typical English public School.

Along the way, Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia was formed, producing several leading players including David and former world top-10 players Ong Beng Hee and Mohd Azlan Iskandar.

Today, David is placed side by side with another greatest squash player of all time — Jahangir Khan from Pakistan.

Of all the nations where squash is played, Pakistan is said to be the greatest enigma, producing a succession of amazing squash champions from a country where there are still less than 400 courts.

Khan is now the emeritus president of the World Squash Federation, after dominating the sport for 14 years, winning the British Open 10 times and the World Open eight times and was undefeated for five and a half years.

These days, according to David, Egypt is dominating the courts.

“All the top players are from Egypt now and it is huge there,” David said.

Yet, Squash continues to struggle to be included in the Olympics. “For the past 10 years, I, alongside many other squash players, have been campaigning for the Olympics. The sport has only been growing, the evolution has been amazing,” she added.

David also highlighted that the gender prize money gap in squash has been bridged.

“We have also been working on this for many years, and I am glad to say that over the recent time, the prize money for both man and woman is divided equally.

“It was pretty frustrating that as women, we played the same number of games and put in the same amount of training and effort as the men, but because we may have been perceived as playing at a slightly lower level to the men we weren’t paid the same,” she said.

Closer to home, David said the sport has been growing tremendously. “Now, there is a bunch of girls and boys who are coming through.

A lot of different age groups have been taking the world championship by storm.

“We may have had our moments, but the sport remains very strong,” she said.

She added that with her retirement, she would be able to work closer with up and coming national players.

I’ve never liked the word ‘retired’ because to me the dream remains, says David. – MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

You Can Rise, but Can’t Replicate

A year after bagging her first junior championship, at 16, David became the champion for both under-17 and under-19 categories at the 1999 British Junior Open, champion for the senior and team categories at the South-East Asian Games, and champion for the under-19 category at the German Junior Open.

A year later, she entered the professional circuit by joining the Women’s International Squash Players Association and went on to win her first professional title at the Savcor Finnish Open.

It was only the start of what was to become an era of total domination for the Penang-born superstar.

After turning professional in 2000, David won 81 tour titles and reached 102 finals, winning 567 of her 680 matches on the tour.

In the span of two decades, David also lifted five British Open titles, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, five Asian Games gold medals and three World Games gold medals.

“I’ve always emphasised that what I achieved had not been done just in Malaysia, but around the world as well. We can’t replicate or compare to what I have achieved.

“That is one thing we have to remind people…Replicating is not possible. It is only something to inspire others to achieve and I only hope that players now can reach their own full potential and see where they can go in the long run,” she said.

As Winston Churchil once said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal” and David has along the years learned to embrace her losses.

“I went through my transition from being a junior player to a professional player…Tough loses to being at the top of the world, and then not being at No 1 anymore. All of that needed a lot of strength, but I had to pick myself in order to go through another match.

“There were times harder than the other, but I am grateful for the support of my family that helped me endure it,” David said.

She said the comfort zone is a dangerous place for an athlete to be in, as being too comfortable means the players will be reluctant to give themselves higher sets of challenges.

“Yes, we have everything here, from great facilities and even better coaches, but the athletes who are really doing well are the ones who have left Malaysia to train elsewhere.

“I chose to stay in Amsterdam to train under my current coach Liz Irving from Australia for 16 years and that was the turning point in my life, personally and professionally,” she said, adding that the move helped her reflect that she should not just depend on what she could do, but what could be done with what she had.

A Nation That Holds and Cares From her junior years till retirement, David had the support of the Malaysian government every step of the way.

“Malaysia is the only country that has given total funding, apart from all other squash countries around the world. We are one of the most supportive nations and I am truly grateful for that.

“A lot of other squash players elsewhere do not get much funding from their countries because it is not a core sport. Here, the funding from the government has been constant,” David said.

She added that if it was not because of that support, she wouldn’t have been able to make it to such a level she is on now.

David was recently awarded with an “Honorary Doctorate in Sports Science” by University of Science Malaysia. She also received the “Order of Merit (Darjah Bakti)” — becoming the first recipient of the award since its establishment in June 1975.

David was also honoured with the “Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negri Award”, which carries the title “Datuk”, making her the youngest person ever to be conferred Datukship in Penang.