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From The Squash Player magazine Issue 2001/3 Photographs

Examining
Nicol David

1. Nicol David
2. Nicol in Action winning the world junior title
3. Nicol relaxes with coach Richard Glanfield.
4. Nicol gets a ride to training form Glanfield.
5. Sorting out the detail of the training programme
 

Nicol David, winner of the Dutch Open, has just reached world no.3, her highest ever ranking and one the Malaysian Press tells us is the highest ever for a Malaysian sportsperson, That will give you some idea of her standing in Malaysia. She has always been a precocious squash talent.

    In 2001 Ian McKenzie, The Squash Player editor, stopped of in Penang, Malaysia to visit her and have a little hit. In the following article reproduced from The Squash Player magazine he tells of his experience.

I'm not making excuses but first off I'd like to say that I was in terrible shape. It had been summer in England and I hadn't done anything for months. Penang was a stop-over on the long flight back to England from New Zealand and I hadn't done too much there either. I'm not a great player but not too bad and a game of squash with a 16-year-old girl - even if she was reputedly pretty good - would be a nice bit of recreation.

My legs went after two points. It was hot in Penang and humid - not that I'm making excuses. My heart rate hit a worrying level and seemed to stick there. My play was infuriatingly predictable this kid was like Jansher Khan around the court. It was unfair; she probably only weighed a couple of stone, floated around the court on air and lunged low to pick up my best short stuff with relative ease. I wasn't ready for this. My lips started making goldfish impressions as my lungs sucked in more air but my body was unable to extract the oxygen and transport it to where it was most needed - my legs. Why didn't she make a mistake?

I had to slow down, use my brain - a little tactical sophistication should see this kid off. Coach Richard Glanfield said they had been working on her weakness in the air. I threw up some lobs as high as the 2,000 metre Penang Hill. Some weakness - 9-2 to Nicol David. I took a walk around the car park between games as Nicol, nice girl that she is, went to fetch me a glass of water before subjecting me to a drought in the second, 9-0.

I needed points desperately. The possibility of a stroke passed through my mind - the medical version. She was hardly drawing breath and I'm sure she eased up in the third to allow me a face-saving six points. Three games were enough. I wanted a re-match but not that week.

This is not a young lady to underestimate. She doesn't do everything that well - that's the frightening thing - there is room for improvement. Nicol is an exceptional mover, she is fast but also economical. Like all great players she reads the game easily and naturally, which allows her to arrive early for her shots, depriving her opponents of time. This gives her another attribute of great players - time on the ball. She hits easily and naturally and it will get better. In charge of this talent is a squash brain - unencumbered as yet with excess expectations. She's competitive, gutsy and possesses a genuine enthusiasm for the sport. Nicol can probably handle any full-time professional in squash outside the top 20. Not bad for a schoolgirl.

The second half of 2000 was a quiet time for her as she was studying for exams. In Malaysia these are called the SPM (Srjil Penilaian Menengah), perhaps the equivalent of O-levels in Britain. She studied six core subjects (English, Malay, Maths, Science, History and Moral studies - which is compulsory and examines moral values applied to practical situations; it must be memorised) and four options (Additional Maths, Accounting, Economics and Art). She has no favourite subjects but likes Art, which isn't in her sylubus; she takes it as an extra subject and receives extra tuition in it.

Having just finished her fifth form exams Nicol must now decide whether to stay at school for another two years, go to sixth form college or take a year out.

I could try the circuit out and see where I stand amongst the other players in WISPA and prepare for the world juniors in Penang, says Nicol.

I need to build strength. While studying for my exams I was busy and concentrated on working on my shots and building fitness and strength. Strength is one of my weak points and I need to work on sharpening up my shots. It is hard to find time to do everything. These will come when I'm full time. When I'm stronger I'll be able to be more aggressive and more attacking. I need to be able to put the ball away.

As well as working with coach Richard Glanfield in Penang, Nicol is following a fitness programme with Jorge Deichann, who works for the National Sports Council in Kuala Lumpur and who assists the other elite athletes Kenneth Low, Yap Kock Four, Azlandar, and Tricia Chua.

Nicol is a busy girl. While studying, she managed one training session a day. School started at 7.30am and finished at 1pm. After lunch and a rest she played squash at 3 and from 5 to 7pm. She had extra private tuiton in Maths, Malay and Accounts.

Everyone has extra tuiton, she says.

At 7pm she has dinner, maybe relaxes with a little TV and does her homework. Most days she is on-line e-mailing her friends and checking the squashplayer site. E-mails go mainly to squash and school friends and to her friend Tricia.

Saturdings are free; sometimes she goes out with her sisters and has the afternoon off until she goes to the courts at 4. Sunday is for rest and church. She goes to the Roman Catholic church of the 'Holy Spirit' and also to the 'Immaculate Conception' with her family and from 2 til 4 takes her extra art class.

From December with exams behind her Nicol has been able to train twice a day - something she has never been able to do before.

Would playing squash full time be boring? she was asked.

I'll find other things to do. I will be freer to spend time with friends and family. And shopping.

Coach Glanfield is clear about the things Nicol needs to improve on but cautious about pushing her too far at an early age. He sees her being most successful in the happy and supportive environment she has in Penang, perhaps with more regular trips for competition and training to Kuala Lumpur. Nicol's main weakness is in the air, he says, and the girls have learnt to exploit it.

His view is that she is world top 20 standard tactically, technically and psychologically but that she is not yet strong enough to handle the bigger girls and the pressure they apply.

She can compete but she breaks down physically, he says.

Last year in senior events Nicol came runner-up in the Danish Open and won the Finnish. In the Swiss after 16 matches in 17 days she was 'spent' and lost to Angus Muller in the semi-finals.

She is too good for her age but not ready to become a full time professional, he says. The physical development is not there for her level of play. It has created problems. She will lean towards studying and combining that with squash.

So as not to overtrain a growing body, some of Nicol's aerobic and anaerobic work has been transferred to Penang's outdoor swimming pool, a luxury her European rivals don't have. Glanfield explains that treading water for 75 seconds is equivalent to doing 400 metre sprints.

You are running in water without touching the bottom but because of the movement of arms and legs you stay up, explains Glanfield.

There are benefits because you have resistance both up and down whereas in running you just push up. It is impossible to get injured, you can work harder and the rest period to remove the lactic acid can be spent in the pool.

Aerobic sessions in the pool last 20 to 30 minutes; anaerobic sessions consist of 10 sets of 75 seconds and five sets of repetition sprints which last 10-15 seconds.

Nicol chooses the type of training she does - whether it is in the pool, on the track, on a bike or on court - and the exercises as well.

It is good all round conditioning and it keeps her motivated, says Glanfield.

On court they work out with basic routines and after each tournament pick out things from tournaments to work on.

Filling holes that have been spotted, says Glanfield.

Nicol is a quick learner but there is no rush. We are taking a gradual approach to her development. A lot of people are in a hurry for her to make it to the top. But it is important that she doesn't compromise her personal life, her development as an adult and her enjoyment of squash.

I first coached her at 11 and I said at the time, if you could keep her smiling she can be world champion. We want to keep all aspects of her life in harmony. Too many coaches neglect important aspects of the player's life while focusing on immediate goals.

When we go away to tournaments, we always go sightseeing. We want to keep things in perspective and enjoy it.

At 12 she used to bounce down the steps to the club with her squash shorts under her school dress, really keen to get on court. I want to maintain that enthusiasm.

Nicol has now finished her exams, in which she managed seven grade As. In 2001/02 she will take a year out and next year start her A-levels mixed with selected tournaments. Since then she has been catching up on events, playing in the Kuala Lumpur, Munich, Toronto, Milo and Las Vegas Opens.

In June she will compete in the British Open and in July there is another important event in her home town - the World Junior Championships.

Last year she did not play the British or World Opens nor defend her title at the British Open Junior Championship as exams took precedence. In her absence another outstanding junior Omneya Abdel Kawy took the title. The Egyptian girl is different from Nicol, more attacking and deceptive whereas Nicol is the sublime mover of the junior women's game.

Nicol now has a rival and it will be a fascinating battle for ascendency as the two prepare for the World Junior Championships.

But Nicol and her coach will be looking beyond that. Here is a player of outstanding promise. Let's hope she can keep enjoying it - we'll be able to monitor that by her smile.

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