Squash: David can be No. 1 again, says Arnold

Delia Arnold (right) returning the ball to her opponent Teh Min Jie during their semi-final of the national squash championships in Kuala Lumpur last month. Arnold is the top seed in the women's premier division at the Old Chang Kee Singapore Open, w
Delia Arnold (right) returning the ball to her opponent Teh Min Jie during their semi-final of the national squash championships in Kuala Lumpur last month. Arnold is the top seed in the women's premier division at the Old Chang Kee Singapore Open, which begins at Kallang today.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIAN NEWS NETWORK
Nicol David with her Asian Games gold last year. She has struggled this year, winning only two Wispa tournaments. She lost the world No. 1 ranking - which she had held for 109 straight months - in September.
Nicol David with her Asian Games gold last year. She has struggled this year, winning only two Wispa tournaments. She lost the world No. 1 ranking - which she had held for 109 straight months - in September.ST FILE PHOTO.

Malaysian, in town for S'pore Open, says compatriot is still adjusting to new tin height

The past 12 months have been one of the toughest for Malaysian squash superstar Nicol David since she turned professional in 2000.

The former world No. 1, who reigned for 109 consecutive months at the top of the standings before being supplanted by Egyptian Raneem El Welily in September, will end the year ranked third after winning only two Women's International Squash Players Association titles this year.

In the preceding 10 seasons, David won 75 tournaments. Just last month, her Australian coach Liz Irving admitted her charge "has stopped believing in herself".

But David's victory earlier this month at the Hong Kong Open - without dropping a game - showed that any talk of the 32-year-old's demise was premature, said compatriot Delia Arnold.

"Nicol's still a top, top player and the way she played in Hong Kong showed she is still capable of beating everyone. I'm sure she will become world No. 1 again next year," said the world No. 18, who was a semi-finalist at May's British Open.

The lowering of the tin height - the strip at the bottom of the front wall above which every shot must be hit - from 19 inches to the current 17 to encourage more attacking play may also be a factor for David, known for her defensive skills.

"Maybe Nicol is not used to it yet and is still trying to adjust," added Arnold, a Selangor native.

She is the top seed in the women's premier division and one of the star names in town for this week's Old Chang Kee Singapore Open, which begins today.

The five-day tournament is held at the Kallang Squash Centre and will feature more than 350 players from 12 countries including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, India, Macau. Entry is free for all matches.

There will be 12 categories, the men's and women's premier, men's masters and division 1 and four junior age groups for boys and girls.

Powerhouses Malaysia are expected to dominate with two-time Asian Games individual champion Ong Beng Hee, 35, favoured to retain his men's premier title.

Arnold's sister Rachel, 19, won last year's title but will start as an outsider compared to her older sibling, who has had a breakout year and reached a career-high ranking of 12th in September.

Said Delia: "This will be my last event of the year and hopefully I can end it with a win. It'll give me a lot of confidence for 2016, when I hope to break into the top 10."

Leading the local charge will be Singapore's SEA Games jumbo doubles gold medallist Vivian Rhamanan, who turned pro recently.

He is seeded joint-third in the men's premier class while national team-mates Samuel Kang and Marcus Phua, who were part of the Republic's team that won silver at the Games, are seeded joint-fifth.

Local legend Peter Hill, once ranked in the world's top 10, will compete in the men's masters.

The Singapore Open - local food company Old Chang Kee came onboard as title sponsor last year and has pledged $200,000 for five years - is organised by the Singapore Squash Rackets Association.

The overall prize money increased from $10,000 last year to $12,000 and is a positive step towards attracting a stronger field, said Singapore Squash Rackets Association president Woffles Wu.

He added: "The Open is exciting for us as it brings in many good players who can inspire and help widen the base of juniors here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'David can be No. 1 again: Arnold'. Print Edition | Subscribe