Squash: David faces fresh challenge in World Series hat-trick bid

Nicol David of Malaysia (left) plays a forehand against Nour El Sherbini of Egypt during their quarter-final match of the PSA Women's World Championships squash tournament.
Nicol David of Malaysia (left) plays a forehand against Nour El Sherbini of Egypt during their quarter-final match of the PSA Women's World Championships squash tournament.PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (AFP) - Squash legend Nicol David acknowledges that she is still adapting to one of the sport's biggest changes as she seeks to add another major achievement to her unique list this week.

The eight-time world champion from Malaysia would complete a hat-trick of titles in the PSA World Series finals if she were to win the tour's revived flagship event in front of the Burj Khalifa, starting Tuesday.

David has, however, won only one big tournament in the 17 months since the last of her eight world titles, not long after which the Professional Squash Association lowered by two inches the height of the tin - equivalent to the net in tennis.

It made the dimensions of the women's game the same as the men's and offered significant assistance to the more daring shot-makers.

"A lower tin does give a little extra focus on how the game is played," said David, whose default style has been based on speed, movement, and patiently patterned rallying. "And so different players are coming into the scene."

She added: "Some players are adapting faster and coming in and take it on board to their own advantage, and you see quite a bit of change in momentum."

That may be an oblique reference to two hard-hitting young Egyptians, Nouran Gohar, the 18-year-old world junior champion, who beat her in the China Open in Shanghai in September, and Nour El Sherbini, the 20-year-old who succeeded David as world champion last month and is now world number one.

David may need to atone for that loss if she is to qualify for the semi-finals for Gohar is in her round robin group. So too is Laura Massaro, the English woman who was world number one until the end of April, and Amanda Sobhy, the first American to reach the world's top ten.

Sherbini is now the favourite in a major event for the first time and heads the other group. It includes compatriot Raneem El Welily, the world number one for a while last year, and a fourth Egyptian, Omneya Abdel Kawy, a former world finalist, as well as Camille Serme, the former British Open champion from France.

Stylistically it is a uniquely varied field."There are different styles of play in the women's game," David commented. "At the same time everyone has been going back to the drawing board to be ready to take on what's been coming.

"So for me it's more getting used to that, and, along with what I have achieved in nine years, to take a step back and keep rebuilding.

"With the 17-inch tin you have to adjust some areas a little bit, and (yet) I also have to get back to what feels right and consistent for me. Of course it's difficult when you are used to one system," the 32-year-old acknowledged.

Even though these changes have occurred at a critical stage of her career, David has nevertheless welcomed the merger of the men's and women's tours which has triggered them, and other significant changes too.

They include a revival of the PSA World Series finals, for the women after a three-year interval. They have also brought a season-end climax returns which has a women's record prize fund of US$160,000 (S$220,000) which has brought parity with the men's purse.

"It (the changes) opens it up to seeing what I can add to what I have right now, and to all the experience I've gained from years of playing," David concluded.

"It's another challenge to take on board, but it brings a whole different perspective to my game, and I'm excited to see where it will lead."