Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chink in Nicol's armour

NO LONGER INVINCIBLE: Malaysian's reign under threat from Laura

SINCE Nicol David first ascended the summit of women's squash in 2006, no player has had a run of success against the seven-time world champion like newly-crowned British Open champion Laura Massaro.

This year alone, Laura has beaten Nicol in three of their four meetings with the last two being most crucial.

Laura stunned Malaysian fans by dumping Nicol out of the semi-finals of the CIMB Kuala Lumpur Open in March before Sunday's 4-11, 11-3, 12-10, 11-7 win in the British Open final marked her biggest success to date.

Not since Lisa Opie in 1991 had a Briton won the women's title while Nicol was bidding for a fifth British Open crown, only to suffer her first defeat in the tournament since 2009 against Madeline Perry.

After seven years of dominating the sport, Nicol could finally have met her match in World No 2 Laura as the sport's top-ranked player incredibly remains without a WSA Tour title this year.
Laura's win at the KC Stadium in Hull may provide the Englishwoman a psychological advantage when they next meet.

Certainly, the second seed showed no fear even when Nicol threatened to turn the final around after losing the opening game with a flawless display in the second.

This was evidenced by an on-court verbal clash in the fourth game when Laura accused Nicol of picking up a shot that was not up to, which Nicol retorted the ball did not bounce twice.
A video review vindicated Nicol but unfortunately for the defending champion, she lost the point anyway after being penalised for backing into Laura as she played the ball.

That crucial moment gave Laura a 4-3 lead and Nicol was never in the game again.
"I thought I played amazingly well in the first game and she (Nicol) played amazingly well in the second game," said Laura, 29. "It was a really close match. From about the eighth point in the last game I was just thinking, don't mess it up."

Nicol made an uncharacteristic four unforced errors in the first game and just as many in the fourth, including once when she served out to hand Laura four match points at 10-6.

It is rare to see Nicol fold under pressure and the top seed admitted Laura put her off her game.
"I was just watching what Laura was doing instead of my own game," said Nicol, 29. "She played well, and I wanted to play better. On each point, she found better length and made no mistakes.
"You never think that things are going to go your way when you are playing against Laura. She's a tough competitor and you have to be on your toes at all times, and she proved it again today."
Despite going three tournaments without a title for the first time since 2004, Nicol said her game was still in good shape.

"I know my game is good, I'm putting things together," said Nicol. "On some days it does not go your way and at some point the girls will take advantage and Laura made the most of it.
"It gave her a little window and she took it."

Ramy Ashour became the first Egyptian winner of the men's title when he beat fourth-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier 7-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-8 in the final.

Laura Massaro has had the better of Nicol three times this year.

Read more: SQUASH: Chink in Nicol's armour - Other - New Straits Times

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