Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Keep calm, it’s just a temporary blip from Nicol

PETALING JAYA: So how do we describe Nicol David’s shocking loss in the British Open final to Laura Massaro on Sunday?

Is she on the decline? It’s just too early to tell, to be honest.

The Penangite, who turns 30 in August, has been on top of the women’s game for so long ... since 2006, so it’s natural to press the panic button when she loses.

The defeat was her most disappointing result in a major event in recent years. The last time she fell at such a big tournament was in 2009, coincidentally the British Open as well, in which she lost in the quarter-finals to Ireland’s Madeline Perry.

The easy explanation is to say that Nicol is getting old and is on a downward spiral, unable to keep up with the high expectations and the fast pace of the game.

But in all honesty, that is just being unfair, not only to Nicol, but to Massaro as well.
Massaro, who also turns 30 in November, is ranked No. 2 in the world and her win over Nicol was certainly no fluke.

On Sunday, Massaro could have easily been buried when Nicol held a 10-7 lead in the third set.
But the Englishwoman showed more desire, hunger and determination to claw back that deficit before taking just one opportunity to steal that set. It proved, to be a massive psychological blow for Nicol.
Furthermore, Massaro was tactically astute that day as she played her cards right, waited for the right moment to make the right shots and chose the best opportunities to call for a video review.
All which worked in her favour.

Sure, Massaro who stood almost a head taller than Nicol was also more physical as well, often using her size to good advantage. But that’s all part of the game and it showed just how badly she wanted to win that title in front of her home crowd.

Most importantly, what makes Massaro different from the rest of Nicol’s rivals, is that she has the self belief that she can beat the world No. 1. She showed that in March during the KL Open, and she showed it again last Sunday.
But although squash is a physically demanding sport, being super fit and young sometimes do not win you tournaments ... or matches.

A good example of some players who defy age is our men’s national No. 1 Ong Beng Hee, who at 33-years-old showed just how to overcome a younger and fitter player by brilliantly outplaying Egypt’s Omar Mosaad – 10 years his junior, at the KL Open in March.
Another good example would be France’s Theirry Lincou who remained in the world’s top 10 well until he was 36-years-old before calling it a day last year.

Thus, Nicol, at 29 going 30, should still be years before entering a decline phase. In fact, she played excellent squash all week at the British Open and only a more determined Massaro and a slight lack of focus, which she admitted, caused her defeat in the final.

We should also not rule out the fact that Nicol, being at the top for so long, has only served to motivate other players to keep improving themselves, which is good for the sport as it becomes more competitive.

At least Nicol herself is aware of it, as she said after her defeat to Massaro: “I know my game is good but there are things that can go wrong and these girls are coming up very strongly. They find a weakness and they keep working on it and it worked for Laura.”

Having watched Nicol in action so many times, and spoken to her on numerous occasions, I know she is a model professional who takes very good care of her physical condition.

Defeats like this are rare and her current form might be a cause for concern for some but I know that Nicol always comes back stronger and hungrier after a tough loss. It’s just in her character.
Please keep faith and continue supporting squash, especially with the Olympic decision looming, as Nicol’s form is but a temporary blip.

She will definitely make a strong comeback in the second half of the year.



IN THE SPORT-LIGHT
By KNG ZHENG GUAN

THE STAR

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