Squash: David ventures into unaccustomed territory

Nicol David hopes to take advantage of an impressively enhanced mentality as she moves into unaccustomed territory at the revived British Open, which starts at the O2 arena on Monday.

Though David has been world number one for more than six years, she is in the rare situation of wanting to win a major title back, having suffered a tension-induced second round defeat at the last British Open.

That, however, was three years ago, and since then the highest profile woman squash player of all time and the 80-year-old tournament have returned to their best with their status enhanced.

The remarkable Malaysian advanced to a record sixth World Open title and further civic honours, while the British Open has acquired a large new sponsorship and a venue which claims to have overtaken Madison Square Garden as the world's most popular.

If David repairs the shock loss inflicted by Ireland's Madeline Perry in 2009 it will be her fourth British Open title.

She has already repaired the mindset which contributed to the setback - especially on the evidence of the World Open final at Rotterdam in November, which saw perhaps the best performance of her career.

There, the combined efforts of psychologist Frank Cabooter and a team which includes coach Liz Irving and two physios, showed they have made David stronger in the head and more sophisticated tactically.

Asked whether her record-breaking successes have helped her rid the fear of losing, David said: "When there was negative pressure it spurred me on to push myself to what I had to do.

"If I carry on with it (negative pressure) it will make me more determined to keep improving.

"But I am looking forward all the time. I am sure there will be negative pressures, new ones, but I don't put my attention into that. I look into what is good and what is positive."

And asked if it would feel different, trying to regain a title rather than defend it, David instead emphasised how much has changed since the last British Open.

"The last few years have been such a big journey and I've done a lot with my squash," said David, who is now capable of volleying better, taking the ball in short more dangerously, and altering the pace more disruptively.

"And I'm coming to this event fresh and excited to play again because there's a whole new different group of players now," she added, referring to the fact six are aged 23 or younger in the world's top 20.

Despite the significance of the return of the British Open, thanks to the sponsorship of Anglo-Egyptian multi-millionaire Essam Allam, David has been trying to block that out.

"It's a pinnacle event for her, but she is not making it any bigger than it needs to be," Irving said.

"Nicol is getting ready as for any other event, and she's in really great physical shape."

That is probably the single most important factor for a style based on exceptional movement, something which has been aided by David's decision to miss last week's Asian team championships in Kuwait.

Theoretically her nearest rival is again the second-seeded Jenny Duncalf, but this was the opponent she overwhelmed for only seven points in less than half an hour in Rotterdam.

A stiffer test may come from another Englishwoman, the third-seeded Laura Massaro, who has done well in all of their last four encounters, even beating David in the Singapore Open final of ten months ago.

They are due to meet in the semi-finals. Perry, David's British Open conqueror of 2009, is seeded fourth, in the other half, where she could met Duncalf.

Leading seeds:

1. Nicol David (MAS); 2. Jenny Duncalf (ENG); 3. Laura Massaro (ENG); 4. Madeline Perry (IRE); 5. Raneem El Weleilly (EGY); 6. Rachael Grinham (AUS); 7. Annie Au (HKG); 8. Kasey Brown (AUS).


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