She was no taller than a squash racquet yet wielded it like a weapon, striking down one opponent after another at the old National Squash Courts in Jalan Duta.
It was early 1995 and Nicol Ann David was not yet 12-years-old and while she was slowly making a name for herself, her elder sisters Cheryl Therese and Lianne Marie were supposed to be the main attractions.
Yet even back then, Nicol was a sight to behold.
Wearing the smallest tournament T-shirt which was still two sizes too big for her small frame, a smile permanently fixed on her face – a destroyer on the court yet one who was too shy to speak to the media.
Those who watched her play way back in 1995 knew she was something special but perhaps none expected her to conquer the squash world the way she did.
Fast forward 24 years and Nicol will call time on her illustrious career at the end of the 2018-2019 season after being honoured by her peers and the public as The GOAT – The Greatest Of All Time.
With a record eight World Championship titles, a record 109 consecutive months as world No 1 and a record total of 112 months at the summit of the women’s game, 10 Hong Kong Open crowns, eight Malaysian Open wins, five British Open championships and 81 professional titles in total, Nicol has done it all.
She is undoubtedly Malaysia’s greatest ever athlete – male or female – but will retire with one bitter regret.
Despite her best efforts, she could not help get the sport she loves so dearly into the Olympics – but not for want of trying.
Nicol travelled the world promoting the game but the International Olympic Committee has stubbornly refused to listen to the squash family.
In a statement released last night, Nicol said: “After more than 20 years playing squash for Malaysia, competing on the professional tour and achieving the best from my career, and to be recognised as the greatest female squash athlete of all time by my peers, I am ready and happy to announce my retirement at the end of this seasonal tour.
“This is a moment every athlete must go through – to explore what more there is in store. I am now at this point in my life, ready to take on more beyond the pro tour.
“This decision has been thought through for quite some time and I do know this is my last season.”
But like the true champion that she is, Nicol will not go quietly into the night.
She is as determined as ever to champion squash’s fight to be included in the 2024 Olympics while remaining as a role model for girls all over the world.
“I love squash with all my heart, and it will always play an important role in my life.
“Which is why I would like to give back in three ways:
- Working with Professional Squash Association to raise the awareness of our sport globally and to build a support team for our professional squash athletes as they continue to raise the bar on tour.
- To help Malaysia’s younger generation through the Nicol David Foundation which seeks to empower girls through sport to reach their full potential.
- To the people in Malaysia, I will be sharing my story, ‘Nurturing Belief’, through a series of talks and writings.”
She thanked everyone who helped her in her career, from SRAM to SRA Penang, her coach of 16 years Liz Irving, who made a big impression on Nicol when she won the Malaysian Open title at Jalan Duta in 1995. Nicol also thanked the government agencies and her sponsors.
In a way, that summed Nicol up – someone who always remembers those who lent a helping hand.
“This is just the initial start of more exciting things planned and I cannot wait to venture into this next phase with all of you after my squash on tour,” she said.
“Throughout these next few months till the end of the seasonal tour in June, I will be sharing through my ‘The Dream Remains’ campaign, everything that my life in squash has given me.
“I would like to enjoy my last few tournaments through this campaign in the hopes of giving all a chance to have their own dreams to go forth the way I plan to keep striving for.”
It will be an end of an era for Malaysian sport and one which is unlikely to be ever emulated.
Thanks for the memories, Nicol.