KUALA LUMPUR: Nicol David may have announced her impending retirement at the end of the 2018/2019 Professional Squash Association (PSA) season in June, but she is far from a finished article on court.
David, known as Malaysia’s squash queen, is still aiming for top spot in several tournaments including the PSA World Championships in Chicago from Feb 23 to March 2.
The Penangite entered the tournament almost two years after last winning a tour title.
She also had to deal with a flurry of early exits in 2018 and, for the first time, may be considered an outsider in attempts to bag the sport’s greatest prize.
But the pint-sized star is an eight-time world champion, so it would be foolish for any player to underestimate her as she comes to the world meet for the final time.
“There is one title you really train and strive for. No doubt, the World Championships is the one to go for.
“To be world champion at the end of the year is the ultimate title to win,” she said.
Titles have not been easy to come by of late, but David has made strides in other areas.
Last year, she was voted the Greatest Of All Time by squash fans worldwide in tribute to her list of accolades, which includes eight world titles and 81 tour titles, as well as Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Games titles.
She also started the Nicol David Foundation last year, an initiative to empower young Malaysians through sport, one which she passionately speaks of developing after she retires.
There is also a sleek ambassadorial role with car giant Mercedes-Benz along for the ride.
These are all significant victories which could help drive the world number 21 to the World Championships title.
But David also knows that this challenge is a daunting one.
The 35-year-old has been overtaken by an army of talented young Egyptians like Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Weleily who loosened her vice-like grip as world number one for 108 months.
These two players are her biggest obstacle to claiming a ninth world title.
She is expected to beat Egyptian Menna Nasser in the first round.
A winnable second round against Millie Tomlinson or Olivia Fiechter beckons, and if she succeeds, a tricky showdown against Frenchwoman Camille Serme is on the cards.
But David is not the only one aiming to make a lasting impression.
Low Wee Wern enters the fray as one of the most in-form ball bashers after winning five titles in six months last year.
The lanky Penangite is looking to maintain that streak, beginning with Egypt’s Nadine Shahin in the first round.
Malaysia’s third female participant, Rachel Arnold, is an underdog against third-seeded Nour El Tayeb, but it will be fascinating to see her test her mettle against the Egyptian.
Ng Eain Yow, Ivan Yuen and Nafiizwan Adnan are all small fish in a big pond, so upsetting bigger names would do their confidence a world of good in the men’s draw.
Ng and Nafiizwan are up against Egyptians Fares Dessouky and Mohamed Reda respectively, while Yuen takes on Englishman James Wilstrop in the first round.
But, as always, the spotlight will fall on David.
Another successful chapter is waiting to be written before she hangs up that racquet.