Article by Kristi Maroc
Losing isn’t something she takes lightly, and it was a rare occasion for Nicol – one of very few losses amid an incredibly lengthy list of wins in recent years.
“Everyone knows that I hate losing. I just want to keep on winning all the time!” Nicol chuckles.
World #1 for the past six years, Nicol has been virtually unbeatable in professional women’s squash throughout that time, but was unexpectedly knocked out of the U.S. Open last year by talented Aussie Kasey Brown, who was seeded sixth in the tournament.
There are very few professional titles that Nicol hasn’t won. However despite her astounding career history of over 50 titles, Nicol hasn’t yet won the U.S. Open –something she is looking to change in October.
It seems last year’s loss has only acted as a motivator for her and this year she is hoping to challenge for the title and add it to her extensive list of career achievements.
“The U.S. Open again this year will be exciting, being there knowing that it’s not mine to defend, it’s mine for the taking,” she says.
“It’s something to look forward to, and it will be good to be back in Philadelphia again.
“The challenge is always there, all the time, and no doubt you have players that are there gunning for you. But it’s a tournament where I’m not defending it – I just want to go for it!” she smiles.
Nicol’s determination, drive and achievements have earned her a household name status in the squash world. She is arguably the most well known female player of modern day squash, and one of the most prominent in the history of the game.
Nicol was named WISPA Player of the Year for six consecutive years from 2005 to 2010. At the end of last year she was inducted to the World Squash Federation’s Hall of Fame, a prestige usually reserved until late in the career of long standing professional athletes, however due to her extraordinary accomplishments she was given the honor whilst still at the peak of her career and actively competing.
At the time she was quick to dispel any rumors that the honor might mean she is nearing retirement.
“Even though I have been playing the professional circuit for over ten years, this honor doesn’t mean I plan to finish yet!” she warned.
Nicol holds a celebrity status in Malaysia with an intensity that surpasses any squash athlete of current time. She has earned the devotion and admiration of adoring fans across the country due to her achievements in squash on the international stage, and has brought attention to the game in Malaysia at a level that is rare in squash in most other parts of the world.
She has won the Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year a remarkable eight times, and has also been ranked as one of the top most influential Malaysian women of all time. She was the first Asian woman to achieve world number one status in squash.
Nicole was honored with a Darjah Bakti (Order of Merit) award in recognition of her immense contribution to the nation, and the former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi once told her that she was the pride of the nation and “you are now more famous than me”.
So far this year, Nicol has won all of the championships she has competed for, including the World Open, British Open, Kuala Lumpar Open and the Cleveland Classic, showing peak form in the lead up to the U.S. Open.
Next stop will be the Australian Open in August, before she heads to the States to challenge for the U.S. Open title in October.
“The 2011 U.S. Open was a tournament where I learnt a lot. I lost in the quarterfinals and from then on I’ve really picked things up and found ways to really stay on top of things and going to other tournaments with a clearer mind and being ready for anything.”
When asked for the secret to her success throughout her career, Nicol says her parents have made a significant contribution.
“I have a good family upbringing and my parents have played a huge part in my squash success. They have supported me all through my squash career in juniors and also in school, and have never put any pressure on me to perform. They’ve just always been there by my side all the way.
“Also I have a very good support team behind me, and good sponsors, and all this has played a huge role.”
Recognizing her talent and marketability, Nicol is sponsored by Prince, Asics, Oakley, Gatorade, Hotel Equatorial and CIMB Investment Bank Berhad.
Nicol’s training is six days a week, twice a day, and a total amount of 2-4 hours a day depending on whether it is off season or pre season.
“If it’s pre season I’ll reduce the workload and pay more attention to squash, but it’s a combination of squash and physical – physical meaning fitness, gym, agility and movement and everything you can think of basically.”
On her website, Nicol lists some of the qualities that she feels are most important in life as power, skill, creativity, mental toughness, drive and passion.
In her own words, “You have to want something so badly that it pushes you to the limits”.
With Nicol’s eye on the prize, the battle for the women’s 2012 U.S. Open crown is going to be an exciting one.