Brilliant David defends world Open title
Nicol David threw aside doubts about her reign as the world's outstanding squash player when she made a magnificent recovery from a game down to win the World Open a fourth time here on Sunday.
The Malaysian's initially hesitant but eventually beautifully taken 3-11, 11-6, 11-3, 11-8 win over Natalie Grinham, the second-seeded Australian, made her only the third player since the founding of the women's circuit to have won so many.
There had nevertheless been moments when it seemed the best known woman squash player of all time might founder on the twin pressures of intense expectation and her opponent's formidably athletic challenge.
David had lost her British Open title a fortnight ago and had two tough matches en route to the final, while Grinham, the wife of tournament director Tommy Berden, had often played with an assurance which suggested this World Open was destined for her.
But after making a brilliant start, taking an early lead in the second game after dominating the first, Grinham let David into the match with some errors in the front court, and after that everything changed.
The match turned into a superb spectacle of flowing movement and varied patterns between two of the finest movers the game has ever seen - especially great entertainment as both live in Amsterdam for most of the year - with David growing in confidence and in vision of how to win.
Instead of playing as a counter-attacker, she often played the ball short first, and with her accuracy - often making the ball cling treacherously to the wall - she was able to open up the court well.
She was then able to take charge of slightly more of the rallies than Grinham despite her opponent's fleet-footedness, following up with some good quality accuracy with her driving as well.
"I am so pleased. This was a very dangerous challenge from her," said David.
She briefly broke down as she thanked her parents at the prize-giving, apologizing, and recovering her composure by saying: "This is good."
David had been as usual under intense pressure of expectations to win the title again. As an icon for women across Asia, the holder of the Order of Merit and the title of Datuk in Malaysia, she is expected to deliver virtually all the time.
Her British Open failure had made it more difficult, and she was asked if this had therefore been the toughest to win of her four World Open titles.
"All had a different meaning," she said.
"To come back from last week means a lot."
Grinham, who had been playing as well as at any time since taking David the full five games in the World Open final in Belfast, said: "I'm obviously disappointed, but although I lost I was definitely up there with her."
David was so overwhelmed by adrenaline that she lost her train of thought at the post-match press conference, eventually she stuck her tongue out humourously and said: "I don't know what I'm saying any more," at which point the journalists allowed her to escape.
The match had three big swings of fortune.
The first came at 4-4 in the second game after which Grinham put one drop shot and two volley drops into the tin during the next seven rallies, allowing the champion to regain a comforting parity at one-game all.
The second came when Grinham made a determined start to the fourth game, reaching 6-3 and winning four points with perfect length shots, one with a stunning flick drive which was delivered with almost no back-swing at all.
But David got the serve back with an enterprising drop shot and volley drop combination, and then continued to attack with her short game much of the time until the end.
That came when she delivered another fine volley drop which Grinham just managed to scrape up but could not avoid hindering her opponent's view of the ball. Referee Chris Sinclair had the courage correctly to award a penalty stroke to finish the World Open final.
It confirmed David as one of the most successful players of all time, with the likelihood that she will continue to extend her 41-month reign as world number one for many more months yet.
It also suggested that Grinham, even at the age of 31, may have enough momentum, skill and character - especially having recovered from injuries and a lengthy bout of whooping cough - to mount another serious challenge.