NICOL DAVID FIGHTS TO THE DEATH FOR HER SECOND WORLD TITLE
|Nicol David vs Natalie Grinham: Long, Breathtaking, Bruta. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
It was long, it was breathtaking and it was brutal. This battle for the world crown between holder Nicol David of Malaysia and Natalie Grinham of Australia will set a benchmark for pure guts and determination created by two small flyweight players who you think you could knock over with a feather. You couldn’t do it with a bulldozer.
|Grinham looks unbeatable in spots. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
After 96 minutes of lungbusting, heart-bursting squash, David emerged the winner of a five game marathon that was as testing as a triathlon. But there were stages in the match where it looked as though Grinham had come up with a winning strategy and one that David would not overcome. It is yet another tribute to David’s completeness as a rounded squash player: Today we must add unrelenting competitiveness to her all her other skills and attributes.
As she has done so often before, David started badly and every time she went short on the forehand, she made an error. Grinham was playing long and deep; all those wonderful long drop shots and boasts that helped her beat Natalie Grainger in the semis were gone. Their place had been taken by a metronomic striking to the back of the court. It is not the game that David is used to playing and yet somehow she was sucked into it. Her errors when she tried to go short made her less assertive than usual. As we found out after the match, David had been made to fall in with Grinham’s game plan.
|Nicol David never gave in. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
The rallies were long: it took 18 minutes for Grinham to win that first game 9-1. The methodic banging of the ball against the front court was like some erratic grandfather clock. As they played the back court game, I was reminded of the rallies between Jahangir and Jansher back in the 1980’s. It was a matter of who would blink first, who would interrupt the agreed pattern by going short. These were easily the longest rallies of the tournament and while it may sound boring, as each rally went beyond the average length, the tension grew.
There were times when I was sure the spectators had stopped breathing and other times when it became painful to watch these two small bodies being put to the rack.
Grinham started the second game by going short with her second shot and winning the point. Had she changed her game plan to confuse David? Not really; the long rallies recommenced and Grinham went to a 3-0 lead before David finally hit a winning shot with a forehand volley drop. They had been playing for a total of twenty minutes and the defending world champion had scored just one point. This was beginning to look like Grinham’s day as David continued to hit winners and errors: She lead 4-3 and then three errors put Grinham ahead at 6-4 to make her situation look perilous. More long rallies and Grinham led 7-5 but David kept her head and three winners in a row put her at game ball. A penalty stroke gave her the ninth point to win the 17 minute game 9-7 to tie the match after 38 minutes of squash.
|Nicol David showed fighting spirit. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
The third game was a surprise; it seemed as though David had turned the tables in the second game, that she was now in charge and that her short game was working but Grinham proved all that wrong. Four unforced errors put from David put Grinham 4-0 ahead and she played the shrewdest squash of the match to increase that lead to 7-0 . David managed to win a point but Grinham kept pushing to the back. However Grinham also chose her shots wisely, and after a long rally played a backhand cross court that surprised David, and Grinham stood at game point 8-1.
There are no ‘gimmes’ with David, no giving up and saving her energies for the next game. She just keeps on fighting and it is this incredible spirit that probably saved her crown. She fought for two more points but couldn’t deny Grinham the game 9-3 after another 15 exhausting minutes.
|Nicol David changed strategy in the fourth. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
David stepped up in the court in the fourth game to volley whenever possible and was no longer taking the ball off the back wall. This was a definite and obvious change of tactics and it worked as she went to a 3-1 lead and then Grinham showed the first sign of frailty; three errors in four rallies and now it was David who had a 6-1 lead.
Was it quick?
No, it had taken 15 minutes of grinding squash to get to this score. Grinham was not finished and went back to Plan "A" – keep it long. And so the battle continued with Grinham inching back up and getting to within striking distance at 5-7 with the help of three penalty strokes that were very harsh decisions — two of them when David had scampered clear to give Grinham a clear view of the front wall and room to swing.
|Nicol David in charge in the fifth as Grinham tired. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|
They fought on and on the 33rd rally of the match, David hit a backhand drop that did not hit the tin and the 28-minute game was over. We have often witnessed first games that have been long, but for a fourth game of a match to last 28 minutes underlined just how brutal this contest had become.
David, who at one point had been in a hopeless position and unable to handle her opponent, had fought through with incredible pluck. That fourth game had dried up Grinham’s gas tank. David came out for the fifth still in overdrive and zipped to a 6-1 lead and when Grinham started going for shots, we knew that it was virtually all over. Fittingly David went for a backhand drop on the final point, a shot that was too good for the lunging Grinham and the holder of the world title had the game 9-2 and the match after nearly 100 minutes. The relief was enormous, and David said that her head “exploded with emotion.”
While the presentations were taking place I spoke to Liz Irving, the coach responsible for the continuing improvement of David. Her assessment:
“ Natalie tried to keep Nicole on court for as long as possible. That was obvious. But Nicol had patience and knew what she had to do. When her short game didn’t work she changed her game plan. If to play two hours is what it takes to win, then she’ll do it. Her will and focus are incredible. Nicol is more economical in her movement whereas Natalie bounces around, so Natalie was always going to get tired first. And in the fifth we saw that she could not push forward any more.
“I think this match is a turning point for Nicol. She will know how to handle these matches in the future. And her opponents will know she can handle them.
“It obviously meant a lot to Nicol – I have never seen her so emotional after a win.”
Nicol admitted that she was very emotional when it ended and that she knew that Grinham would be a tough player. They played in the Commonwealth Games in Australia in March and on that occasion Grinham had come out on top. For her part Grinham said that was ‘sadly happy’ at the result because she knew she had played well and while “you can always be fitter’ she was fitter than she’d ever been.
This was one of the great finals of the women’s world Open and ranks alongside the 2000 final in Edinburgh when Carol Owens came back from two games down to win the crown.
WOMEN'S WORLD OPEN
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Natalie Grinham (AUS) 1-9 9-7 3-9 9-5 9-2 (95m)
|Nicol David with her coach, Liz Irving, between games at the World Open finals. (photo © 2006 Fritz Borchert)|