Today I am going to discuss what I would work on if I coached Nicol David. It seems like a fitting topic since I'm heading to Malaysia soon. Obviously she is doing almost everything at the absolute highest quality, but even for one of the greatest players there are things that can be improved. I'm sure this is what keeps her motivated year after year. Many people want to find out just how good they can be? Not very many of us actually achieve our true potential. It takes not just many years of hard work, but a dedication to your craft for a major potion of your life.
I could go on and on about what Nicol David does so well. Her consistency, focus, mental toughness, work ethic, determination, her length and fitness are the major qualities that I really admire. Not to mention that she is a brilliant role model not just for young girls, but any squash player. She also appears to be extremely humble and has a great smile :-) It makes you wonder where her will and determination come from. David is proof that you can be small and succeed in squash. But this post is heading in a different direction. It's time to talk about how David can become an even better squash player.
David has been on the tour for a long time and is getting near the twilight of her career, but has yet to shows signs of slowing down. I believe that David can continue improving her game for years to come. When you get to an elite level as David has, what she can improve is much less obvious than any amateur, but after watching most of her matches at the recent British Open you could see some of her opponents were able to really work her around the court. I don't remember her opponents looking so comfortable against her a few years ago. I guess this is naturally what happens when you're on the top. Everyone has a team strategizing on how to take you down.
Although David is extremely fit and fast, she is still relatively small in stature. So when someone holds the ball or attacks well with a boast she has trouble covering. I thought Laura Massaro had a lot of success with her forehand attacking boast on David. I think David is well aware of this fact and is why she really concentrates on keeping her opponent behind her until she has a golden opening. If her opponents are stuck in the back they won't be hitting many winners from there. David has such great length on the glass court that this almost always works, but if her opponents equal her great length she's normally in trouble (yes, as we all are!). I think that David will never be easy to beat because she has such a solid base to her game. She makes very few mistakes and hits good width and length. But I do feel that she could be more aggressive and clinical on her volleys.
During the British Open I thought David let her opponents off the hook numerous occasions on the volley. There were plenty of times where her opponent was stuck behind her and she just hit it deep again. David appeared to be set up and in position to bring the ball in short. Of course if she goes short and the shot isn't high quality she puts herself in trouble as she again is not that big and many of the top women are deceptive when given time from the front. Obviously this isn't her style, but I'd like to see her play more aggressive on the volley. Not be afraid of making a couple of errors. This brings me to my next point.
Watching David play I feel that her opponents can read her very well. It's just a matter of wether David's shot execution is precise enough or not. If your opponent always knows where the ball is going you're looking at very long rallies. She does have a deceptive backhand trickle boast and I would like to see her work on one on the forehand side. I'd also like to see her try some more drives down the middle of the court. She hits such immaculate length that this is definitely something that would make her even tougher to play.
I think David could also improve her attacking boast. Some of the top women shape up and look like they are going to drive and then play a 2-wall boast. Some of these women have excellent delay on their swings. Since David has such great length and hits deep almost every time she's in the back if this shot was at all deceptive she would set herself up for a lot of easy points. But of course this leaves her exposed at the front and is a bit more risky than the style she normally plays.
The last area I think Nicol David could improve is her serve from the right service box. She does get the ball nice and high with her lob serve, but rarely hits the sidewall. If she hit the sidewall consistently on the 4-wall glad court this would set her up for a lot more quick points. Again, this may appear like a minor-adjustment, but I do think it would make a pretty significant impact to her game.
Nicole David is one of the greatest of all time. I almost feel unworthy to write an article about how she could improve. But I thought it would be a fascinating topic. I know one could ask, 'why fix what isn't broke?' And yes I get it and agree. But I believe this is how the greatest athletes think. Elite athletes are never satisfied with where they are and are constantly looking for ways to improve and add new dimensions to their craft. Nicol David isn't going to transform her game into an Egyptian stye. But if we look at Nick Matthew the past few years he has become much more attacking and clinical with his short game. As the competition get stronger I think you need to get them off court sooner so you can be fresher for the later rounds.
It would be interesting to know exactly what Nicol David thought of her own game at the moment and what she is currently working on. If she keeps on doing the same thing she should continue to do it slightly better and better. There is no doubt about her work ethic. But with everyone nipping at her heels I'm sure she is thinking of subtle adjustments she needs to continue to make so she can continue to stay at the top. As we saw at the British Open there are a number of women that are capable of beating Nicol on any given day. If feels like the tides are slowing changing. How much longer will David be able to be world #1? I think the one thing she has going for her is that there isn't another dominant person on tour. I think there are a few that are very strong, but the don't get the consistent results that David does. Until one of them do David should be safe at the top of the heap.
If I was coaching Nicol David it's safe to say that I would learn a lot more from her than she would from me.