Sunday 19 October 2008

David wins third World title; Botwright retires

Nicol David v Vicky BotwrightNicol David claimed her third World Championship with a 5/11, 11/1, 11/6, 11/9 victory over England's Vicky Botwright this afternoon.

The partisan crown rooting for Botwright had something to cheer about right from the start of the first game, as she took the game to the Malaysian World number one ...

Botwright had particular success dropping on her backhand, often taking the ball high to force David to unsuccessfully counter-drop. Botwright seemed relaxed and composed, and stuck at her tactics to take the first 11-5.

At the start of the second David started immediately to control longer rallies, volleying wherever possible to push Botwright to the back of the court. The increasing variety in her game seemed to affect Botwright's confidence when attacking, and the Malaysian took the second easily 11/1.

The third game was tighter as both players started to rely on their ability to achieve a platform to attack from longer rallies up the side wall. Botwright was still working her backhand drops, but failed to impose herself at the T when she was given chances to put the ball away. 11-6 to David.

The fourth was neck-and-neck all the way, both players retrieving well under pressure, both perhaps hesitant to force the issue. At 8-9 down, Botwright hit a superb, flat, backhand kill that brought it to 9-9, and the crown volume suddenly rose.

A drop from David and a slightly lucky stroke (never the way you want a tournament to end) gave the champion her third title.

Nicol was undoubtedly thrilled. She was a worthy champion this week, but in the two matches I saw (the semi against Madeleine Perry and the Final) she didn't look as infallible as her long run of success would have one believe. Once she has established her rhythm she is very difficult to break down, but there were glimpses in both games that this rhythm might be cracked if early pressure is sustained.

I sense that the gap at the top of the WISPA rankings is narrowing given some of the upsets this week.

An emotional Botwright giving her final interviewBotwright departed the professional squash arena with a tearful farewell to the crowd, thanking those that had helped her sustain a career at the top of the game, including the 'England girls', England Squash, her parents and fiance.

An emotional Vicky Botwright gives her final post-match interview

She now takes up a position as Head Coach at the Manchester squash centre.

I had written earlier in the week that Botwright had under-achieved on the court at the National Squash Centre, and it is a shame that her career finished without her ever becoming National champion there.

The script that had been written for the 'fairytale' ending that was not to be had a Henman-esque feel about it, which might equally apply to Botwright's career: a very respectable stretch at the top (she was ranked as high as five in December 2005), a firm crowd favourite and particularly successful when representing her country in team events.

Henman - now also retired - polarises opinion between those who think that being one of the world's top tennis players for so long (and a great ambassador for the sport to boot) is a tremendous achievement in itself, and those who dismiss him as a very British kind of failure: lacking killer instinct, never won anything of note etc.

It would be a shame if writers of Botwright's biog in the annuls are similarly split between those who followed her career and witnessed her dedication, highlighting her individual and team successes and (very late!) Indian summer in reaching the final of the Worlds, and those who will only remember her for a certain clothing-related incident that made the tabloids in 2001.

Most followers of squash will hope that she is remembered for the former, particularly because that one incident that some see as a blemish on a great professional career (including service to her country through the National squad) was a result of misguidance rather than lack of commitment on the squash court.

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