INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2018 - A LOOK AT THE MOST INSPIRATIONAL FEMALE PLAYERS EVER
Today marks the 2018 edition of International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere.
To celebrate the date, we’re looking at some of the most influential women ever to pick up a squash racket, in no particular order.
The legendary Nicol David is an icon in her native Malaysia and will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time after a record-breaking career that has seen her capture eight World Championship titles, in addition to topping the World Rankings for an unprecedented nine years between 2006-2015.
The 34-year-old also has five British Open crowns to her name alongside a host of other achievements, including the honour of being the youngest ever person from Penang to be awarded the title of Datuk in 2008.
David has long been a vocal advocate for equality, solidarity, respect and understanding away from the court and was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme in 2002.
Last year, David reigned victorious at the inaugural Ciudad de Floridablanca, which was the most lucrative Women’s South American squash tournament of all time – the beginning of which coincided with the 2017 International Women’s Day.
The winner of the first official Women’s World Championship in 1976, Heather McKay kickstarted the dominance that Australia enjoyed over the sport in the 1960s-early 2000s.
McKay also has one of the longest undefeated streaks in professional sport, which allegedly began when she was annoyed at losing the Scottish Open final and in the changing rooms afterwards blurted out that no one would ever beat her again. No one ever did.
The Australian remained undefeated from 1962-1981, winning 16 British Open titles in that period in addition to the aforementioned World Championship crown.
Incredibly, McKay lost just two matches throughout her whole career and went onto represent the Australian Women’s Hockey Team in 1967 and 1971 in addition to penning a book: Heather McKay’s Complete Book of Squash.
The great Susan Devoy flew the flag for women’s squash in New Zealand throughout the late 1980s and 90s as she claimed eight British Open titles and four World Championship crowns en route to writing her name in the squash history books.
The youngest female British Open winner in history, Devoy first won the prestigious tournament in 1984, with seven more titles being added in the next eight years.
Her maiden World Championship crown followed the year after her British Open title bow with victory over England’s Lisa Opie, and she would go on to claim the sport’s biggest prize in 1987, 1990 and 1992.
That initial World Championship triumph also saw Devoy become the youngest ever Women’s World Champion – a record that stood for 31 years until Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini lifted the crown in April 2016.
Away from the court, Devoy had a number of honours bestowed on her and was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1986, before being elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire seven years later.
In 1998, she also became the second youngest New Zealander in 40 years to receive a knighthood.
David’s emergence as one of the sport’s most dominant players might not have transpired without the helping hands of the charismatic Liz Irving, who David credits as transforming her game since the Australian first took David under her wing 13 years ago.
Irving was also a force to be reckoned with on the court, with her career taking her to a World No.2 ranking, a World Championship final and three British Open finals.
Irving was also a part of four consecutive successful Australia teams at the Women’s World Team Squash Championships between 1992-1998.
Vanessa Atkinson, a former World No.1 and World Champion, was also under Irving’s tutelage, highlighting the incredible coaching ability that Irving possesses and the fighting spirit she instils into her pupils.
Sarah Fitz-Gerald is another player who will go down as one of the sport’s true greats, with five World Championship wins and two British Open titles proving to be the highlights of a glittering career.
Fitz-Gerald also starred on the international circuit with an incredible seven World Team Championship successes, while she has also been recognised as one of her country’s leading sportswomen – receiving both a Member of the Order of Australia in 2004 for her services to women’s squash and also being inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2010.
Maria Toorpakai Wazir
A trailblazer in her native Pakistan, Maria Toorpakai Wazir, fought against gender barricades and extreme circumstances in order to follow her dreams and forge a career in the sport that would enable her to find a reprieve from the inequality that dogged her formative years – even resorting to masquerading as a boy to compete in sporting competitions.
Toorpakai, who hails from the highly conservative area of South Waziristan in Pakistan, was forbidden from playing squash due to the local Islamic culture’s attitude on women’s participation in sport, so pretended to be a boy in order to compete. Once her cover was blown, Toorpakai and her family were subjected to threats.
Determined to achieve her dream, an incredible amount of mental fortitude and strength saw her redouble her efforts to make it as a professional player and, after reaching the semi-final of the World Junior Championship, she soon found herself under the guidance of former’s Men’s World Champion Jonathon Power who helped push her into the world’s top 50.
She detailed her experiences in the book A Different Kind of Daughter, which was released in 2016, while her inspirational story has also been taken to the big screen in the documentary, Girl Unbound, which had its UK premier at the Human Rights Watch film festival last year.
Former World No.1 Laura Massaro became the first Englishwoman in 22 years to lift the British Open in 2013 and followed that up by becoming the third woman from English shores to win the World Championship a year later – the only Englishwoman to hold both of those titles at the same time.
Despite her stunning successes, the early stages of 2015 saw Massaro contemplating her future in the sport after a disappointing run of results and an exhausting schedule saw the 34-year-old take a break to refresh herself mentally.
She was rewarded by a four-month period of dominance at the start of the 2015/16 season which saw her fulfil a lifelong ambition by becoming only the third ever Englishwoman to top the World Rankings in January 2016 – and she has remained ever-present in the world’s top five for the last seven years.
Massaro also became the first Englishwoman since Janet Morgan in 1951 to win a second British Open crown in 2017 when she beat compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry as they contested the first female all-English final since 1991.
Raneem El Welily
Egyptian shot-making sensation Raneem El Welily will go down in squash history as the woman who ended Nicol David’s incredible reign as World No.1 when she overtook the Malaysian icon in September 2015 – and in doing so became the first Egyptian female star in any sport to top the World Rankings.
After winning two World Junior Championship titles in her youth, El Welily exploded onto the scene in 2012 by claiming her maiden World Series title with victory over David in the CIMB Malaysian Open final.
She surrended match ball against David in the final of the 2014 World Championship but recovered to triumph at the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, Windy City Open and Alexandria International which gave her the push she needed to usurp David at the summit of the World Rankings and end one of the most dominant streaks in sporting history.
El Welily also captured her long-awaited World Championship crown at the end of last year after falling short in the final on two previous occasions.
Guernsey-born Lisa Opie made history in March 1998 as she became the first British woman ever to top the World Rankings.
Opie was one of the sport’s top players throughout the 1980s and early 90s, with two runner-up finishes at the World Championship in 1985 and 1987 preceding a British Open triumph four years later.
Opie also contributed to four consecutive World Team Championship wins between 1985-1990 and was awarded an MBE for her services to squash in the 1995 New Year’s Honours List.
World No.82 Reyna Pacheco has had a challenging path to life as a professional athlete but has triumphed in the face of adversity and seemingly insurmountable odds.
A Mexican immigrant, who moved to the United States when she was just four-years-old, Pacheco often got into trouble at school and found adapting to life in a different country a challenge.
For much of the next decade, Pacheco lived in deportation, with heavy immigration raids in her community increasing as she grew older, while her status as an undocumented immigrant prevented her from applying for scholarships that would have enabled her to further her education.
But everything changed when she was introduced to squash through the Access Youth Academy’s Urban Squash Programme.
Pacheco’s discipline problems soon ended, her grades shot up to straight As and she led her teammates on the programme to five straight Urban Team National Championship titles, in addition to winning the Individuals event on four occasions.
She became the first player to come through the Urban Squash programme and begin a career as a professional and the 23-year-old is proof that squash is open to everyone regardless of social status or upbringing.
Squash legend Michelle Martin was part of a golden era for Australian squash, among her many achievements she won six British Open titles and three World Open titles.
Martin lifted the coveted World Open title for three consecutive years between 1993-1995 and is one of the finest female players to ever pick up a squash racket.
Her first World Championship crown began an unprecedented spell of success for Australian squash, with eight of the next nine title being won by either her or her countrywomen.
Martin also won two Gold Medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur – the first-time squash was introduced to the games and in 2013, received the Medal of the Order of Australia.
Nada Abo Alnaja
Nada Abo Alnaja wrote her name into not only squash history, but sporting history earlier this year when she became the first Saudi female ever to compete not only on the international squash stage but also the first Saudi professional female athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia.
Abo Alnaja initially taught herself to play squash before enlisting the help of a coach while spending time in Grenoble, France.
The pioneering athlete saw off competition from four of her countrywomen to be granted the wildcard spot at this year’s PSA Saudi Women’s Squash Masters World Series event – the first professional women’s only sporting event of any kind to take place in the Kingdom.
Abo Alnaja’s name will forever be associated with the beginning of change and associated with the changing of a country’s philosophy.
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