GRAND CAYMAN: Nicol David, who will be seeking to extend her record of world titles to seven in eight years on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, hopes to show that the pack of would-be rivals is not closing in on her.
The phenomenal Malaysian is one of the longest-lasting front-runners in the whole of sport, but two losses in recent weeks have offered unexpected encouragement to those who believe the hunt may have found a scent.
These rare winners were Raneem El Weleily, the world No. 2 from Egypt who has improved markedly during 2012, and Alison Waters, the world No. 7 from England, who has made a remarkable comeback from injury.
Their successes will have galvanized others to believe the chase can succeed.
However, David also has reasons for feeling encouraged.
Crucial after six-and-a half continuous years as world No. 1 is to ensure she peaks for important events — and she has just done that rather well.
It was at the US Open in Philadelphia in October where she avenged herself on the two who had beaten her.
“It was a big achievement for me to win it that way,” said David, hinting at evolving priorities as she moves into her 30th year.
“Recovery is key. It’s key to preventing injuries, and keeping the body ready for each day.” She has not been helped in her need to prioritize in this way by a section of the media back home which described her losses as “shocking.”
But David insists her motivation burns bright.
“It’s that will to improve myself, as a player, also trying to get to perfection, and there is a long way to go,” she said.
“I just feel old, looking at all those young players, that just keep going!” Weleily is 23, and as the number two seed, is in the other half of the draw of the World Open which starts on Monday.
Waters is 28 and seeded fourth but has landed in the champion’s half. They may have a semi-final meeting though there are unusually tough hurdles for David before that.
Her first round is about the hardest she could have had — against Omneya Abdel Kawy, whom she played in the 2010 final in Sharm El Sheikh.
Since then injury has caused the Egyptian to fall from the top 20, until an excellent comeback in the last two months.
This opener could prove a thermometer of David’s chances, for the champion has occasionally shown signs of vulnerability early on.
It may not get any easier though, for David has a likely third round with Nour El Sherbini, the 17-year-old Egyptian schoolgirl who contested this year’s British Open final with her.
After that El Sherbini was widely touted as the player most likely to succeed David.
Insights as to how soon that might happen may shortly be available.