GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands: Nicol David extended her record of World Open titles to seven from eight finals Friday with a balanced performance and great patience to beat English third seed Laura Massaro.
The Malaysian heroine’s 11-6 11-8 11-6 victory silenced critics who had suggested younger rivals were closing the gap on the 29-year-old champion.
Massaro forced many long rallies and even led 7-5 in the second game, but David responded well to the important moments which followed.
She mixed containment with well-timed drops and lightning-quick changes of direction that prevented her opponent from getting a crucial foothold in the match.
The outcome was that David only dropped one game throughout the entire tournament, but she had to focus harder and for longer in the final than in any of her four other encounters.
Her relief and joy at surviving the perpetual pressure of expectations yet again was smilingly obvious.
She held her head in both hands, then placed her hands high on the court, and finally caressed the ball affectionately against a wall before allowing herself to accept that no more was required of her racket.
Then her words reflected the frequent struggle between doubt and self-confidence.
“I can’t believe it,” she said.
“I just can’t believe it.
“I am just so pleased with my match. Laura pushed me every point. There was no point where I could let up because she was just on it every point. She played a very good match.”
David knew the danger well as Massaro is one of the few players to have beaten her twice.
However, she did so last year and, although the challenger has improved further since then, the champion at her best has too, perhaps just as much.
Two of the most crucial moments came when David got back to 7-7 in the pivotal middle game and then nosed ahead to 8-7 with a disputed point.
The levelling rally saw brilliantly nimble retrieves from David, plus some patient backhand wall straight driving with a tight little backhand drop to finish it.
That was followed in the next rally by a marginally mistimed backhand drive by Massaro, which caused the ball to come away from the wall and resulted in her slightly impeding David.
A penalty stroke was awarded, Massaro’s video review appeal failing to get the decision overturned.
David pushed hard to capitalise, offered a rare fist pump when she broke through to a two-game lead, and was quickly five points up in the third and motoring away.
“I am a little bit disappointed with that,” said Massaro, who had saved a match point in a long and hard semi-final with Raneem El Weleily, the second-seeded Egyptian, and may have paid a price in the third game of the final.
“It was just a few points here and there and that’s all the difference,” she said.
“The middle of the games were so crucial and that’s what I have to work on.
“It’s still pretty rare that she is beaten. We are still training hard and improving and she’s rising to the challenge.”
To do that well as she moves through her 30th year, David may need to select peaks more carefully for the tournaments she really wants to win.
But at her best, she is still too fine an athlete and too steady a rallyer for everyone, even during her moments of doubt.
Her high profile among the all-time greats is likely to rise yet further. – AFP