Sivasangari opens up on Nicol comparisons

KUALA LUMPUR: National No.1 S. Sivasangari will be looking to put all distractions aside as she bids to continue her outstanding recent form and emulate legendary compatriot Nicol David by winning the upcoming World Championships.

Sivasangari, who recently reached a career-high ranking of world No.11, produced the squash of her life to lift the Gold-level London Squash Classic trophy at Alexandra Palace last month – the biggest prize of her professional career to date.

Her run to the title was certainly one to behold.

The 25-year-old defeated world No.1 Nour El Sherbini, world No.4 Nele Gilis and world No.2 Hania El Hammamy in succession to live up to her nickname "The Giant Killer", and prove unquestionably that she is once again one to watch at the top of the women's game.

However, with these recent successes have come the inevitable comparisons to eight-time world champion and former world No.1 Nicol, who is widely regarded as the greatest women's player in the history of the sport.

As Sivasangari sat down to preview this year's World Championships, she reflected: "Yeah, there's definitely a lot of pressure. I think generally, when you're doing a highly competitive sport, there's always going to be a bit of pressure no matter where you stand.

"But definitely after the London Classic there's a lot of pressure, and that's why I'm working with Jesse (Engelbrecht) to put all of my distractions aside. Basically, pressure is a distraction. You can only can control what you're in control of. And it's tough sometimes when I'm compared with Nicol.

"Nicol actually came up to me and said, 'Everyone is unique'. She has a different path, and Nicol has achieved what she has achieved. I'm a new, different person. It was great to hear from her.

"To be honest, for Nicol to have eight World Championships, I don't know how she did it; it's insane. El Sherbini is on that track now, which is again incredible. For me, even to dream of winning one World Championship is something that I really want to work towards, it's definitely in my dreams and a goal that I want to achieve in the future.

"I think people have to know that we are two different people, we have different journeys. The pressure is fine, I just go and avoid all those comparisons and focus on what I need to do."

Sivasangari's success at the London Classic was yet another incredible milestone on her journey back from a serious car accident that could have not only brought a premature end to her squash career, but also left her with potentially life-changing injuries.

The car crash in June 2022 resulted in fractures to both Sivasangari's neck and face and led to months of wearing cumbersome collars. However, as well as these physical injuries, the Malaysian also admitted there were some mental scars which she had to address upon her return to the court.

Her subsequent work with mental coach Jesse Engelbrecht was very much evident in her recent performances at the London Classic, with the 2023 Asian Games singles champion dealing well with the pressure moments in her victories over Gilis and El Hammamy – bouncing back from initially squandering match balls to claim victories on both occasions.

"I've been working with Jesse," she explained.

"After the accident I needed to work with someone mentally. I think I was having a lot of anger issues and I was putting too much pressure on myself and trying to get back to where I was before the accident. So I got in contact with him and we've been working together since then.

"I think he's been great. I guess the mental aspect of the game is as important as the physical side of it, and he's been great. Like we've been working a lot on trying to just control my emotions and trying to live the moment. He always tries to remind me that I've gone through all these things, so to even be coming back and playing all these matches is really huge and just trying to live and enjoy, and to love what you're doing is the main thing between us."

Sivasangari could once again face her opponent from the London Classic final, El Hammamy, in the coming fortnight, with the Malaysian seeded to face the world No.3 if the pair were to both come through their respective opening two rounds of the World Championships.

Seeded at No.14, Sivasangari will first have to defeat Latvia's Ineta Hopton in Round 1, before potentially facing one of Nicole Bunyan or Caroline Fouts in the second round.

The likes of world No.2 Nouran Gohar, world No.5 Nour El Tayeb and world No.6 Georgina Kennedy are also found in her half of the draw.

On her confidence levels entering the event, the World No.13 said: "I mean, it (the London Classic victory) has definitely boosted my confidence a lot. I think I've been wanting these results for a couple of years now, even before the accident, and even afterwards, I have always wanted to challenge these top players.

"To get the win, and it's good that I've got the win, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to keep winning.

"You have your up and down days, but it's good that I have confidence, and it's always in the back of my mind that I can beat these players, and I can always challenge them."

On what the World Championships means to her, she added: "The World Championships is also the biggest tournament for us in Malaysia and the tournament every player wants to compete in. Everyone wants to watch it as well and it's definitely something big for me that I've been playing it for a couple of years now.

"It would be a dream come true [to win the World Championships]. It's everyone's dream, every squash player's dream, to win a World Championships, but to have my name on the trophy would be huge and amazing, and hopefully I can do that."

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