Of Golden Hands:
Nicol Kills the Jinx
Men's British Open 2002
A very rich, skinny American woman once said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” The squash equivalent was more succinct: “You can never be too fit.” It was a mantra that held sway from the start of the Hashim era until the end of the Jansher decade, when speed and skill replaced huge lungs and iron determination. Yes, fitness was still a factor, but not the determining factor and even now there are constant examples of fine players whose lack of fitness has let them down.
Jonathon Power, perhaps the greatest racquet handler the game of squash has ever known, was notorious for not wanting to train; as soon as he brought his fitness level up, he went to the very top. Over the last three years, it was not the fitness that prevented him from cleaning up everything in sight, but niggling injuries to most parts of his body (some unkind critic said mostly his head). Experts would counter that injuries occur most when the body is not properly prepared.
Power turned up for the British Open at Lambs Club in London and at England's new National Squash Center in Manchester in super fit form, while Peter Nicol, the top seed, arrived after losses to Power in the Tournament of Champions and the Pakistan Open as well as being beaten (again!) by England's Lee Beachill in the British nationals. Nicol had jammed his leg in the semifinal against John White in New York, an injury that was played down, but now one that he admits severely hampered his movement. On top of this, there is the Nicol British Open Jinx; in the '90s he never got past the first round until he lost to Jansher in the 1997 final, beat him the next year, retired with food poisoning in the final of the 1999 tournament, retired on the eve of the 2000 tournament with a foot injury, and then was beaten in the quarters by Lee Beachill in 2001. That's a lot of negative baggage to carry into a tournament, but if anyone can handle it, Nicol can.
(For complete coverage of the 2002 US Nationals, please pick up a copy of the June/July 2002 issue of Squash Magazine.)