(FILES) This file photo taken on August 12, 2011 shows Malaysia?s Nicol David playing a shot against Hong Kong?s Annie Au (not pictured) during their quarter-final match at the 2011 Australian Open squash tournament in Canberra. Malaysia's world number one Nicol David warned competition was now tougher than ever as she sets out to defend her title at the world women's championships on her home island of Penang. The final takes place on March 22, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FILES / ANDREW DENT IMAGE STRICTLY RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE ? STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE
HUNGRY FOR MORE: Nicol David believes she can continue playing at the top level for another five years. AFPpic

MALAYSIA’S world number one Datuk Nicol David warned competition was now tougher than ever as she sets out to defend her title at the world women’s championships on her home island of Penang.

The peerless Nicol, who has won a record seven world titles and has held the top ranking since 2006, is the hot favourite to lift the trophy for the eighth time.

The 30-year-old can help boost Malaysian spirits after the disappearance of flight Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with 239 passengers on board nine days ago caused widespread shock.

Nicol has made a turbo-charged start to the year, winning back-to-back titles at the Tournament of Champions and Cleveland Classic in January and February.

But despite being the overwhelming favourite in Penang, she said it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep her challengers at bay.

“There is not much separating the top 10 players and the gap is certainly getting closer,” Nicol said.

“Anyone in the top 10 is capable of ousting each other, so I have to be on top of my game as everyone will be out to get me.”

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Asian Games in South Korea and the world team championships are also on Nicol’s schedule in what is shaping up as a busy year.

“I am 30 now and the sport is very demanding,” she said. “I have to pay extra attention to my preparation and recovery for each match and I can’t push my body too much compared to when I was younger.

“Having said that, I still aim to compete at the highest level for at the least the next five years.”

The top seed and defending champion will open her account against England’s Emma Beddoes in a draw which appears to have given her a favourable route to the final.

Should she make the title match on Saturday, her biggest rival Laura Massaro of England, the second seed, will hope to lie in wait.

Massaro’s main obstacle in the bottom half of the draw looks to be third seed Raneem El Weleily of Egypt. Nicol’s last world title win came at the expense of Massaro in 2012.

The pocket-sized champion will be joined by compatriots Low Wee Wern and wildcard entry Vanessa Raj in the main draw.

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