certainly can’t question David Palmer’s consistency.
has reached the final of the last three big tournaments: US
Open, Qatar and the World Open. But each time has been
pipped at the post, Lee Beachill got the US Open title, James Willstrop
beat him in Qatar and then the totally enigmatic Amr Shabana beat
him to take the world title for the second time. His run will certainly
do his ranking a lot of good and should keep him in the top three for
some time to come, but he must be wondering what he has to do to pick
up a winner’s trophy.
PICK A NAME, ANY NAME
Shabana Scythed His way through the World Open Field, photo© 2005,
season so far has shown that the days of one player dominating
the scene have gone and anybody from the top ten is capable
of winning a tournament. In the last three tournaments, eight different
players have featured in the semis. It means the fight for the top
three or four places is as dense as ever it was.
us be totally honest: nobody would have bet on Amr Shabana to scythe
his way through the World Open field with such élan. Yes,
we all know that this charismatic player can beat any player on
earth when his mind is totally focused. But that state of affairs happens
once every two years, when he decides to win the World Open.
BEST FINISHER IN THE BUSINESS
Ok, so that remark is not quite fair. He has had some good wins
this year (three tournaments), but he has also played atrociously.
(He was so cold in the Super Series finals in London, that he couldn’t
wait to get back on the plane to Cairo).
when Amr Shabana is on form, look out! Nobody
can hit as many winners as Shabana; not John White, not Jonathon
Power, not even Qamar Zaman, who made his reputation thirty years
ago by being the only shotmaker in a crowd of runners.
Shabana’s entire focus is on ending the rally with a winner,
from anywhere to anywhere on the court. In Hong Kong he never
dropped a game in the quarters, semis or final. That’s right,
he zipped Peter Nicol, Lee Beachill and David Palmer. Has anybody else
had such a run in a World Open before?
FAST HANDS, FAST FEET FAST BRAIN
court in Hong Kong was fast, which suited the very fast thinking Shabana
to a T. He has a tongue as fast as his racket. When Power finally packs
it in, Shabana will take over his mantle as the wisecracker. Perhaps
his really wild days are over now that he is married; there is nothing
like marriage and a mortgage to focus a man’s mind. He is
also working with Ahmed Tahier, the Egyptian national coach and it seems
to be working. Well done, Amr, you bring skill, style and
wit to the game and we can never have enough of all three.
DAVID….IN ONE FELL SWOOP
David vaults past Rachael Grinham and Vanessa Atkinson to #1 ,
would you like to be serving at match point, in front of a huge crowd
of fans who are praying that you bring
glory to their part of the world? How would you like to be serving
at that critical point knowing that victory would bring you the world
crown. Furthermore, how would you like to be serving knowing that
by winning that rally you would also be taking over the number one
spot in the rankings?
All that heavy duty stuff fell on the delicate shoulders of Nicol
David in Hong Kong.
Most of us would have disintegrated into a pool of nervous flop-sweat.
Miss David, that diminutive figure from Malaysia did no such thing.
She did what she does very well: concentrated on the job at hand.
Block out all the other stuff; the nerves, the glory, the countrymen
urging victory. Just play squash. She
won the point, the game, the match, the world crown and the world
number one spot (come January 2006).
THE PERFECT SQUASH BRAIN.
has a wonderful squash brain. When I was interviewing her for Squashplayer
Magazine recently she told me she still watches as much squash as she
can, men and women, to see how other players do things.
Her coach, Liz Irving told SquashTalk that she is a helluva fighter.
In the final against Rachel Grinham, her game plan went out the window
when Grinham changed her playing style. Caught off guard
for a few rallies, Nicol responded by changing her game plan.
She was unstoppable.
fact she has been virtually unstoppable since she was 13. She won
the world junior title when she was 16 and then again two years later.
In Penang in 2001, I thought then that she was the complete squash
player; what impressed me most was her concentration. Nothing – nasty
opponents or bad decisions or unlucky bounces -could destroy that sense
of mission that she took on court with her. She still
has it but she also has the experience and wise counsel of Liz Irving behind
her and that is a formidable combination. Once David has
climbed to that topmost podium, it is going to be a long, long
time before she is deposed.
has such a strong line-up for the World Team championship due to
start in Pakistan next week, that they could probably take on the
rest of the world. You only have to look at one statistic – four
players in the world’s top ten – to see just how strong
they are. Naturally they have been seeded top followed by Egypt, France,
Australia and Canada.
THE NOTORIOUS BHS
see how that stacks up against the notorious BHS (Bronstein
Handicapping System) It’s quite simple, you add a
team’s individual world rankings together and get the BHS index. So,
James Willstrop (2), Lee Beachill (5) and Peter Nicol (8) gives us
a BHS index of 15. Egypt, with Shabana (7),
Darwish(12) and Wael Hindi (19) gives a BHS of 38. Next
comes France with Lincou (1), Gaultier (11) and Renan
Lavigne (33) for a BHS of 45. Fourth
comes Australia: Ricketts (3), Boswell (20) and Kneipp (24), BHS 47. Canada
comes in fifth: Power (6), Ryding ( 13) and Razik (29) for a
BHS of 48.
So the WSF seeding agrees with the BHS. However,
in a three man team, you only need two players to win, so let us apply
the BHS to the top two men in each country. Result?
So France jumps to second and Canada jumps over Australia to tie with
AUSTRALIA WITHOUT PALMER
Palmer will miss all the excitement in Islamabad. Which
might be a good thing considering some of the disgraceful comments
he made when he blew his top at the start of this year in the world
doubles held in Pakistan. His behaviour brought a WSF ban which
means that he is unable to play for Australia, a situation that has
cost them any chance of winning the title they won two years ago. A
team of Palmer, Ricketts and Boswell would be capable of beating anybody.
The final would almost certainly be Willstrop vs Palmer,
Ricketts vs Beachill and Nicol vs Boswell.
I think Nicol would have won at number three, but the results at first
and second strings? I would never bet on it.
But that is all conjecture; without Palmer, Australia
would do very well to make the final.