We start the new year
with two new number ones, Nicol
David and Jonathon Power. Well actually
one of them is quite old: Power is probably just as surprised as
the rest of us.
Even though we all suspected that those three huge
tournaments – Qatar,
the World Open and Saudi Arabia – would have an enormous
effect on the rankings, none of us would have thought that the
ageing Canadian would have climbed all the way back up to top
But that is what can happen when the top ten players
are pretty close in standard and three tournaments offer something
like $400,000 in prize money. The winner of each tournament gets a massive points
injection and improves their ranking more than winninghalf-a-dozen
small tournaments. In days gone by this would have just made
the dominant player (Hunt, Jahangir, Jansher, Nicol or Power) even
more dominant and harder to catch. Now, however, the effect is to shake
the top ten around like a maraca.
The truly exciting point was in Saudi Arabia when Anthony
Ricketts faced Power in the final. The winner would also
take the number one spot in the new rankings. How’s that for
at Thierry Lincou: top player for 12 months
and because he failed to win in the big ones he has dropped to fifth. James
Willstrop won in Qatar, jumped to number two in the world
and because he could not keep that startling run going in the next two
big ones, starts the year at number six.
Amr Shabana, by dint of his stunning performance
in Hong Kong at the World Open, starts 2006 in the number two slot,
jumping up five places.
David Palmer had a good year reaching
five finals (did any other player achieve that level of consistency?),
but only triumphed in Kuwait last March and so starts the year at
number four. These
are interesting times my friend.
ARE THEY GRINHAMS GONE, OR JUST
TAKING A REST?
David Gets the better of the Grinhams in 05 photo© 2005, Fritz Borchert
the women’s games, there are just two words, Nicol
David. She had a dream year and quite rightly, having won
the World Open, starts the new year at number one. As I have said
before, she is the complete player and will take some dislodging.
I am surprised at Rachel Grinham’s fall
from the top spot, she was beginning to look and play like the
number one, using her position to intimidate (mentally) her opponents. But
Nicol David will not be intimidated; what she will find is that her
opponents will now intimidate themselves. It is very difficult to walk
on the court against the world champion and try to forget that she/he
is the world champion.
The question is will Grinham and little sister Natalie make
a comeback? They are still occupying the third and fourth spots, so
they are by no means out of the race. The question is will they be
able to find a chink in David’s mental armour?
No should we forget the world number two, Vanessa Atkinson, who
actually occupied the number one spot, the reward for a good year of
classy squash. Her time at the top was short lived, but when she has
her mind and body in synch, she is very hard to beat. I am quite sure
she will be pursuing David in an attempt to regain that
number one spot. Their meetings in 2006 should be quite interesting.
THE THONG IS ENDED…
Botwright Had a Great 2005 photo© 2005,
Interview with Vicky B:
Vicky Botwright has
surprised us all by finally shucking off that ‘thong’ image and proving to the world that she
can play at the top of the game. After losing two five-game battles
to Nicol David, she finally beat her in five in the Qatar Classic,
the tournament where she also beat Rachael Grinham before losing
to Vanessa Atkinson in the final. This was her best year yet
by far and has earned her the number five spot.
And a loud cheer for that grand old lady Linda Elriani who
continues to earn her place in the top ten. Linda had thought about
retiring last year, but now wants to get a medal at the Commonwealth
Games in March.
I’m disappointed at the downward slide
of both Natalie
Grainger and Shelley Kitchen . Grainger
has the skills and shots to be at the top, but the lack of
fitness which has dogged her for the last five years continues. At
this point last year I would have put money on Kitchen, New Zealand’s
top player, being in the top ten come 2006 and yet she has
been unable to string together a decent set of performances,
often losing to players ranked well below her.
Finally, keep an eye on Alison Waters, a player who
has often been praised but has only come into her own this year to
notch up some fine wins. It is also nice to see
Tania Bailey back in the top ten, and I shall be
watching her progress in the coming year to see if she can get back
her old spot at world number four.
News has come through that Stephanie Brind has
given up the WISPA tour in order to join the police force. It was only
a few years back that she was one of England’s brightest prospects.
She played for England in the world team champs in Odense four
years ago and lost unexpectedly to Natalie Grinham, giving the
Australians the world title. Stephanie never seemed to recover her
confidence and the last time I saw her play in a small tournament
in England, she lost to a player she should have beaten in 20 minutes
ITALIAN FIGS ROTTING ON THE VINE
Readers with real long memories will
recall the dreadful organization of the men’s world junior championship in Miland in 2001. The
Italian governing body (FIGS) couldn’t do anything right and
received a severe roasting from Technical Director of the WSF Andrew
Shelley. That was a relief to me because I had reported what a
mess they had made of things and the FIGS chief executive wrote several
scurrilous letters (in both English and Italian) telling me what a
dreadful person I was and how I had got everything wrong. When Shelley’s
report came out they shifted their fury on to him, at one point insinuating
that he was an incompetent inebriated nitwit. Anyone who knows Shelley
will laugh at that description.
BIANCHETTI GETTING HIS ASSI IN GEAR
Things have not changed in five
years. The same people are running FIGS and doing it just as badly.
They will not allow Amedeo
Bianchetti near their organization even though he is the only
man in Italy who has the confidence of the elite players. So there
are now two organizations operating in Italy: FIGS using the third
grade players to populate their national team (when they can raise
the money to enter a team for European or World championships) and
Bianchetti’s new independent association called ASSI where
the top players compete.
Amadeo tells me that ASSI will be running at least four tournaments
in 2006 and the eventual aim is to run even more and eventually run
FIGS out of business.
VANCOUVER GETS CANCELLED
Sad to report the new Canadian Squash Invitational,
due to run in Vancouver between Christmas and New Year had to be cancelled.
According to some reports, not enough sponsorship was found and not
enough tickets were sold even though the event had a star-studded line-up.
Shawn Patton, the man behind it, had the good sense to call on Eventis
to help him stage it and with Peter Nicol’s influence, Power, Nicol, Shabana,
John White, James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier had all signed
There were other repercussions that came to light before the event.
Patton had contracted to use the McWil court and when the Saudi Arabia
event came on the scene, the PSA asked McWil to supply a court (they
are the official court of the PSA).
McWil told the PSA that they were unable to do that because their
one touring court was committed to Vancouver, The PSA intiated a
terrific dispute with their partner McWil. Dave Carr of McWil pointed
out that they agreed to supply courts whenever possible. The Vancouver
event had made things impossible: they could not fly the court out
to Saudi Arabia and get it back to Vancouver in time. At which point
Eventis (here they are again) were contacted and their court (which
they bought from McWil) was rented out to Saudi Arabia.
I understand that Shawn Patton has reimbursed all expenses
incurred by players and other people affected, which does not happen
very often when a tournament gets cancelled. I do hope that
Mr Patton will try again this/next year and give himself enough lead
time to get everything in place.
Maybe Patton should try holding his tournament in early January
2007, the week before the Canadian Classic. This year’s Classic
should have no trouble selling out with Power having risen to world number
one. Toronto has always been a Power stronghold and this year, he’ll
be hailed win, lose or draw. I shall be there reporting from the
first day of qualifying, so stay logged on to SquashTalk.