|SquashTalk>Features>Global Gallery>January 2000 Gallery: Tourament of Champions Preview|
|Martin Bronstein’s Global Gallery
His Monthly Views on the World of Squash
|January 2000, Gallery # 2000-1|
HIGH NOON IN GRAND CENTRAL
Clever guy that John Nimick. Schedules the Tournament of Champions after a real long layoff so that everybody is hungry and players will arrive at Platform One in Grand Central Station ready, rested and just raring to go. There’ll be quite a few scores to settles over matters that have simmered since the British Open at the beginning of December.
SHOULDA STUCK TO HAGGIS
Peter Nicol for instance. I wonder if he still eats pasta? You can be sure that he is still more than upset at the food poisoning that cost him his British Open title. You can also be sure that he had the sympathy of the entire squash world, including the man who went home with the trophy, Jonathon Power. So Nicol will want to start the new year in winning form, on the road to regaining his number one ranking, and when the next British Open comes around (September in Birmingham?) to wrest the title back.
I understand that Peter is as good as new and suffering no after effects of what the doctors in Aberdeen Hospital called acute gastro-enteritis. He’s back in Essex in full training and although there are no tournaments he will keep in shape with his European league commitments. He will get to New York rested, sharp and motivated beyond any other player. The betting is not whether he will get to the final but how few points he’ll allow his opponents before he gets there.
THE CANADIAN CONUNDRUM
Just how happy can Jonathon Power be despite having the number one ranking and the British Open title? Despite retiring from the World Open and getting thumped by Nicol in the Hong Kong Open, by a quirk of the computer he got back to number one. And he got the British Open title by default.
There’s a pretty good chance that he will be out to prove that he deserves to be in the top spot. He still feels he’s a better player than Nicol and when he is on top form he can wipe the floor with the Scotsman. The operative words are ‘on top form’ which didn’t apply to either Nicol or Power last year when they played each other.
These are the strange facts: Last year they met five times and not one match went beyond three games. In New York at last year’s TOC, There was one good game and then Nicol collapsed with exhaustion given as the reason. In the Super Series, again a great first game and it was Power’s turn to throw in the towel winning just six points in the last two games. With no ranking points at stake, Power , who said he was tired, declined to make any effort.
Moving on to Maastricht the same scenario, this time with Power winning and Nicol fading out badly due to a hip problem.
In Hong Kong Nicol played brilliantly, some say the best he’s ever played and outgunned the Canadian in three straight. And then the sad British Open with Nicol unable to move out of his chair after the second game.
So the big question is Will they both get it together for New York?
RUNNING HOT AND COLD
Ahmed Barada always gets his best wins at home and in the Heliopolis wiped out both Power and Nicol, beating the Sot in 37 minutes! (Yes that deserves an exclamation mark.) In Aberdeen he could not get past Power in the semis and lost in three because he still cannot summon up the consistency that is required to beat the top two. Barada is either steaming hot or ice cold; when he’s hot he’s unbeatable. He is in very good hands now and is maturing at a very steady rate of knots. If he gets hot in cold New York, the Power/Nicol showdown may never take place. You have to understand that Barada is in no big hurry. He?s still only 22 and he knows his day will come.
Simon Parke, on the other hand, knows his days are numbered and, at 28, has to make his mark soon. He still has ambitions to be world number one, world champion and British Open champion; those burning ambitions have never lost their white hot glow. In the last year his game matured; he played with a new sense of authority and showed that he really deserved the number four spot in the rankings. His new-found style and confidence came to fruition in Boston in the US Open when he emulated Barada to beat both Power and Nicol – both 15-13 in the fifth! (Yes, another exclamation mark, fully deserved). He was tired at the British Open because of his Boston efforts but still managed to put up a show in the semis against Nicol before his legs gave out.
Parke had a good rest over Christmas( he thinks the gaps in the season are a good way of refreshing himself) and has played league games to keep sharp. But he will be completely fresh in New York and capable of staying on court for two hours if need be. The top three will not look forward to facing the new Parke, but Parke himself can’t wait to challenge those above him.
MAC HEATH’S BACK IN TOWN
Martin Heath took the number four spot from Paul Johnson for a time last year, slipped back to number seven and now resides at number five. Heath too has a problem with consistency. He did brilliantly in the World Open, challenged Power in the quarters of the British Open and then, can you believe, gets walloped by Mark Cairns, (a qualifier) in the first round of the Marsh & McLennan tourney in New York this month. (Mark Cairns is ranked 30 by the way). Heath is a talented squash player, more of the Barada school than Nicol’s, and should have carved his place permanently in the top four by now. It is my opinion he needs a travelling mentor/advisor to stop him going off the tracks. He too, will want to prove his worth in New York. He’s beaten Nicol before and could well do it again IF- and it is a big if – he’s got his act together and secured it with superglue.
Paul Johnson had an unhappy year last year and failed to make the semis of the world open, took some bad losses in the world’s team championships and then got walked over by Parke in three straight in the British Open. The fourth spot, that he had held for so long has gone and now Johnson is down to six and suffering from a crisis in confidence. He’s working hard with David Pearson, but maybe he should spend sometime in Cairo, hanging out with Barada, Shabana, Elborolossy and Darwish. Johnson must get a front court game if he is to compete with those above him. His performance in New York will depend more, however, on his self-confidence. With that in place, his athleticism will make up for his lack of shots.
WHO WILL UPSET THE BIG APPLECART?
All the above could be turned on its head by John White, who has beaten Barada twice before, or Paul Price, another Australian, who has entered the top ten for the first time, proof that he is constantly improving.
Peter Marshall won the Pakistan Open and then ran out of steam in the British Open, his first real major tournament in two years, so that must counted as damn fine performance. Given the right draw, I would not be the least surprised if Marshall makes the semis.
Del Harris made the final of the Marsh & McLennan and is definitely on the upswing. He has the all-round game and the experience to upset everybody in the top ten, and barring injuries, which have held him down for two years, he could do very well.
And watch out for Amr Shabana, the latest sensation from Egypt. Here’s a man who will never have a crisis of confidence. If you are going to be in New York make a point of watching this dynamic player and count how many winners he slot in ten minutes. Mind-boggling.