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Shabana to be Challenged by Three on his Heels
By Ron Beck, Dec 29, 2006
Squashtalk Independent News; © 2006 SquashTalk LLC

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Amr Shabana starts off his 2007 campaign with Ramy Ashour in his Toronto quarter (photo © 2006 Debra Tessier)

The year 2006 was an eventful one in the world of Men's pro squash. Jonathon Power (in February) and Peter Nicol (in the summer) both retired, leaving behind a pro tour that was stronger than when both emerged in 1997 and that the two had largely dominated for almost a decade.

David Palmer (Australia) was the player seemingly positioned to take over the top spot in the absense of Power and Nicol. But it wasn't to be. While Palmer had a strong year, the magical Egyptian, Amr Shabana, had a better year. Shabana, who showed a well-timed consistency to match his offensive flourishes, grabbed #1 once Power retired, and determinedly held it for the rest of the year. The big challengers to Shabana, as 2006 closed, came from a different quarter: The youth movement. It was Ramy Ashour, a fellow Egyptian, fresh off a World Junior Men's Title, who caught fire in late fall, claiming a dizzying array of scalps from the top ten as he charged into the finals in Hong Kong and the semis at the US Open; and then it was Gregory Gaultier (France), who shed his bad-boy image and unveiled a confident attacking game in Boston, where he charged to the US Open win (over Lincou and then Shabana) and the Saudi Finals (over Palmer in the semis and losing to Shabana in the finals.)

In Toronto, Amr Shabana finds himself in the same quarter with Ramy Ashour. Ashour will have to get by another Egyptian, Mo Abbas, to meet Shabana.

campement d'ours
Gregory Gaultier had a 1:1 record with Shabana in November and December. (photo © 2006 Debra Tessier)

Meanwhile Gaultier, finds himself in the second quarter, where he may face both Anthony Ricketts (Australia) and Lee Beachill (England). Both Ricketts and Beachill have a lot to prove, as they have made early exits in the fall events. They will provide an extreme test as to whether Gaultier's performance in November and December can be duplicated in January. Either of these two players is capable of putting together a game plan to give Gaultier fits, and both Beachill and Ricketts can in particular call up the memories of each of their memorable meetings in the world team championships in 2003 with Gaultier, contests that in both cases came perilously close to fisticuffs.

At the bottom part of the draw, David Palmer (Australia) is in a killer quarter with James Willstrop (England) and Stewart Boswell (Australia). Boswell always rises to the occasion against countryman Palmer, while Willstrop is due for a big win.

The other quarter is equally brutal, with two Egyptians who have been playing wonderfully recently, Karim Darwish and Wael El Hindi facing off against John White (Scotland) and Nick Matthew (England) respectively.

Martin Bronstein will be in Toronto to report on this 32-draw Superseries event live. Stay tuned.

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