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World
Open Draw Preview

by Dan
and Joe Kneipp
, Team
Kneipp report index

All content © 2002 Squashtalk

Dec
6, 2002

These
unassuming courts will become the venue for much joy and heartbreak.
The first two round are held here at the Inndigo Club, before
moving to a show court. (photo: ©2002 Dan Kneipp)

Once squash becomes an Olympic
sport there will be no doubt that Olympic gold will be the pinnacle
achievement. Recently our sport was denied that honour, and the ludicrous
situation of golf being included looks like an inevitability. There
is a very simple reason that golf and tennis should not be in the
Olympics: achieving an Olympic gold medal won’t be the greatest
possible achievement in either sport (by a long way) and that should
be the major deciding factor. A tennis player would rather win Wimbledon
and a golf player would rather win the Claret Jug or green jacket.
But that’s a whole other issue that we’ll get into at
a later date. So without Olympic medal possibilities the Commonwealth
Games are probably the greatest success that can be achieved in squash.
It’s probably of more significance than the World Title because
of how rarely the event is held, the prestige of it, and that squash
has only had two precious inclusions in the Games.

But the World Title has only been
held by 8 people which reads as a who’s who of the champions
of the sport. The event hasn’t been staged since 1999 allowing
Peter Nicol to hold on to the World Champion title. It supposed
to be a yearly event, but the three year wait since the last makes
the event’s value even higher if that is possible. Who knows
if there’ll be another one next year, or whether it’ll
be another three years. What is known is that the event is on now
and that eighty-eight of the best squash players on the planet are
all gathered and desperate to try to get the title of World Champion.
Twenty-four men who have gathered from around the world have already
had there chance and had it politely pointed out to them via qualifying
that this won’t be their year. (But it’s wonderful to
see players from countries that haven’t produced many or any
squash players like Russia, Yugoslavia and Greece being given wild
card entries into the qualifying event. This can only be good for
the long term appeal, strength and variety of the game.)

The draw has been done
so that the top 56 ranked PSA members get straight into the main
draw. 32 player including the 8 invitees have played the qualifying
tournament for the 8 remaining spots into the 64 man main draw.
It works so that in the first round the top 32 players in the world
play against the players ranked 33 and beyond (not 33 to 64 because
of the qualifying exceptions and upsets). Now if everything goes
to seeding (which NEVER happens), in the second round all that is
left is the top 32 players. The draw is done so that then players
from the top 16 compete against players ranked 17-32. Which means
64 players have been halved to 32. By the third round there is 16
players remaining and the top 8 seeds are scheduled to meet players
ranked 8 – 16. Then the quarter finals is supposed to pit
the top four players against the players ranked 5-8. This way the
four top ranked players can’t possibly meet each other until
the semi final, and to take the seeding one step further the top
two seeds can only play against each other if they both make the
final. So that’s how it works in theory and if everything
goes to ranking. It makes slightly more sense if you use a player
as an example.

Peter Nicol the #1 seed
in the first round plays someone outside the top 32, which in his
case is a qualifier. If he wins this in the second round he meets
a player ranked between 16 and 32 (let’s just pretend all
the matches will go to seeding just for argument sake). That would
be Paul Price at 19. If he wins this he then for the third round
he meets a player ranked between 8 and 16, which would be Alex Gough
sitting right at #16. Then for the quarter finals he is supposed
to meet a player who is between 5 and 8 in the world. According
to seeding that will be Ong Beng Hee (although since the draw was
done Beng Hee and Ricketts have swapped places and Ricketts is actually
ranked one position higher, but is seeded to lose his match –
one of the many reasons that the 3rd round should produce some of
the matches of the tournament). So after Nicol meets Beng Hee in
the quarters he then plays Boswell in the semis and finally Power
for the title.

So that’s how it
works for a player ranked in the top four. It’s different
for me having a seeding of 13. In the first round I’m supposed
to have a player ranked 33+, then in the second round someone from
16 to 32, and then in the 3rd round a player from the top eight.
If you are a qualifier then you know that you will get a top 32
player in the first round and have your work cut out for you. Bare
with me, I’m getting to a crucial point.

So with the importance
of this event virtually every player that could play the event is
here. Of the 56 players who get a passage straight into the main
draw only a few are missing: (remembering that the draw was done
on November’s rankings) #34 Adrian Grant, #36 former #4 Paul
Johnson who was also absent at the Qatar Classic, #45 James Willstrop
who is trying to win himself a World Junior Title in Indian, and
one of the main movers over the past twelve months – Spain’s
#52 Borja Golan. With these players missing five very grateful players
who would otherwise have to qualify are moved straight into the
main draw.

The reason that I’m
pointing all of this out is if the draw is done and then a player
withdraws it can throw the whole system out of whack. Which is exactly
what has happened. Aussies Dan Jenson and Paul Price have both withdrawn
with injuries. Jenson is ranked 27th and Price 19th. The most logical
and fair way of dealing with this would be for the two player ranked
33 and 34 to be substituted into their positions. This hasn’t
happened, instead the top two ranked qualifiers (Glenn Keenan #61
and Derek Ryan #63) have been slotted straight into Jenson and Price’s
positions. So you now have Keenan #61 playing Tim Garner #44, and
the absurd scenario of the #2 qualifier Ryan moving into the main
draw, and into a slot where he will now face a qualifier in the
first round. Ryan, Keenan and Garner must be bloody grateful they’re
in a Benelux country where they celebrate Sinta Clause (sic) on
the 5th of December because they’ve received lovely presents.
Rodney Durbach and Del Harris who are seeded at 33 and 34 must be
feeling pretty jibbed. Apparently there’s a PSA rule to avoid
this scenario for a 32 draw, but not for a 64 draw because tournaments
this size are so rare.

So imagine how I feel
when in my first round I have a former top 16 player who is now
ranked just outside the top 32, and Derek Ryan who is currently
ranked #63 gets a qualifier in the first round who is ranked in
the high 70s. Pretty crappy.

So the main draw gets
underway in a few hours. Because the 32 matches consist of the top
32 guys in the world playing against players 33+, I thought we’d
look at players who are ranked above 32 and who have been ranked
below that at some stage of their career and are more likely to
be able to cause an upset.

Rodney Durbach. Ranked
33 for this tournament the guy who suffers the most from the draw
debacle I’ve just mentioned. The number one South Africa player
has been ranked as high as 24 at the start of this year and showed
at the YMG Classic that he is very capable of causing upsets, taking
Martin Heath out in the first round. He meets Canadian Graham Ryding
in the first round which should be a tough, close match that both
players will feel they can win. The last time Durbach and Ryding
met in a PSA event was at the same venue last year when it was merely
the Flanders Open. Ryding won a very closely contested match 15-13,
17-14, 8-15, 17-16. There’s every chance their first round
match will be just as tight.

Del Harris. Ranked 34
for this tournament but one of the stars of the game who got as
high as #5 in March of 1996. Due to meet the upcoming French player
Gregory Gaultier for their first ever PSA encounter. If I was a
betting man I would keep my money in my pocket. This should be a
great match.

Mohammed Abbas. The number
35 from Egypt managed to crack the all important top 24 at the beginning
of this year. His reward for slipping out of the top 32 is the joy
of spending some court time with Stewart Boswell. This will be their
fourth meeting over the past couple of years. At the Heliopolis
Open in 2000 Boswell won in four closely contested games in the
first round. At last year’s Qatar Classic Abbas had a great
tournament upsetting Beng Hee in the first round, Shahid Zaman in
the second round then finally falling to Boswell in the quarter
finals in straight games. Their most recent meeting was a couple
of months ago at the US Open. Abbas clawed his way through the qualifying
tournament then lost to Boswell in four. We shared a car with Abbas
this morning to have a practice hit, and as you can imagine he’s
over the moon that he gets to play Boswell while Tim Garner gets
Glen Keenan and Derek Ryan gets a qualifier.

John Williams. He should
be in the top bloody 32 and I shouldn’t be playing him in
the first round. It’s as simple as that. He didn’t play
the recent Qatar Classic which has led to him being overtaken by
other players. Johnny is a strong player that never gives you an
easy match. He reached a career high ranking of 15 last year and
in doing so kicked me out of the Australian team for the World Team
Championships. If I didn’t have enough reasons for being prepared
for a tough match this evening that’s one more reason. We
have played twice of the past couple of years in PSA matches. Johnny
beat me in the first round of the 2000 Motor City Open and I returned
the favour in the first round of January’s Pittsburgh Open
this year. I’m still not certain why he wasn’t at Qatar
recently and I’m curious as to how his match fitness is. When
I’m not getting injured my fitness is very good at the moment
so we’ll know how his is by half way through the first game.
Should be a long tough match.

Tommy Berden. Ranked
37 for this tournament he had a career high in January of this year
getting to 22. Tommy has struggled with injury problems for quite
awhile now. He game is based on being fit and moving well, so even
small injuries cause his game a lot of trouble. He meets Egypian
Wael El Hindi in the first round for their first encounter together.

Peter Genever. Ranked 38 for the
tournament and playing fellow Englishman Nick Matthew. Genever got
to a career high ranking of 23 last year. The last official PSA
match between these two was a few years ago at the 1999 South of
England Championships. Matthews won their quarter final meeting
in a tough five-setter on his way to making the final.

Tim Garner. Ranked 44
but has been as high as 28 a few years ago. As already discussed
at length he meets #61 Glen Keenan. I played Tim recently in a Bundesliga
match in Paderborn and won a tough battle in four. It would be a
surprise if he doesn’t win against Keenan, as he did in their
last meeting at the Alcatraz Internation in 1999. But both players
will be aware that they should be playing higher ranked opponents
and to make the most of some good fortune.

Derek Ryan. Same story
except Ryan got as high as #7 in the world in 1999. His qualifier
is Davide Bianchetti who can be a tough opponent. A few pros have
said this morning that they expect the tall lanky Italian to beat
the oversized Irishman. It will be interesting to see if any balls
make the back walls seeing as these two on court will look like
two albatrosses preparing to land. I can’t think of any players
that have greater reach and arm span than these two.

So there are the players
that from past results have shown that they are capable of winning
and competing against top 32 players. Naturally there will be some
upsets, but we’ll have to wait to see who causes them. The
first two rounds are on normal courts, with the third round onwards
played in a beautiful building on a perspex court. We keep telling
everyone that if most of the seeds make their way through to the
third round there will be some amazing contests. If you’re
on this continent you should come and watch.