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World
Open 2003 Preview

by Dan
Kneipp
, Team
Kneipp report index

All content © 2003 Squashtalk

Dec
13, 2003

Pakistan
No
country has produced more World Champions than Pakistan. If we had
any doubts of the significance of squash in this country we were
reminded upon our arrival. When you fly a lot you learn little tricks
that make travelling smoother. At most airports it is usually around
500metres from the plane to the customs line (Dubai and Amsterdam’s
walk can be particularly long, depending on where the plane is parked).
Joe and I tend to power-walk this as a way to exercise after being
stationary on a plane, but also to overtake everyone and not waste
too much time standing in a customs line.

This wasn’t
necessary upon our arrival in Lahore. We were met by an Army Major
as we exited the plane. We were escorted past the immigration line,
got our bags, and then were whizzed past customs without having
to endure any probing questions or guilt-educing glances. I certainly
didn’t miss standing in line having some impatient bloke behind
me trying to speed up his entry process by banging me in the back
of the legs with his bag.

So having the
perk of being excused of Lahore’s arrival paperwork already
made us feel privileged. This feeling of privilege was enhanced
when we got outside of the airport and saw a driver with a placard
waiting to meet someone from the World Health Organisation, which
is obviously a less important profession than squash player as they
weren’t met by an army representative and ushered through
arrivals.

Joe and I both
travel with the same luggage – a Dunlop large sports bag with
wheels on it, and a racquet bag by the same company. Both have our
sponsor’s logo plastered all over it. When people see us they
presume that we are tennis players. Walking past the crowd of people
waiting at arrivals I heard three groups of people talking about
squash after seeing our luggage. This doesn’t happen anywhere.
No one presumes squash.

But wait there’s
more. The ride from the airport to the hotel is around 15 kilometres
(the security for this drive, and the whole tournament, is unbelievable
but I’ll go into more detail later). Spaced every 10-20 metres
along the road is a metal street lamp post. ON EVERY SINGLE LAMP
POST IS A LARGE POSTER ADVERTISING THE SQUASH TOURANMENT! FOR 15K!

Somewhere along
the trip we drove past a two-storey squash racquet! It was dark
and I wasn’t able to work out just why this gigantic racquet
was placed on the medium strip of a six lane motorway, but it certainly
would help explain why people at the airport didn’t think
we were tennis players.

The tournament
hotel is the very ritzy Pearl Continental. As with most five star
hotels the foyer is very dramatic. The life-size wooden silhouettes
of squash players and squash racquets lining the entrance all re-enphasised
that Pakistan is giving the World Open Squash tournament the attention
it deserves.

The
Contenders
Good
luck trying to predict the winner of this tournament. Power’s
withdrawal, Nicol’s poor form in the past two tournaments,
Palmer injury woes in the last two super series events, McWhitey’s
unpredictability, Beachill’s sudden rise to the victory dias,
Lincou’s ludicrous consistency throughout the year and the
strength and depth in the top 20 mean that this tournament is incredibly
wide open.

The first round
consists of 64 players competing in 32 matches. Some of these matches
will be very one sided, others will be great matches and there should
be at least one of two surprises. Here’s the where the first
round entertainment should come from.

The
Locals
Never
underestimate the strength and determination of the Pakistani players
performing on their home soil. Regardless of the ranking difference
any Pakistani player will be capable of an upset. Keep your eyes
on Mansoor.

The
absentees

Del Harris,
Chris Walker, David Evans, Paul Price and Jonathon Power are all
still PSA members, but aren’t in Lahore for a mixture of injury
problems. It was disappointing to see up-and-coming Czech player
Jan Koukal not in the qualifying tournament and I was surprised
that Russia’s top player didn’t get an invitation to
the event (despite the country fielding a team for the World’s
and making great progress with their squash).

[9] Amr Shabana (EGY) v Bradley Ball (ENG)
This should be a nick slapping fest of a match. The Englishman can
put the ball in the nick, and the Egyptian thrives off it. The highlight
for me from the recent Qatar Classic was Shabana’s 2nd round
loss to Nicol. Trailing 2 games to nil Shabana had a 14-10 lead
in the third. Nicol was able to win the next four points to get
the score to 14-14. It doesn’t make any sense for a player
in Shabana’s position to call set 1. It gives his opponent
a match ball, something you want to avoid. Shabana not only called
set 1, but received serve on his backhand and went for a cross court
nick return off the serve that rolled leaving the crowd cheering
and laughing and even Nicol unable to contain a bewildered smirk.
Who would go for that shot in that position?

[5] Anthony Ricketts (AUS) v Cameron Pilley (AUS)
Pilley is an up and coming young Aussie player, facing Australia’s
#2 player and the World’s #6. I can’t see Pilley defeating
Ricketts, but as he trains alongside him at the AIS he won’t
be even vaguely fased or overwhelmed by his top 10 opponent.

[28]
Moh’d Azlan Iskandar (MAS) v Glenn Keenan (AUS)
A
slight long-shot for an upset, but Keenan won his first PSA title
recently and has been training successfully with Dutch legend (and
farmer) Lucas Buit

[22] Adrian Grant (ENG) v Peter Genever (ENG)
Genever
is currently ranked 51, but has been as high as 23, which is close
to Grant’s best, where he is now. These two have played twice
in PSA matches with Genever winning the first encounter and losing
the second. I doubt Genever can cause an upset here, especially
as Grant was playing good squash in Qatar, but it’s a slim
chance.

[22]
Mohammed Abbas (EGY) v Viktor Berg (CAN)
Berg
was the only player last year to cause a first round upset, beating
Renan Lavigne. This was the only victory he has had over a top 30
player so far. Abbas beat Anthony Ricketts in the first round of
Qatar, a performance that will guarantee that he breaks the top
20 ranking for the first time in January.

[16]
Simon Parke (ENG) v Ben Garner (ENG)
Parke
made the quarters of the World Open last year. Since then he has
only won two matches – beating lowly ranked Mika Monta in
five in Sweden, and then taking Chris Walker out in February. Parke
showed last year that a form slump doesn’t mean he isn’t
capable of great squash. He’ll have extra motivation during
this tournament because of the guaranteed ranking slide if he doesn’t
do well.

The last time
I saw Garner play was against Peter Nicol in Spain. It was great
squash and if he can reproduce that standard he could upset any
player outside of the top 10.

[27]
Renan Lavigne (FRA) v Dan Jenson (AUS)

Renan
Lavigne was the only seeded player to lose in the first round at
last year’s World Open. Jenson, the former top 5 player would
be the most obvious prospect for an upset. He won the Australian
Open earlier in the year beating Paul Price in the final and beat
Martin Heath in the first round of Qatar.

[13]
Martin Heath (SCO) v Tommy Berden (NED)
Berden
was ranked 22 a couple of years ago. He has beaten Anthony hill,
Nick

Taylor and Peter Marshall during his career. Heath
can be very erratic with his tournament results. He was a quarterfinalist
last year and like Parke has a lot of ranking points to defend and
will need to have a good tournament.

Other interesting
matches that will offer either good squash (even if the scoreline
is one-sided), or an upset possibility include:

[16] Mark
Chaloner (ENG) v Michael Corren (AUS)
[21]
Olli Tuominen (FIN) v Cameron White (AUS)

[6] Ong Beng
Hee (MAS) v Laurens Anjema (NED)
[4] Thierry Lincou (FRA) v Shahid Zaman (PAK)
[23] Nick Taylor (ENG) v John Williams (AUS)
[32] Farrukh Zaman (PAK) v Borja Golan (ESP)

[2] John White
(SCO) v Jean-Michel Arcucci (FRA)
[14]
Mansoor Zaman (PAK) v Lars Harms (SUI)