Preview by Kneipp
To put it into perspective, the first tournament of the year was only $5000 smaller. The top seed was Alex Gough ranked 17, with no other players from the top 20 present. The last player into the main draw without qualifying was Tommy Berden at #38. Compare that to Sweden. Joe is ranked higher than Alex Gough, but is the 6th seed at this tournament! There are four top ten players and the last player in the main draw is Graham Ryding at 22 (using January’s ranking when the draw was done). Silly stuff.
Mansoor, Kneipp and Shabana have all copped the raw end of the tournament’s strenght. If you look at their opponents (Ryding, Touminen and Price) this is the quality of opponent you would expect during a 32 man draw $120 000 Super Series event, not a 16 man $30 000 tournament. But it will make for some great squash. The 1st round matches are:
1. John White versus Daniel Forslund.
This will be Whitey’s first PSA match since the World Open final. The world #4 has obviously played league matches, and won a non-ranking event in Scotland, but Sweden will be his first foray back onto the circuit. There have been 24 Men’s World Opens held. David Palmer became the 9th player to earn that title. Only two other matches have gone to five sets (Jansher versus Dittmar 1989 & the very first event with Geoff Hunt beating Mohibullah Khan in 1976) and no runner-up of the prestigious tournament has ever had a match ball. Put simply White’s achievement of thrashing Nicol, the previous title holder and greatest player in the current game, followed by having two championship points was a spectacular effort. But everyone knows what White’s game is like. Let’s look at his opponent.
Daniel Forslund has been given a wild card into the event, and very befittingly has drawn the top seed. Forsland is actually the #5 ranked Swedish player, with the highest Swede behind Christian Drakenberg at 75. The reason Forslund has been given the wild card while Drakenberg had to try to qualify is because the coverted wild card was offered to the winner of the National title, which Drakenberg lost in 4. Forslund is currently ranked equal 262nd, which is the ranking you get if you have played no tournaments over the past twelve months. In January he was ranked 143, the difference being his appearance in the 2002 Catella Swedish Open which was in January, and was his only PSA tournament of the year. Forslund was ranked 39 in July of 1999, only three places off his career best. But since 1999 he has only played 5 PSA matches. He lost in straight sets in the first round to Ahmed Barada at the 1999 Al Ahram World Open. The following month Mark Cairns beat him in 4 at the Pittsburgh Open. Then at the grasshopper cup he beat Peter Genever in 5, and lost in the quarter finals to Jean-Michel Arcucci. At last year’s event John Williams beat him in straight sets. It would be a very brave (read foolish) betting man that would put the family farm on a upset here.
5. Amr Shabana vs Paul Price.
Shabana is the #2 ranked Egyptian player, #14 in the world and has recently moved to Amsterdam to give himself a better location to assault the world tour from. Which is great for us as Joe now has another excellent training partner. Shabana is one of the best shot players in the game and has beautiful racquet skills that are a joy to watch.
Paul Price was one of the big movers over the past twelve months. Except it has all been in the wrong direction. In February of 2002 he was #9 in the world, a considerable difference from his current ranking of 21. He has lost in the first round of the past three tournaments he has played - Dayton Open to Adrian Grant, YMG to Beng Hee and Qatar Classic to Renan Lavigne. He’ll be hoping to stop that trend in Sweden, but will have his work cut out for him in Shabana.
These two have played twice over the past couple of years, both times at the Tournament of Champions in New York. In the 2nd round of 2001 Shabana had to retire injured after two games. Then in the 2002 TOC Price won in straight sets in their first round encounter. Their Swedish match should be great to watch with lots of winners and entertaining squash expected from both players. This would be a hard match to bet on and could go either way.
6. Joe Kneipp versus Olli Touminen.
Joe is currently ranked 16, compared to Olli at 28. Olli is another of the top players that currently calls Amsterdam home, so they have plenty of training hits together. These two have played three times in league matches over the past year. Twice in Dutch league and once in German league, with Joe winning all encounters. But the two haven’t met in a PSA match yet.
Joe had to pull out of his quarter final encounter with Gough last month in Dayton due to a recurring leg injury. It is the same one that halted him in Pakistan and South Africa last year, so we’re still struggling to overcome it. The main plan for his first round match is not to aggravate the injury, and if that means playing at a less intensity, or stopping and conceding the match, well that’s something we just have to be prepared for. It’ll be better to fizzle out of the tournament than to push through the problem and still not have recovered from it by the Tournament of Champions.
Putting that aside Joe and Olli always have good matches. I would regard Olli as Energizer bunny #2 (behind Ricketts). A player that no matter what is going on he still goes at top speed and pace. He may be losing and bloody tired, but he’ll still try to play at a furious pace, cut everything off with volleys and avoid any lob from clearing his racquet by doing big jumping Sampras-like overhead smashes. He has a good range of shots and can certainly put the ball away. He can also be patient with his length and choice of winning shots. Olli was the runner up of this event last year, eventually losing to Ong Beng Hee is a closely contested five set match. I would expect him to have a gaggle of family members and friends that will make the (relatively) short trip from Helsinki to Linkoping to support him, which will make him that little bit more motivated and harder to beat. Bets and odds? I never bet or tip against Joe, but it should be an entertaining match.
#7 Mansoor Zaman versus Graham Ryding.
Mansoor is currently ranked 15 in the world. Pakistan has a set of tournaments that allow their strongest local players to have access to regular medium size (20 000) competitions. These usually aren’t big enough to encourage any or many of the stronger European or Australian players because of the travel costs and tough playing conditions in Pakistan. So it is usually a battle between the Pakistanis and the Egyptians. Which creates a situation where some of the players are able to accrue enough ranking points to get into the top 20, without actually beating a top 20 player themselves. This isn’t exactly the case with Mansoor, but is not far off. Last year he beat Chris Walker (then ranked 12) at the Hong Kong Open and Alex Gough (16) at the World Open. Aside from that he has reached a ranking of 15 without beating any top 20 players. Considering in the same 12 months Joe beat 6 top ten players and 2 top 20 players it’s frustrating to be ranked below Mansoor. But that’s the way the system works, or can be worked. Tennis has a ranking system where you receive bonus points depending on who you beat, not just what stage of the tournament it is. It’s also a credit to Pakistan Squash that they have such a regular schedule of medium sized tournaments throughout the year that creates this situation
Graham Ryding is currently ranked 23, but has had a career high of 10 in 1999. He spent the past 12 months fluctuating around the 22 mark getting down to 19 and up to 28. He made the final of last month’s Marsh and McLennan Open, eventually losing to fellow Canadian Shahier Razik. Ryding made the semis of last year’s Swedish Open, losing to eventual winner Beng Hee.
These two played just over a year ago at the Pittsburgh Open where they met in the first round. Ryding won fairly comfortably in straight sets. Mansoor showed in Antwerp against Gough that he’s capable of beating quality players. Ryding on a good day plays a tough match. Again this is anyone’s match, but perhaps Ryding’s experience and consistency will get him through (although the glass court will probably favour the shot making style of Mansoor).
FOUR VS QUALIFIERS
AND WHERE IS LINKOPING?
Firstly the population is 134 039 (at last count 13 months ago). Apparently SAAB first started manufacturing airplanes in 1937 in Linkoping and along with Ericsson and Swedish Meats are three of the major companies. I’ve found a plethora of useless but interesting facts about 12 months in Linkoping. Like - there were 203 more births than deaths. 6 696 people moved out of the town, but an extra 664 people on top of that number moved in. Yugoslavians made up the greatest number of foreign immigrants. Mining and manufacturing is the biggest employer. There is one hospital. Technology is the most popular Uni degree. There are 79 ice skating rinks. ÖSTGÖTA-THEATRE had 200 performances that were watched by 35 635 spectators. The local swimming pool admitted 362 467 entrants.1, 238, 000 books were loaned from the local library. And some of the best squash players on the planet visited Linkoping
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