Masters begins on Monday. The format of the tournament is odd because
the seedings are always taken from the 1st of January, instead of
Here’s how the first round unfolds:
HALF OF THE DRAW:
Nicholas Kyme won the title this year’s national title for the 6th time, and earned the privilege of playing Lincou. Kyme is ranked 84 but has a career high of 70. A player ranked 84 would never normally make the qualifying list of a tournament this size, so the wild card issue is understandably contentious when he’s replacing a player ranked 32 in the world, England’s Peter Barker for this tournament. This issue always causes heated discussion, but we think it is a very basic business decision. We need more big tournaments on the world tour. Sponsors, promoters and media get a lot more out of a tournament if there is a local representative. Although it’s difficult for Barker, any tournament should be allowed to have a wild card to help ensure the tournament is as successful as possible and more likely to be held the following year.
Kyme’s ranking means that he doesn’t normally play in tournaments against the top ranked players like Lincou (aside from events like the Commonwealth Games or World Team Championships), but he did have the pleasure of playing Nicol in last year’s tournament. He lost in three but the score was respectable.
Amr Shabana (EGY) v Renan Lavigne (FRA)
The only previous
encounter between these two was last year in Sweden.
 Jonathon Power (CAN) v Mark Chaloner (ENG)
It has been nearly four years since Power was number one. Although he has made the final of three medium-sized tournaments recently, it has been three years since he won an event of this size, with the extra matches and higher calibre of players taking considerably more effort. No one doubts his ability to continue winning, but how his injury-prone body handles five opponents in five days is another story.
Chaloner is currently 27, but was in single figures three
Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Simon Parke (ENG)
There are two matches in the top half of the draw where an upset wouldn’t be particularly surprising or newsworthy. This is one of them. Gaultier hasn’t played Parke in PSA before and can expect some eye-opening retrievals, particularly as the match won’t be on the all-glass court, therefore more bouncy and longer rallies.
David Palmer (AUS) v Paul Price (AUS)
Although the only two meetings between Palmer and Price in PSA were won by Price, they were over four years ago so a victory for Price here would be a much bigger surprise.
John White (SCO) v Alex Gough (WAL)
Gough has beaten
McWhitey twice before, but both times were quite a while ago, with White
winning their most recent encounter, the 2002 British Open.
 Nick Matthew (ENG) v Shahid Zaman (PAK)
Nick Matthew is currently ranked 9 and just coming up to a year of being ranked in the top 10. Back injuries have forced him to retire from the last two tournaments. Shahid Zaman is at a career best of 15 and recently replaced Mansoor as the top ranked Pakistani player.
Of the 7 tournaments he played last year, five of them were in Pakistan, but included victories over Grant, Kneipp, Ryding and Darwish.
Matthew and Shahid have played twice in PSA events, both in Pakistan and both ending with Matthew as the victor.
Mohammed Abbas (EGY) v Ong Beng Hee (MAS)
Theoretically on paper this is the most difficult draw that Abbas could get (the highest ranked player outside the top 16) and the easiest draw for Bengy (the lowest ranked player in the top 16). Given a choice between playing Lincou, Palmer, Beachill or Abbas, Bengy is going to be happy with his draw.
This is the other match in the top half of the draw where it wouldn’t be surprising who won. This is emphasised by Abbas now being ranked 19 and Bengy being ranked 17, a reversal of the ranking from a few months ago, and that Bengy has won three of their past four encounters.
HALF OF THE DRAW
Anthony Ricketts is currently ranked 7, and has just had his first major victory in New York. Razik is ranked outside the 20s or 30s for the first time in two years, sitting at 42 this month. Last month the Canadian won the Swiss Open, putting an end to a six-month slump of first round losses. That slump started back in Hungary last year when he played Ricketts in the first round of the Hungarian Open, the only time these two have played.
 James Willstrop (ENG) v Rodney Durbach (RSA)
Willstrop has been in the top 10 for four months, including one month at 5, care of a tournament victory in Pakistan last year. Durbach is in the same position as Razik – if the seedings for the tournament were done this month, and not January, he wouldn’t qualify for the event as he’s now sitting at 33. Fortunately for Durbach and Razik (and unfortunately for players like Cameron Pilley, Joey Barrington, Davide Bianchetti and others sitting around the low to mid 30s) the size of this tournament means that simply qualifying for it and getting the first round points helps keep you ahead of all the other players not ranked in the top 31 on New Year’s day.
Of the three times Willstrop and Durbach have played each other in PSA Durbach has won once, but that was back in 2002 when he was the higher ranked player and Willstrop was still a junior. Their last meeting was a few months ago which Willstrop won comfortably.
 Adrian Grant (ENG) v Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) Grant is currently ranked 16. This week he was overlooked for a place in the English team for the European Championships, with the selectors giving the nod to the slightly lower-ranked Simon Parke. There’s not a single team in the world that wouldn’t be ecstatic at having such a successful and experienced player as Parke sitting at #4 on the list, but it’s still slightly surprising that this has happened at Grant’s expense considering England’s selection process usually favouring youth where possible to ensure long term success. This should be good motivation for Grant.
Iskandar is currently ranked 18 and on the verge of overtaking Ong Beng Hee as the highest ranked Malaysian player. He had some good results last year with smaller tournaments, and now just needs to transfer that to the bigger tournaments. As the seeded player Grant goes into this match as the favourite, but not by much. They played each other last year in the Hong Kong Open and German Open, with Grant winning both of them in five close games. A victory for Grant in this match wouldn’t be very surprising, an upset by Iskandar in this match wouldn’t be very surprising.
 Peter Nicol (ENG) v Wael El Hindi (EGY)
Nicol’s ranking is currently 4, his lowest ranking in over seven years. El Hindi has spent most of the past four years ranked in the 20s and 30s, and is currently 26. Although they have never played each other in PSA, Nicol’s length and intensity should be too good to allow El Hindi to play his blocking tactics successfully.
 Joseph Kneipp (AUS) v Olli Tuominen (FIN)
Team Kneipp is currently ranked 14, and have spent most of the past three years shuffling between 14 and 10.
Olli has spent most of that same time ranked in the 20s, and is currently 21. Whoever gets Olli in the first round is usually in for a tough fight.
He’s a player that can always cause trouble, but can struggle to do it consistently. It’s something that he’s obviously overcoming as he has caused an upset at every one of the past six tournaments that he has played, including victories over Shabana, Darwish (twice), Kneipp (damn), White and Beng Hee.
Everyone has different ways of dealing with their upcoming opponent. Usually you steer clear of each other, or if you’re good friends just try to go about things normally. This situation is made more difficult when you go to check in for your flight from Amsterdam to Bermuda and your opponent is on the same plane. One of us is travelling a long way for just one squash match and that can make boarding conversation more awkward.
Karim Darwish (EGY) v Dan Jenson (AUS)
Darwish has lost four times in the last year in the first round. Jenson’s only upset in the past six months was against Whitey in the recent Tournament of Champions. Darwish has won all three of their encounters, but two of them were in close five setters, so you never know what this match will bring.
 Graham Ryding (CAN) v Mansoor Zaman (PAK)
Ryding has spent the past two years ranked in the teens, currently at 13.
Mansoor at 30 is not in the teens or 20s for the first time in a couple of years. Mansoor is a shot maker and would sooner take a risk and try to pull off a big winner than play gut-wrenching, down the wall squash, whereas Ryding plays a better mix of percentage squash and attacking play. Ryding obviously doesn’t have any trouble beating Mansoor, winning all three of their encounters, although the last one in Pakistan in November he had to claw his way back from a two-love deficit.
Lee Beachill (ENG) v Bradley Ball (ENG)
November 2003 is the last time that Beachill was beaten in the first round of a tournament. Ball hasn’t had a victory over a top 10 player in a PSA event yet, but his league results are getting more consistent and he’s capable of hitting great winning, meaning this should be an entertaining match to watch, although unlikely for an upset to occur.
We'll see how this all pans out tomorrow! Follow Martin Bronstein's reports to see how our prediction worked out.
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