2002, Doha, Qatar
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Qatar Classic

by Dan Kneipp

October 27, 2002, Doha, Qatar
©2002, SquashTalk

Joe and Dan Kneipp,
John White and Dan Jensen passing the time before their matches in Qatar.
(photo© 2002 Dan Kneipp)

Normally if you’re a main draw
player and you have a qualifier in the first round, it’s a good thing.
You’re playing against someone who has already played two matches, with
at least one of them usually being hard and tough. They may be a little sore
and ever so slightly behind the pace. Getting a qualifier should be a reward
for being one of the top sixteen players. Joe has spent most of the last couple
of years outside the top sixteen, and when he was there he didn’t have
any luck getting qualifiers in the first round. So we were delighted to see
that he had a qualifier here in Qatar. Joy turned to slight trepidation once
we realised that Jansher Khan would be a qualifier as a local exemption.

I suddenly became very eager at
the possibility to see Joe play Jansher. They’ve only played once in
the 1997 British Open with Joe going down in straight sets with respectable
scores. Jansher went on to win the tournament and left a lasting impression
on Joe with his playing skills. It wasn’t his penetrating length and
ability to do incredible things with the ball, but his movement that left
Joe in awe. Joe has been a pro for a few years by this stage and was on his
way to cementing a position at the top end of the world ranking. Time and
time again he would hit a shot against Jansher that was a winner. He would
relax his guard knowing that the drop he just hit was too good, with Jansher
still behind him and out of sight. Nothing would happen, then all of a sudden
a figure of athleticism would flash past him lunging and moving unlike anything
he ever saw, and would not only get to a ball that Joe was sure was about
to bounce for the second time, but he would then put it to a good length hugging
the wall.

Other players have mentioned the
exact same thing to me. They’d be sure they had hit a winner to the
front of the court and Jansher would be behind them and too far from the ball.
Nothing would happen….. still nothing….waiting…then suddenly
he’d come streaking past graceful and elegant and make it look easy.
One of Joe’s German league team mates Uwe Peters said playing him and
experiencing this by Jansher left the lasting impression of “Oh. That’s
the way it should be done”. He made it look simple and logical and the
only sensible way to play.

So with the prospect of Jansher
qualifying suddenly the players who had to face a qualifier in the first round
created the possibility of a wonderful match. Would it be Joe or Peter Nicol,
Anthony Ricketts, Ong Beng Hee, Chris Walker, Thierry Lincou, Dave Palmer
or John White? One thing for certain every single pro player would turn up
to see the outcome of the match.

But unfortunately Jansher has not
shown. He always stated that he intended to play five tournaments in the hope
of setting up his comeback. In the first tournament he went through qualifying,
an experience he wouldn’t have had to do for over a decade. There he
impressively beat Omar Elborolossy, losing to the lower ranked Mohammed Abbass
in the quarter finals. He was given a wildcard for the recent Pakistan tournament,
but couldn’t get past the eventual winner and former world number five
Dan Jenson who is also trying to return to the pinnacle of the game after
prolonged injury setbacks. A shame for the game. But there’s still some
first round matches that should lead to fireworks.

Karim Darwish (Egypt) versus Amr Shabana (Egypt)

Darwish is currently celebrating
a career high of 13 following last month’s victory in the
Open in Pakistan. Also this year he has made the final of Maadi open and the
quarters of the PSA Masters. Shabana is currently ranked 20 in the world.

Both of these players have awesome
racquet skills and an ability to put the ball away. They played against each
other last year in the final of the El Ahly Open with Shabana winning straight
games. But more importantly they played a week ago in the first round of the
Milo South Africa Challenge. Darwish not only won this convincingly, but went
on to give Palmer a tough run in the quarter finals. Shabana wasn’t
too happy with his play for that match and said today that regardless of whether
he won or lost tomorrow he was much more prepared for the upcoming rematch.

Lee Beachill (England) vs Graham Ryding (Canada)

Beachill has a current career high
of 8 and has made the quarters of most tournaments he’s played in this
year (hence he’s #8 in the world). Graham Ryding, currently ranked 23
has been as high as ten in the world so won’t be daunted by Beachill’s
higher ranking. Most of the players pay little heed to the actual ranking
of their opponents, instead know the quality and type of play that they are
capable of and pay more attention to that. Ryding is capable of playing great
squash. He doesn’t hit the ball as crisply as Beachill, but doesn’t
give up and has the crucial habit of trying to monopolise the T. Ryding made
the final of the Motor City Open last month and is hungry for better results
in the big tournaments.

These two have played each other
twice recently. Last year in the Pittsburgh Open Semi Finals. Beachill won
that encounter in straight sets, not dropping a single game throughout the
tournament. Their other encounter was on the same courts here in Doha earlier
this year for the PSA Masters. Beachill also won that in straight sets 15-9,
15-10, 15-9. If I was a bookie I would have Beachill as the hot favourite.

Stewart Boswell (Australia)
versus Saud M Al Sulaiti (Qat)

Al Sulaiti is ranked 159 in the
world, Boswell is ranked 4. The only tournaments that Al Sulaiti has played
have been the three small tournaments that the Qatar squash federation put
on. Virtually every player that has a ranking high enough to be at this tournament
(top 60 in the world or so) is here. So a player ranked at 159 is doing very
well to be in the main draw. Al Sulaiti is the wild card entrant from Qatar.
Apparently the PSA board had a vote on whether he should be allowed to enter
this tournament. The reasoning behind this is concern that his standard will
be too low to play someone like Boswell and will make a mockery of the local
player and pro men’s squash in general. Thankfully the PSA board voted
for allowing him to play. It’s better for the sponsors, the local crowd,
the local media and therefore the tournament and ultimately the longevity
of the event.

I asked Stefan Castelyn what he
thought of this. Stefan’s opinion is valuable because he’s the
poor bugger who is ranked 24 in the world and would normally have a place
in the main draw, but because of the wild card entrant painfully becomes qualifier
number one. The worst position to be in. Stefan agreed completely that allowing
for a local player was the best decision for the sport, but if it could just
be arranged so it doesn’t cause him so much grief. Graham Ryding has
been given a wild card for the upcoming YMG tournament in Toronto. It can
be easy to find this slightly disappointing in a selfish way in that Australian
squash aren’t putting on any decent sized tournaments and helping out
their players, like Joe when his ranking was in the twenties and he could
have used the boost. So why should Graham get this help? Simple. If Canadian
squash (through Event Engine) has the initiative, support and infrastructure
to put on a tournament that is big enough (5 star or higher) then they deserve
to have a wildcard. Every tournament that is a decent size should be allowed
a wild card entrant, regardless of the player’s ranking, as long as
he’s a pro player. It doesn’t matter if he gets completely wiped
off the court, it only helps the local exposure of the tournament and thereby
increases the chance of the tournament being held again the following year.

Paul Price versus Renan

Price career high of 4, currently
sitting at 16. He had to withdraw from the US Open after spraining his ankle
(during a practice match with Joe). Lavigne is at a career high of 22. These
two have played twice in the last few years for PSA with Price winning both
of them (3-0 in the 1999 AON Lakeshore Classic, 3-2 in the 2000 Macua Squash
Open). Price is a shot maker, Renan is the French Energizer Bunny (le lapin
just doesn’t bloody give up). The Kneipp bookie shop would have Price
as favourite but would be wary with big bets on Renan. If Price is not fit
he will lose so this match may depend on Price’s injury recovery.

Olli Touminen (Finland)
versus Mark Chaloner (England)

Olli is currently ranked 17 where
he has spent most of the year. Chaloner has a career high of 7 and is currently
10. Both of these guys love playing fast and furious squash. I’m not
sure if there would be a worse match to televise – you’d never
see the ball. If Olli is losing, tired, being beaten, playing the wrong game
plan or winning he still tries to volley furiously and take everything early.
Chaloner is a superb athlete who has incredible speed, movement and endurance.
Both of these players are very patient, Chaloner perhaps more so. Olli goes
for more shots which could be the determining factor in this match. It’ll
be whether he hits winners or tins that will probably determine the outcome

The sole encounter between these
two was in January’s Memorial US Open with Chaloner winning in straight
sets. But Olli showed in last month’s US Open that he was playing a
better game, going through qualifying and then upsetting Martin Heath in the
first round. Camps are divided on who will win this match.

Omar Elborolossy (Egypt)
versus David Evans (Wales)

Omar is currently 21 in the world
and has the unfortunate title of being the only highly ranked player that
has lost to Jansher during his comeback. Last month he had a career high of
14. Evans is the 2001 British Open champ currently ranked 15 in the world
but got as high as 3 last year. These two have played three times over the
past few years with two matches going to Evans. (Greenwich Open 2001: 3-0
to Evans, PSA Masters 2001: 3-1 to Omar, Qatar Classic 2001: 3-1 to Evans.)

[2] Jonathon Power (Canada)
versus Nick Taylor (England)

Power at 2 has had the most
dominant year on the circuit. If ranking were like Formula one, Power
would be leading the driver’s championships. Taylor has a career
high of 15 nearly 2 years ago, and is now 19. These two have played twice
in PSA, both being in 1999 with Power taking both of them. He won at the
Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open in straight sets, then dropped a game winning
their match up in the British Open.

The qualifier match ups are:

Peter Nicol versus Mansoor

Anthony Ricketts versus Simon

Beng Hee versus Nick Matthew

Chirs Walker versus Stephen

Thiery Lincou versus Dan Jenson

Palmer versus Del Harris

Joe versus Castelyn

White versus Gautier

There’s a split first
round, so Joe’s encounter with Stefan Castelyn doesn’t happen
until Tuesday. So we’re stuck at the beautiful Sheraton Doha with
30°C days and a magnificent beach. Tonight we played a card game (500)
with Dan Jenson and John White, with Dan citing fatigue when there still
wasn’t a winner after three hours of playing. No one knows the hardships
faced by pro squash players.
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