White – Leads the Field in Linkoping
2003 Deb Tessier)
(pronounced Lin-chirping) is small city of around 135 000
people situated a couple of hundred kilometres south of Stockholm. We’re
here for a 3star $30 000 event. Which is not big enough to have a big production
like a super series event or entice the participation any of the top players.
But someone seems to have forgotten to mention that to the tournament organisers
and the players. Tournament director Freddy Johnson has
put on an event more befitting of a $120 000 tournament and seems to come
from the John Nimick school of treating every event like it’s a World
Open. And the players seem to have responded accordingly with their participation.
The location of the tournament, the novelty of it being in a country where
players rarely travel to (with beautiful natives – something has to
attract Martin Heath’s entry) and no big tournaments
in January all combine to make a surprisingly strong tournament
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
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
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
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
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
#7 Mansoor Zaman versus
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
FOUR VS QUALIFIERS
The other four matches involve qualifiers. Ong Beng Hee versus Rodney
Durbach , Simon Parke versus Mika Monta, Martin Heath versus James Willstrop
and Stewart Boswell versus Jean-Michel Arcucci. Durbach and Arcucci have
caused plenty of upsets over their careers, but the excitement here will
be seeing new World Junior champion Willstrop play Heath in a PSA match
for the first time.
AND WHERE IS LINKOPING?
Where possible we try to find as much out about the city hosting the tournament
as we can. Neither of us have spent any time in Sweden and wouldn’t
begin to know the first thing about Linkoping. So as usual I’ve
gone searching on the web. Partly to find out a little about the place,
but mainly to find some historically or culturally significant events
or venues to visit while we’re in town.
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
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