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TOC
Draw/results

It’s
the Tourney of Champions in NYC

Feb
21 , 2003 by Team Kneipp    

TOC
2002 to TOC 2003

The first major
event of the year the Tournament of Champions is just
beginning. 2003 has already had four medium sized tournaments with the
Marsh and McLennan Open, the COAS in Pakistan, the CJSquash Dayton open
and the
magnificent Catella Swedish Open. Without taking away from these events
and their deserved winners, the year doesn’t really start until
all of the big guns are in one place. Not just a couple of top twenty
players or even a handful of top ten players, but when a 32 man draw sees
the top 24 players
fight
along with 32 qualifiers for a bigger pile of money and points.

Last year’s
Tournament of Champions was, as usual, the first big
tournament of the year. So what has happened over that twelve months in
the world of squash? How would different players view that period? Who
will think of it fondly and who will be bloody glad it is over?

It’s
NOT Lonely At The Top

Maybe you can tell me who would be regarded as the top player of 2002

because I certainly don’t know. Peter Nicol spent twelve solid months

sitting at the coveted #1 position so perhaps he has earned the right
to
think he is the top player since TOC 2002. Unfortunately for Nicol there

were three overwhelming achievement to be earned: the #1 position,
Commonwealth Games Gold and the World Championship, and Nicol only got
one
of
these.

Jonathon Power
on the other hand started out the year ranked #4 in the
world, his lowest ranking for the past few years. But by winning the first
three
tournaments he made up for it, quickly securing the #2 position again
and threatening for the top spot. Most importantly he won the Commonwealth
Games
Gold. But he didn’t get to #1 and the only trophy he has from the
World Open is in the form of a scar from standing too close to the racquet
of the
new World Champion.

David Palmer
finished 2001 as the British Open Champion and World #1. He woke up in
2002 to find he was pushed one spot down the rankings and came out of
the 2002 starting blocks very slowly. He lost in the 2nd round of the
TOC and then the British Open as the depending champion. But once he got
warmed up he put in the performances that counted winning the US Open,
the South African Challenge and climaxing with the biggest title in the
World Open.

But let’s
not forget John White, the bridesmaid of 2002. There have been 24
Men’s World Opens held. David Palmer became the 9th player to earn
the title
of World Champion. Only two other final matches have gone to five sets
– Jansher versus Dittmar 1989 and 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. John 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. Coupled
with his British Open final appearance he has reinforced that he is capable
of consistently producing his high risk attacking squash.

Some of the
old boys from the last couple of squash generations seem to
refer to the days of both Khans and Hunt as the halcyon days of squash.
If
given
the choice between a period when the #2 never beat the #1, and the
current situation where the top three players have each taken one of the
major titles of the year, then I’ll take the unpredictably and
competitiveness of today’s game any day.

Shakers
and Movers

Let’s not forget that all of the action isn’t necessarily
happening just with the guys who win the tournaments. Plenty of players
have made huge inroads into the rankings and sometimes go unnoticed because
they’re not winning the tournaments or even making the semi finals
(or main round).

Although players
like Boswell and Lincou have had great solid years that have seem them
hold onto their top eight position, the players that have really climbed
the ladder deserve recognition.

Anthony Ricketts.
One of the biggest movers of the year. Started at #18, finished at #7.
11 places is not much if you’re ranked at 150. At the top end of
the scale it is a lot of space to move. Ricketts turns 24 in a couple
of weeks so he had many years left to push for the top position.

Mansoor Zaman.
Over has over the past year went from #33 to #15. As I’ve previously
pointed out Pakistan has a very strong set of tournaments that allow their
strongest local players to have access to 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. Mansoor’s situation being a very
good argument in favour of that system. But it’s also a credit to
Pakistan Squash that they have such a regular schedule of medium sized
tournaments throughout the year.

Mansoor is
the glaring omission from New York (aside from Fitzy of course),
being the only top 24 player who is not present, where he would be a top
16
seed. Presumably this is because as a Pakistani player he is unable to
get a visa to the US which is disappointing. Obviously much tighter travel
security is in place particularly in the States, but it’s a shame
that Pakistan’s current top player is painted with such a broad
brush.

Amr Shabana.
The talented Egyptian moved from #37 in March last year to #14
in February . Watch out for bigger moves if he starts training properly
as
he
is so far from his potential at the moment it’s scary.

Joe Kneipp.
From December 2002 to December 2003 the ranking difference was #32 to
#11 including being about nine painful ranking points away from the
coveted
#10 position. It’s coming soon. Some duct tape and silly putty to
hold the body together and who knows….

Karim Darwish.
The other Egyptian sitting in the top 16. Last year he went from #19 to
his current position of 11. I’m surprised that Egyptian squash
isn’t
putting on any tournaments considering where Darwish and Shabana are
sitting
in the world rankings (although with Australia’s lack of tournament
participation nothing should be said by us).

James Willstrop.
Considering the past two World Junior champions are ranked #7 and #11
it is no surprise to see Willstrop already making inroads into the top
ranking. Over the past year he has moved from 86 to 41. One of the best
quotes I heard recently was after Willstrop won the World Junior title
someone asked Nicol if he saw him as a future threat. Nicol very appropriately
pointed out that as he was already ranked in the 40s he saw him as a current
threat. Which couldn’t have been emphasised better than by Willstop
upsetting Martin Heath and Nick Taylor in the recent British Nationals.

Willstrop now
has the tough work moving towards top 20. Ask many of the top
20 pros and they’ll tell you that the hardest thing is going from
40 to top 20. Look at Shahier Razik. In January he had a spectacular result
going through qualifying at the Marsh & McLennan tournament, beating
the #1 and #5 seed and winning the event, and his ranking took a depressing
and inappropriately small jump of 5 positions from 40 to 35. That’s
just not cricket.

Borja Golan.
A young Spanish player who as yet hasn’t played in any of the big
tournaments. He is part of our Dutch league team Zwolle. We had to play
against arch rivals Den Haague in a recent match and I was chatting with
White, Boswell and Palmer before the match about Bozza’s upcoming
game against Borja. Everyone knew who the Spaniard was and what he had
achieved so far, despite none of us having seen him play or having a clue
of what he even looked like. The reason is very simple. Borja has been
a professional squash player for just over a year. Look at the rankings
of any of the top players in their first year on the tour and you see
that it takes a little while to get used to playing in tournaments, the
pace of professional squash and performing consistently. In December Borja
had been a pro for exactly one year. During that time he went from #243
to #48 which included winning
three
tournaments! This is ridiculous and means he could be one of the
real stars of the future. During Tuesday night’s league we were
talking about
TOC and how it will be his first tournament with the big boys. He said
he was
coming, but looking at today’s qualifying list he’s not there,
which is a shame. But keep your eye on him.

So
Regular It’s Upsetting

The top 3 guys have had a great year battling with each other, but the

results of matches are no easier to predict throughout the top 20. There’s
an average
of around two upsets during every first round match. Seeing as
the first round of qualifying has already seen former top ten player Stefan

Castelyn make a dramatic straight sets exit, there’s always the
unpredictable results to look forward to. Over the past twelve months
the top 10 players have all played around nine PSA tournaments each. Of
the big tournaments that most of the players attended (5 star and larger),
Nicol won 3 (British, Hong Kong and Qatar Classic) Power won 3 (Pakistan,
PSA Masters and YMG) and Palmer won 3 (US, South Africa, World). So with
all of the major titles tied up between these three blokes you’d
expect most of the top ten players have lost most of there matches in
these tournaments to one of
them.
Not always so. The top ten players have been beaten kicked out of the
various tournaments over the last year by 21 different players, helping
highlight the strength and depth of the current game.

The
World of Squash.

Things can be hard and tiring being a professional squash player.

Obviously when
your body keeps breaking down during tournaments it is especially
difficult and frustrating. Try spending just one week being on court for

three hours every day. Like all jobs it can be very monotonous, boring
and hard to persevere with. But the advantages of the profession are so
much greater than the hassles. Over the past twelve months squash has
allowed Team Kneipp to travel to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Aix-en-Provence,
Bahrain, Cairns, Copenhagen, Dayton, Doha, Dubai, Frankfurt, Helsinki,
Hong Kong, Ilkley, Islamabad, Johannesburg, Lahore, Linkoping, Liverpool,
London, Luxemburg, Majorca, Manchester, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Prague,
Pretoria, Singapore, Sun City, Toronto and countless cities throughout
Germany and the Netherlands.

Joe alone over
the past year has travelled 158 047 kilometres in just air travel (for
an unthinkable amount of hours actually in the air). He has played 30
PSA matches. He lost 13 and won 17, which breaks down further to 45 games
against him and 62 in his favour. To be even more pedantic he has
lost
1184 PSA points but has won a nice even 1300. He didn’t lose any
Dutch league matches and won all bar three of his German league encounters.

We went through
8 Dunlop racquets (three that weren’t accidents instead unnecessary
force due to trying circumstances – two Joe, one Dan). We’ve
used 8 pairs of ASICS shoes not including the running pairs and cross
trainers. We’ve broken over four dozen balls, used in the vicinity
of a kilometre of squash string and written forty-three articles containing
56 717 words for SquashTalk. All up it has been a great year and we’re
looking forward to what could happen between Saturday’s first round
and TOC 2004.

Completely
Unrelated Side Note

There will be a John White versus Joe Kneipp exhibition match at Cornell

University on the 8th of March. Tickets are nearly sold out but give us
an
email
and we’ll pass on the relevant information for anyone interested
in what is always an entertaining match.

Team Kneipp
is looking at doing some coaching in the States over summer
(both Joe and Dan). Also more exhibitions with White are possible if any

clubs or camps would like to discuss that possibility.

Or if you’re
at the
TOC
pull one of us aside – we’d love to chat about it.

 

 

Kneipp’s
SquashTalk Forum

Feedback:
if you would like to discuss our columns or introduce questions
or comments, please email us at dan@teamkneipp.com.
We will post the good comments and question here on our SquashTalk
column together with our responses. We hope to get a good dialogue
started!

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