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an Insiders Perspective…

May
22, 2003 by Joe and Dan Kneipp            
[draw/results]

Qatar
PSA Masters Preview — The Bottom Half    [also
see second round report]

Doha’s
Great Squash Venue,
photo © 2003 Chris Walker

The business end of the tournament has begun with thirty-two
players
whittled down to just eight over the past three days. From an insider’s

perspective here is how we see the strength and weaknesses of today’s

matches.

Seeds
and Upsets

The most recent 32 draw tournament was in NY and had an absurd number
of first round upsets (7), but bizarrely all eights seeds still made it
through to the quarters. That hasn’t happened here with the number 2 and
4 seeds (Power and Boswell) being replaced by the number 10 – Karim Darwish
and
the number 13 — me. Six of the top 8 seeds are still alive and vying
for the
title.

The
Top Half.

Peter Nicol, John White, Anthony Ricketts and Lee Beachill: One of these

four will battle their way through to the final. Nicol is the obvious
choice with so many final appearances and victories. He has won here before,
won bigger tournaments than this and beaten all three contestants in his
half.

John
McWhite is the only other player aside from Nicol that has tasted major

tournament finals and success. Last year he reached the finals of the
British Open and the World Open. Despite not taking the silverware at
either of these, he has previously done so at the Flander’s Open in 2001
— the tournament that eventually became last year’s World Open.
McWhitey has beaten both Nicol and Beachill before, but lost his only
encounter with Ricketts in the opening round of last year’s US Open.

Ricketts’
best result in a Super Series tournament so far is the semi final of the
2000 Hong Kong Open. Since September of last year he has made at least
the quarter finals of every tournament he has entered. He still hasn’t
beaten Nicol in PSA yet, but has beaten both White and Beachill in the
past twelve months.

Lee
Beachill’s best PSA tournament result so far is the semi finals of the
British Open in 2001, losing to eventual winner David Palmer. He has beaten
Nicol and White before, but lost his one encounter with Ricketts on the
same court late last year.

The
Matches

Peter Nicol versus Anthony Ricketts
Nicol can be excused for being confident when he walks on court this evening.
He will be able to think about the recent Super Series Final and the Tournament
of Champions, last year’s World Open, Qatar Classic, US Open, Commonwealth
Games and Pakistan Open, or even the YMG Classic the year before that.
At each of these tournaments Nicol has been the hurdle that has stopped
the young Aussie.

Ricketts
was getting closer and closer to an upset, with more five set matches
but was blown away in the recent Super Series Final. He is a very aggressive
and intense player on court. This can lead to him being his own worst
enemy especially considering the retrieval tenacity of Nicol that forces
all players to go for tighter and lower percentage shots. Will this be
Ricketts’ big moment?

John McWhite versus Lee Beachill

The
world #5 versus the #9. Two lovely shotmakers that are able to entertain

on a squash court with their range of winners, fluid movement and strategies.
White is more of the steamroller that will slap nicks at a hundred miles
an hour while Beachill has a more distinct touch game.

There
could quite possibly be two thoughts going through White’s head. Firstly
he hasn’t beaten Beachill since 2001. Secondly they played twice last
year including at the same tournament on the same glass court and Beachill
won both encounters. But the Englishman has had to withdraw from the past
three tournaments with ankle problems. It didn’t seem to bother him at
the recent European Team Champs or the Super Series Final, but I’ve found
that White’s power game tends to put your body under more pressure than
virtually any other player. If White wins this he pushes Power aside and
takes the coveted #3 ranking.

The
Bottom Half

Thierry Lincou, Karim Darwish, Ong Beng Hee and Joe Kneipp. As wide open
and
lacking in the really big guns as you will ever see a quarter final stage.

The
numbers 2 and 4 seeds have been pushed aside leaving the 5th, 7th,10th
and 13th seeds fighting amongst themselves for the privilege to walk on
court on final day.

Lincou
is easily the stand out player amongst our group looking at past performances
and final appearances. He has not only made the final of the prestigious
Hong Kong Open in 2001, but also showed the same form in January beating
White and Power on his way to the final of the Tournament of Champions.
The rest of us have all won some medium sized tournaments, with okay results
in the Super Series events, but not comparable to the Frenchman’s achievements.
Lincou has beaten Darwish and me before, but has
yet
to get past Bengy in a PSA tournament.

Bengy’s
Super Series performance to date includes one semi final and lots of quarter
finals over the past three years. He has previously beaten all three of
the players left in his half of the draw.

Darwish’s
best result to date is the quarters of the same tournament last year.
He has beaten Bengy before, but has lost his only encounter with Lincou.
We have played once two years ago, which he technically won — three
points into the game I had to retire with a back spasm that kept me off
court for a month.

My
Super Series benchmark so far is the quarters of the British Open. Imade

three semi finals last year including the Memorial Us Open and the YMG
Canadian Classic, but they are both 16 man draws. I have beaten both Bengy
and
Lincou.

The
Matches
Thierry Lincou versus Karim Darwish

Firstly we owe Darwish an apology. We appropriately pointed out that Darwish

is now ranked 8 in the world and has had a ridiculously easy ride getting
there. Bengy was the only top 10 player he beat last year, he didn’t make
it past a quarter final in a Super Series event and he exited five tournaments
in the first round. That shouldn’t get you to the top eight but victories
in Pakistan’s tournaments have been the catalyst. The young Egyptian’s
dramatic 15-14 fifth set victory over Power couldn’t be a better way of
saying "I belong in the top 8".

Power’s
entertainment value to our game really deserves a mention. Less than
a week after beating his lifetime rival Nicol by one point in a gutsy
short game in the fifth, the same heart-stopping tactic has seen his dramatic
exit. Power himself has often been quoted saying that his style of play
tends to get people to either love him or hate him, but rarely fence sitters.
I imagine there are a lot of fans disappointed at his uncharacteristically
early exit, including the organisers of the tournament who lose a major
draw card.

I
really don’t know how Darwish has gone from nearly being bustled out of
the tournament in the first round, to causing the upset of the tournament.

Darwish
faced Aussie Dan Jenson in the first round. Jenson was an emergency
replacement to the tournament that was only able to play due to the late
withdrawal of Chris Walker. Jenson, currently ranked 32, has been in the
top five before and is obviously no chump and far from past his use by
date. But he has had a very prolonged and unlucky run of injuries that
have prevented him finding the same standard and intensity of old. He
led Darwish 2-0 which bodes well for Jenson’s return.

Darwish
has his back against the wall with Lincou. They aren’t on a level playing
field by any means. Lincou’s two matches so far have taken him six games
and 71 minutes. Darwish has played ten games over 172 minutes. Try finding
someone at your club who is a couple of ranking points better than you,
set up a match for money, then spend an hour and a half doing court sprints
the day before. Who would you put your money on? But no one would have
expected Darwish to make the quarter finals so Thierry better not underestimate
his opponent.

Ong
Beng Hee versus Joe Kneipp

Bengy’s current ranking is 10. He has been as high as 7. I’m sitting at
12, one spot away from my best ranking. We both have been very fortunate
in the draw that has landed our way. A player’s true ranking worth should
eventually come out over time, but there is certainly a lot of luck governing
how well you are able to perform at each tournament based on who you have
to play. Nothing could reiterate that better than the absurd number of
times Ricketts has been in the same quarter as Nicol. It’s quite
possible that Ricketts could be ranked much higher by now if he had a
bit more luck and diversity with the draws. I’ll talk about this in the
report card, but it plays a huge factor.

Bengy
and I have both met stiff competitors but it
could
have been much worse. Bengy played the world #53 then #22 and now has
#12. I played the #30, then #18 and now have #10. To put this in perspective:
last year at Boston I had to get past David Evans (then #8), John White
(#3) then lost to Peter Nicol (#1). At Toronto I had Lee Beachill (#8),
John White (#5) then lost to Jonathon Power (#2). I got 350 ranking
points for what I thought was a spectacular effort. Neither tournament
was a Super Series even so it didn’t contribute to me playing in last
week’s Super Series Final. So far for this tournament I have earned 531
points and haven’t come up against a player with a single figure beside
their name. That’s how important luck can be.

Bengy
and I have played twice recently. We had a German Bundesliga match last
year that he won in a gruelling and get wrenching five sets on a bloody
bouncy court. A couple of months before that we played in the PSA’s Malaysian
Open. He was the defending champion, we met in the quarterfinals and I
won in four. Tonight will be tough but we will both be expecting a victory.

Eight
players remaining — who will be in the final and who will take the

trophy?

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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