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Wee White Stands Tall…

May
31, 2003 by Team Kneipp (Kah-nipe)           
[draw/results]

Qatar
PSA Masters Report Card   [also
see tournament reports]

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

What
a tournament! I imagine a tournament organiser would prefer to see the
top four seeds in the semi final and the world #1 winning. I regard that
as boring compared to a tournament where seeds take early exits, upsets
occur
frequently and the outcome of a match is completely unpredictable.

If
you talk to players from the previous squash eras they all concede that
today’s game has much more depth in player standard outside of the
top ten.

White
knocked out Nichol, then won the Doha Masters 2003 photo © 2003
Fritz Borchert

Players
from Barrington, Hunt and Jahangir’s day say that the tough matches
wouldn’t occur until the semi finals and they were able to breeze
through the first few rounds. That just doesn’t happen anymore with
top players taking early exits if they’re not prepared for the first
and second round opponents. Ask Boswell and Power about that. Four of
the first 16 matches were upsets – a quarter! There are 31 matches
in a tournament this size (16 first round, 8 second, 4 quarters, 2 semis
and a final). Six of these matches were upsets against the seeds.

The
Qatar Squash Federation always put on a magnificent show. This was no
exception. It still always comes as a shock to the system going from a
cold European country to a ridiculously hot desert. It was 47 degrees
celcius (that’s 116 in the old method) the day before I left. That
is the type of temperature you expect in a sauna. And you appropriately
feel like it is never going to rain. Last year we were in neighbouring
Dubai and there was a big cloud in the sky, which was so unusual at that
time of the year, that the following day the local newspaper had a picture
and a story about it.

My
favourite story about Gulf weather involves Jonathon Power and his wife.
They were travelling from Canada to Doha for the Qatar Classic in November.
She was grilling him on what the weather was like and what to expect.
He said that it never, ever rained, which immediately caused her to give
him a sceptical look and ask “Never ever?”. He told her that
he had been attending tournaments in this part of the world for nearly
ten years and he had never seen it rain. To emphasise his point he told
her that if rained for one minute while they were in Doha he would celebrate
her birthday once a month for a year – take her out to dinner at her favourite
restaurant, buy her presents and generally spoil her like it was her birthday
once a month for a
whole year. A fairly safe bet for Power.

Towards
the end of the tournament he was out playing golf with a few other pros
and was enjoying a drink afterwards. Suddenly a fairly small but ominous
looking cloud appeared looking surprisingly dark and water laden. This
obviously caused immediate shock and concern from Power wondering what
the hell it was and what it was doing. He was cursing and praying that
it wouldn’t drop any rain while the other pros were all laughing
at what looked like some very unfortunate luck. And sure enough down came
the rain, only for a ridiculously short period, not even fifteen minutes
but long enough
for Power to be singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twelve times to his
wife over the following year.

Here is who we think had a successful or disappointing
tournament in Doha.

Champagne
and Strawberries

Wee
Johnny McWhite

Too often of a late the bridesmaid (albeit a damn successful one) it is
wonderful to see him having the victory his consistent results deserve.
He hasn’t won a big PSA tournament since 2001. He made three finals
last year – the British Open, the South African Challenge and the
World Open. He lost all of these going down to Nicol at the British and
Palmer at the other two.

The
feeling of tripping over before the finish line wasn’t helped by
having two match balls at the World Open. He made the final of the Swedish
Open in January and again was unable to win the last match of the tournament.
He has blown that all away with consecutive victories in Qatar over Beachill,
Nicol and then Lincou, three of the strongest players in today’s
game with Nicol and Lincou the two main in-form players at the moment.
His 34 minute thrashing of Beachill had particular significance seeing
as the last two times they played in Qatar Beachill won. McWhite’s
win should leap frog him over Jonathon Power to #3 for next month’s
ranking

Thierry
Lincou.

The Frenchman has now made the final of the past two major tournaments.
If our ranking system was like formula 1 or tennis and everyone started
with a clean slate at the beginning of the year the order of merit from
the two major tournaments would be:

1.
White
2. Lincou
3. Nicol
4. Beng Hee
5. Beachill
6. Ricketts
7. Power
8. Kneipp
9. Darwish
10. Palmer

Note that Boswell’s early exit in Qatar means that
for the year so far he
would be 12! Lincou’s two final appearances mean that he has earned
more
ranking points than both Nicol and Power. The way the ranking works means
that the full benefit of these results mightn’t be seen for a few
months but
Lincou should pass Boswell for the #5 ranking next month and go dangerously
close to pushing Power out of the all important top 4 ranking.

Karim
Darwish

I owe an apology to the Egyptian world #8. In the Preview I wrote about
Darwish’s relatively poor results against the top 20 players and
how
inappropriate it was for him to be ranked in the top 10, let alone the
vital
top 8 position. The only top ten player he beat last year was Bengy and
lost
in the first round of five major tournaments including in February’s
Tournament of Champions. His performance at the medium sized Pakistan
tournaments is what has enabled his ranking to thrive anyway. It looked
like
the first round was going to be another example of this poor performance
on
the big stage. He played Dan Jenson who was flown in to replace the late
withdrawing Chris Walker. Jenson has been a former top 5 player and is
younger than me, but has had injury problems for a few years that has
meant
he hasn’t beaten a top 10 player for a few years. He nearly did
against
Darwish leading 2-0 but running out of steam and losing in five.

Power
lost a sudden-death showdown with Egypt’s Karim Darwish – photo ©
2003 Fritz Borchert

Darwish
then met Power in the 2nd round. Everyone except Darwish’s mum would
have bet on the Egyptian losing this encounter, not winning it by a point
in the fifth match. As if this wasn’t a spectacular enough effort
Darwish then nearly beat Lincou in the quarters. Up to that point Lincou
had played two
relatively easy wins in straight games in 78 accumulative minutes. His
Egyptian opponent had played four more games and been on court for nearly
100 minutes more – including a 97 minute match against the Commonwealth
Games champion. Which meant I would have thought this match would have
been won reasonably easily by Lincou. There was nothing easy about it
at all. Darwish was leading 2-0 and was only just beaten 15-13 in the
fifth set. Sorry Karim and congratulations on a superb tournament.

Ong
Beng Hee & Gregory Gaultier
Anyone
who says luck doesn’t play a huge part in how our game works,
particulary the rankings doesn’t know about the nuances of the game.
Gaultier had a wonderful tournament beating the fourth seed Stewart Boswell.
This win isn’t quite as impressive as it looks as Boswell pulled
out of the
Dutch league finals and Super Series Final preceding Qatar due to injury.
But he turned up to play and Gaultier beat him – a significant victory
for
the young Frenchman. This upset led to our quarter of the draw opening
right
up and creating a lucky draw for me and the Malaysian. This kind of luck
is
very important. I have been injured at five tournament over the past 18
months. This has meant that by having to retire during the match I have
given someone an easy victory and a lucky situation. This sort of thing
can
be the difference between being ranked 17 and 9. To make the semi finals
Bengy had to beat Del Harris, Nick Taylor and me. I had to play Olli
Tuominen, Gregory Gaultier then Bengy. So Bengy played the world # 53,
22
then 12. I played #30, 18 then 10. Compare this to Darwish who had to
play
the world #32, 3 then 6. That simply comes down to the luck of the draw
and
how upsets affect whom you have to play.

But having the luck and taking advantage of it is another
thing. Bengy’s
semi final appearance is a significant result in what has otherwise been
a
relatively poor 12-18 months according to the Malaysian. He is aiming
for
the top 4 and this result will go a long way towards that goal.


Adrian Grant, Rodney Durbach, Dan Jenson, John Williams.
These
players were all able to attend the tournament due to a player being
unavailable or injured. Palmer, Chaloner, Walker and Evans’ misfortune
has
helped these four enormously. Grant was the only player able to take full
advantage of this gift downing Mansoor Zaman in a ridiculously fast 28
minutes. He then gave eventual winner McWhite a tough game in the second
round. Jenson nearly caused an upset over Darwish and Durbach made Beachill
work for his win.

John Williams flew to the tournament at the very last
minute due to Evans
having food poisoning. I want to thank Johnny for his assistance during
the
tournament. For the first time in nearly a year Danny didn’t attend
the
tournament with me. Once you get used to having someone always in your
corner assisting with your game it can be difficult to play without that.
Virtually all of the Australians on the tour look out for each other and
help each other out where possible. I couldn’t count the number
of times
Whitey or Palmer have sat in my corner giving me advice and vice versa.
After my first game in the opening round against Olli Tuominen I went
to
rest and have a drink and Johnny Williams was straight in my corner with
helpful game advice. I hadn’t asked it of him and hadn’t expected
the help.
It was very appreciated and beneficial and I wanted to thank him publicly.

Vinegar
and Rotten Tomatoes

Anthony
Ricketts.

The young Aussie as usual had a consistent and successful tournament.
Again
he made the quarterfinals and again he was in Nicol’s quarter and
despite
pushing him to five games was unable to come away with the win. I don’t
in
any way think that while he was in Qatar he had a bad game of squash.
Golf
on the other hand is a different story.

If someone asked me how good Ricketts was at golf my answer
would be:

“Yeah, um, well, Ricketts is an awesome squash player.
A really top player
that has established himself as one of the best of the best. Number seven
in
the world I believe”.

“Yes but what about his golfing skills?”

“Like I said an awesome squash player. His intensity
on the squash court is
impressive and he has a very lethal forehand straight kill that you should
look out for particularly if you’re playing him on a glass court.
Yeah a
good squash player.”

So technically I haven’t said that Ricketts’
golf game sucks. Perhaps a
story will shed more light on his golfing prowess. We were at the Doha
golf
club being looked after by Greg Holmes the pro there who always goes out
of
his way to accommodate and help us. He went one stop further this trip,
giving me, Ricketts and Martin Heath some golf lessons that included video
analysis in the practice nets. Ricketts is swinging (hacking) away and
the
distinct sound of a club flying through the air can be heard followed
by
something smashing. He had accidentally let go of his club and it has
sailed
straight up into the net and smashed the light spraying glass over the
enclosed practice area. I am going to miss being allowed on that course.
If
Heath and I are a little more intense, aggressive and driven to win next
time we play Ricketts it will surely just be a coincidence.


Jonathon Power
As we said in the quarterfinal preview it doesn’t matter if you
love or hate
the way Power plays and his on court manner – no one can question
his
entertainment value. A week ago he beat Nicol the world #1 by one point
by
calling a gutsy short game in the fifth set. There are people that would
call this decision stupid, but considering Power’s game is about
hitting
winners and getting the job done as quick as possible, the decision
corresponds with his type of game and attitude. But it backfired in Qatar
reversing from a dramatic win to a shattering single point loss, going
down
to Darwish in the second round.

To give you an idea of how rarely Power loses and how
consistently he makes
the latter part of tournaments – over the past four years there
have only
been two tournaments where he lost in the first or second round of a 32
draw
event. I beat him in the first round of the 2000 Flanders Open, and Del
Harris beat him in the 2nd round of the 2001 British Open. Not even Nicol
has had that long of a run without an early upset.

Power often spends time in Amsterdam where we are based,
and came here
directly after Qatar. When he is here he trains at our club and Dan had
a
training hit with him and grilled him about his match. Power was very
quick
to praise Darwish’s game, but said he was quite off the boil with
his own
performance. He felt drained after playing the Super Series so recently
where he had to play five games in five days against other top eight
players. A match against Bengy, Ricketts, White, Lincou and then Nicol
probably isn’t the most ideal warm up to a tournament. It probably
isn’t a
coincidence that McWhitey had a bad tournament at the Super Series and
was
probably fresher than the other players in Qatar. But a player can’t
complain of too many matches or tournaments considering how frugal the
calendar has been.

Stewart
Boswell

The world #5 and fourth seed lost in the first round. He has been injured
and had to withdraw from the recent Dutch league finals and Super Series
Final so this wasn’t such a surprise.

Mansoor
Zaman

Pakistan’s number one player was knocking on the door of the top
ten,
sitting at 11, but his first round flogging by Adrian Grant will make
his
ranking for next month jump to something like 16. At the moment it seems
like the next major tournament that has a 32 man draw will be the Pakistan
Open in October seeing as August’s Hong Kong Open has been cancelled.
The
home advantage should lead to some good results from Mansoor and Pakistan’s
other top players.

The strength that Egypt has at the moment in the world
ranking including
Darwish at 8 will hopefully lead to the Al Ahram tournament being hosted
at
the pyramids again this year. Please.

The next tournament that will have all of the top players
will be Spain at
the end of June. July has no large tournaments and will be great training
time and the reason we will be based at Power’s Squash Academy in
Dartmouth.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important matches occurring.
On Saturday
the Germany Bundesliga playoffs begin including a semi final match between
Peter Nicol and me. We’ll have the weekend’s results covered
on SquashTalk.

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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