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Open Preview


8, 2003: by Dan Kneipp         

Maestros of Squash Back in Action
Hong Kong Open is usually staged in August and signals the beginning of
the new season following summer’s hiatus. The outbreak of SARS caused
the cancellation of this year’s tournament, so the English Open has become
the touranament that gets the season started. The summer months can be
strange for a squash pro. Last year’s calendar wasn’t very busy so June
and July became an inconvenient drawn out time of no tournaments, exhibitions
or leagues. As this year is much busier, particularly for the second half
of the year, summer became either a time to rest your body, or to get
a lot of base training done. Which means that the first tournament of
the new season should provide some very interesting results and upsets.

There are very few tournaments around the world that are
staged in a country that has a genuine contender for the title. Aside
from the British Open and the Canadian Classic there isn’t a substantial
sized tournament where the home crowd can realistically hope to cheer
a native to victory. Over the past 12 months we’ve had tournaments in
the States, Pakistan, Qatar, South Africa, Hong Kong, Belgium, Sweden
and Spain. Most of these countries don’t have players strong enough to
be competitive in the first round, let alone push for a final berth. Ten
of the main draw players in the English Open are British (including McWhitey
who has trekked down from the Scottish Highlands just for this event).
The six non-British are Bengy, Ricketts, Palmer, Kneipp, Tuominen and
Power. Bengy and Ricketts are both based in England, Palmer, Kneipp and
Tuominen are all based in Europe. Which means this should be a tournament
that has the most vocal and supportive crowd. Every player should have
some fans or fellow countrymen that turn up out of the woodword and create
a vibrant atmophere. If a vibrant atmosphere can’t be created at the Crucible
it won’t happen anywhere.

Peter Nicol (Eng) verus Olli Tuominen (Qualifier)
the world #1 is one of the co-organisers of this event. It will be interesting
to see if that added responsibility and attention of helping organise
the tournament will ensure that he wins this tournament, or make it more
likely that he will exit early. A betting man should note that extra attention
hasn’t appeared to hinder Nicol’s performance over the past decade and
will be bloody unlikely to here. Last year only three players beat Nicol
– Jonathon Power, David Palmer and John White. In June at the Spanish
Open Nicol lost for the first time to Egypt’s Karim Darwish. The loss
also meant that Nicol has exited the past two tournament’s at the semi
final stage. A lot of players would be happy with that, but Nicol will
hope to stop that trend at this tournament.

Tuominen is the best player from Finland and currently
ranked 28 in the world. He has had to fight his way through two qualifying
matches including a 90 minute battle in the first round to come back from
2-1 down against Englishman Peter Barker. His reward for that is no rest
day and a match against the top guy. Tuominen hasn’t beaten Nicol yet,
but if you watch this match you’ll get the impression that the Fin believes
that he can. Their last encounter was in Pakistan last year with Nicol
winning comfortably in three, not letting his opponent get to double figures
in any game. Tuominen is not afraid to play fast and he can be one of
the hungrier players on the circuit – always willing to volley or chase
a ball down no matter how tired he is. Tuominen’s ranking has see-sawed
quite a bit over the past year and he’ll hope to start getting more consistent
results that can drag his ranking back into the teens.

Anthony Ricketts (Aus) versus Alex Gough (Wal)
Ricketts is currently ranked 7, compared to Gough who is 16. Ricketts’
last tournament was the Spanish Open where he was a first round casualty
to Amr Shabana, the Egyptian who worked his way through the field to win
the tournament. Ricketts has been extremely consistent over the past 12
months, making the quarter finals of most tournaments he has entered.
He will still have the nasty taste of the recent first round loss, a dish
he won’t want to order again. Ricketts and Gough last played each other
six months ago in Dayton in the semi finals. It was a long, tough match
with Ricketts eventually winning in five on the way to claiming the tournament

What will be very interesting is if Ricketts can win this
match. Then once again the freakish Ricketts/Nicol quarter final draw
will probably rear its head. In theory if you are a player seeded 5 –
8 in a tournament then you could get any of the top 4 seeds in the quarter
finals. It is drawn out of a hat. Ricketts has made the quarter finals
of 7 major tournaments over the past year or so. He has made the quarters
of the Pakistan Open, Hong Kong Open, US Open, Qatar Classic, World Open,
Tournament of Champions and Qatar Masters. For six of those seven tournaments
the reason that he hasn’t progressed beyond the quarter finals is
his inability to beat Peter Nicol. When there’s only a 1:4 possibility
of drawing the #1 player in your quarter, and you’ve done it six
out of the past seven times, you’d feel fairly comfortable that
it wouldn’t happen again in the English Open. Sorry. Make that seven
out of eight. Ricketts isn’t the type of guy who would dwell on
this too much. Instead he would get motivated for the next encounter and
try to work out how to beat him.

John White (Sco) versus Simon Parke (Eng)
is currently ranked 3, Parke 15. There is a big buffer between White and
Power, the player ranked fourth behind him. Even if Power wins this tournament
he can’t catch White, which will help the wee lad concentrate on
catching Messers Palmer and Nicol. White won the most recent major tournament
in Qatar.

Simon Parke hasn’t been able to replicate the form
he showed in last year’s world open where he won through to the
quarterfinals. Aside from that tournament he has only beaten one other
top 20 player over the past twelve months. He’ll be looking to use
this tournament to get some more consistent results under his belt or
will risk having his ranking jump in the wrong direction.

White and Parke played three times last year – the British
Open, Memorial US Open and World Open. White won every encounter and will
be confident going into his first round match here. He trains with Parke
and knows his game and ability too well to underestimate him or take the
match lightly.

Ong Beng Hee (Mas) versus Tim Garner (Eng)

Ong Beng Hee is currently ranked 8. England’s Tim Garner is ranked 61,
but as the co-promoter of the tournament has given himself the wild card.
Why wouldn’t you? Earlier in the year at the Swedish Open the tournament
organiser, Freddy Johnson, was rounding up some extra entertainment for
the final. He secured me and Martin Heath, the losing semi finalists to
partner up and play a game of doubles. To create more crowd participation
our opponents were to be a couple of the top Swedish player. Freddy is
a great player himself and I was asking him why he didn’t get on
court. All of the sponsors obviously know him very well, and it would
create a lot of interest. But Freddy was embarrassed at the thought of
doing it. I couldn’t see John Nimick playing a round of lightning squash
alongside the top pros as a curtain raiser to the final of one of his
events, despite the fact that it will undoubtedly delight the sponsors
and crowd. Garner had the chance to give himself a leg up and there wouldn’t
be a single player in the pro game at the moment that wouldn’t do the
same for themselves if they had that opportunity. There’s also the
other argument that the deciding factor was that Tim Garner is currently
ranked below his younger brother, and if putting on a tournament and giving
yourself a wild card can rectify that situation…then so be it.

I wonder who would be more excited about this draw –
Bengy or Garner. Obviously Bengy is going to be very glad to be playing
an opponent who otherwise wouldn’t have made the entry list for
the qualifying tournament. But Garner is no slouch on court, and his current
ranking isn’t indicative of his standard of play, but it does reveal
how few tournaments he is playing . On the other hand these two players
are part of the same training stable and have extensive knowledge of each
other’s game. That surely has to help Garner’s belief in his
ability to cause an upset. The only time these two played previously in
PSA was at the Pakistan Open in 1999. Bengy didn’t drop a game.

Joe Kneipp (Aus) versus Nick Matthew (Qualifier)
currently ranked 11 compared to Matthew’s 25. He is another player that
will be hoping for a good result at this tournament to impress the English
selectors. Obviously he’ll have a huge number of supporters cheering him
on which always help you dig deep during the painful rallies. We’ve only
been on court together once before, earlier in the year for the first
round of the Tournament of Champions. I won in three but it was a tough
match and I was impressed at how he kept up the intensity throughout the
match and never gave up on a rally. Matthew has the disadvantage of having
to qualify and having played two matches already, but unlike poor Olli
Tuominen he gets a rest day prior to our encounter.

Jonathon Power (Can) versus Nick Taylor (Qualifier)
is currently ranked 4. This is his lowest ranking for numerous years.
He lost in the second round of the most recent Super Series event and
had to withdraw from the Spanish Open with injury problems. Thierry Lincou
is breathing down his neck for that crucial top 4 ranking. Power has plenty
of motivation to do well here. He always says that he doesn’t play well
in England, his sole British Open title occurring in Scotland. Last year’s
Commonwealth Games gold medal may have changed that mindset. I played
an exhibition match against Power last month at Dartmouth College. He
was playing very well and wasn’t showing any signs of injury problems.

Taylor should win some kind of prize for time spent on
court during the qualifying tournament. He had a 90 minute battle in the
first round, but that was a walk in the park compared to last night’s
two hour marathon. It’s not so easy to have overwhelming belief in your
ability to win your first round match when you’ve given your opponent
a three and a half hour headstart. Taylor hasn’t beaten Power yet. He
lost twice to him in 1999, and again in their most recent encounter in
November in Qatar.

Lee Beachill (Eng) Mark Chaloner (Eng)
is ranked 10. Chaloner is ranked 14. For the first round these are the
two players that are closest to each other in ranking. In theory it should
be the closest match. It doesn’t usually work like that, but it should
be a good encounter.

There are two players at this tournament that I’m very
interested to see how they go. The first one is Chaloner. The Qatar Masters
were originally scheduled for April earlier this year, but were postponed
to May due to the war in Iraq. Unfortunately for Chaloner the altered
dates clashed with his wedding/honeymoon plans. So he was forced to sit
out one of the biggest tournaments of the year. He was also plagued with
injury problems earlier in the year and at the Tournament of Champions
in New York was unable to progress past the first round. I image he has
been training bloody hard since May and will be very hungry for a victory
over Beachill. There also might be England selectors that need impressing
for October’s World Team Championships. Australia has already picked its
team, but England’s team is less clear-cut with a lot of players ranked
from the teens to the high 20s.

These two haven’t played in a PSA event for a couple of
years. In 2000 at the Italian Open Chaloner won their encounter in 4.
Beachill reversed the result the following year in Qatar.

David Palmer (Aus) versus Adrian Grant (Qualifier)

Palmer is the second player whose performance at this
tournament will be very interesting. He is always a player that is extremely
hungry on court and able to push through pain and fatigue. He hasn’t been
in a tournament since February because of appendicitis. We had a training
match last week and he was so keen he was bouncing off the walls. It wouldn’t
have surprised me if he started doing his service ball toss a body length
away from himself, just so he could do an extra lunge. His movement was
great and he was volleying everything

Palmer is still ranked 2 in the world, despite his extended
lay off. His English opponent is ranked 22 in the world and had to make
his way through the qualification touranament. Grant hasn’t yet faced
Palmer in a PSA tournament.

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