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English
Open ’03 Report Card

 

August
18, 2003: by Dan Kneipp         

Drama
in the Crucible
        [English
Open
]
The
Crucible was a very interesting and clever venue choice for the English

Open. Its long association with World Championship snooker created media

interest that a simple shopping mall or similar venue couldn’t have
done. As
is usually the case the venue is very different to what you see and perceive

on tele. Firstly it’s smaller and more compact than what you see
on the BBC.
The court only just fits into the available space, and the seating is
very
close and heavily tiered so that most seats provide a good view and should

lead to a very energetic and enthusiastic crowd. Which perhaps didn’t
happen
as well as it could have. John Nimick always has a jazz band set up at
his
tournament venues and it provides a festive atmosphere and noise that
seems
to ensure the crowd is always rowdy and appreciate, which always adds
to a
tournament. The worst matches are when there is wonderful squash going
on,
and the crowd feels uncomfortable making a lot of noise or showing
appreciation after great rallies.

I had
no idea The Crucible was such a rabbit warren. There are hallways and

doors going in every direction and a wrong turn requires a supply of water

and a GPS system to find your way back. The venue has a strange combination

of being a bit run down and dingy, and being professionally arranged to

allow for television coverage and theatre productions. Little things become

obvious, like a long hallway of separate change rooms, each one having
a
mirror bordered with light bulbs. I expected some make-up person to come

bustling in and help Joe with his bandana and check if his cheeks need

powdering.

As is
often the case when ex or current players are responsible for
tournaments they know what is important in hosting a successful event.

Nicol, Garner and Kirkland did a splendid job and they have said that
this
event has many more years on the pro calendar.

Champagne
and Stawberries

Johnnie
McWhite

The in-form player of the past eight months. If our ranking system was
based
on the past 8 months instead of the past 12, Whitey would be #1 in the

world. He’s currently #3 and closing the gap between Palmer and
Nicol ahead
of him. Of the last five tournaments he has played there has only been
one
that wasn’t a roaring success. He had match ball at December’s
World Open.
He made the final of February’s Swedish Open. His only hiccup was
a quarter
final loss at New York’s Tournament of Champions to Thierry Lincou,
the
other player who has raised his game significantly in 2003 (but chose
not to
attend the Sheffield tournament). Whitey won the Qatar Masters in May,

taking out both Nicol and Lincou along the way, and has now backed it
up
with the English Open title. Perhaps losing the World Open after having

match balls was a blessing in disguise because he is obviously more hungry

to win and playing the most consistent and successful squash of his career.


Anthony Ricketts.
Finally. After so many matches of going within a whisker of beating Peter

Nicol, he has finally done it. Ricketts has been particularly unfortunate

with his tournament draws over the past 12 months. He has made the
quarterfinals of seven tournaments recently – Pakistan, Hong Kong,
US, Qatar
Classic, World, T.O.C and the Qatar Masters. For six of those seven
tournaments the reason that he didn’t progress to the semi finals
was his
inability to beat the world #1. If my memory of high school statistical

probability is correct (and I doubt it) then the probability of Ricketts

being drawn in Nicol’s quarter seven out of eight times is 1:16,384. It

shouldn’t be happening so much, but he has gone close to beating him.
In
Pakistan he lost 15-12 in the fifth. At the US Open he went down in straight

games, but 15-12, 17-16, 15-13 is not a comfortable victory for his
opponent. Their match at the Qatar Classic had similar scores. Ricketts
lead
2 games to 1 in the World Open quarterfinals, but lost again in five.
He was
obviously getting closer and closer to a victory and was finally able
to
achieve it at Sheffield. Their next encounter should be a very interesting

match.

Nick
Matthew

There were only three upsets in this tournament’s main draw. Ricketts
over
Nicol in the quarterfinals, Power over Palmer in the semis (that’s
only an
upset on paper – the world #4 beating the world #2 isn’t such
a crazy and
momentous event), and Matthew’s first round victory. The local boy
had to
qualify and then played some bloke named Kneipp. Despite being down 2-0
he
had a gutsy win in 5.

I believe
this is his first victory over a player ranked (at the time) in
the top 20, which is a significant hurdle to overcome.

David Palmer.
He has been out of action for nearly six months and was finally able to
make
it back onto a tournament court. Naturally he’s bloody hungry and
eager to
make up for lost time and had a successful tournament in Sheffield
considering his layoff.

Jonathon
Power.

His current ranking of 4 is his lowest ranking in years. Winning the two

trophies that have eluded him – Commonwealth Games gold and Super
Series
final could have something to do with this, as it possibly left him less

motivated for tournament victories. Maybe his shoe company was taking
extra
effort and energy, or perhaps the competition is just catching up. Whatever

it is the past three tournaments for Power haven’t been that successful
by
his standards. The first six tournaments of 2002 reaped three winner’s

trophies and two final appearances. After that, from September onwards

things went considerably downhill. He lost in the quarters (US), quarters

(Qatar), won in Toronto, semis (World Open), semis (NY) and 2nd round
in
Qatar. Good results for most players, but not Power. While we were training

at Dartmouth College during summer Joe had an exhibition match with
Jonathon. His speed and on court intensity was the best I have seen and
I
wasn’t surprised to see him return to finals squash.


Vinegar and Rotten Tomatoes

Peter
Nicol.

Obviously not for the standard of the tournament. Let me put some
perspective on Nicol’s normal squash standard and performance and
how his
recent form has been: since October of 1997 he has played 52 tournaments,

winning 28 of them. The significant figure during that time is that there

have only been fifteen tournaments where he didn’t make the final.
Only once
over the five-year period from the end of 1997 to the end of 2002 did
he go
two tournaments in a row without being one of the finalists. That is an

incredible achievement and emphasises how consistent of a player he is.
But
that has changed lately. Of the fifteen tournaments that he hasn’t
made the
final, four of them have been from the last five tournaments he played.
For
the first time since early 1997 he has gone three tournaments in a row

without making a final. He lost to John White in the semi final of the
World
Open, won the TOC, lost again to White in the semis of Qatar, then to

Darwish in the semis of the Spanish Open, and now to Ricketts in the
quarters of his own tournament. Like Power it is only his superb record
that
could make results like this seem disappointing. It will be interesting
to
see how he performs in the next few tournaments.

Joe
Kneipp.

The only seed to lose in the first round. Was leading 2-0. The first time

over the past 18 months that he has lost to a player that wasn’t
ranked 7 or
better at some time in their career. A bad day at the office, let’s
not
dwell on this for too long.

Stewart
Boswell

Where is he? Is everything okay? He withdrew from the Dutch league final
in
May, then the lucrative Super Series Final immediately afterwards. He

attended the Qatar Masters of the same month, but uncharacteristically
lost
in the first round – surely not a coincidence. He wasn’t at
the Spanish
Open, didn’t attend this tournament and isn’t going to be
at the US Open,
the next major event on the calendar. He has entered October’s British
Open,
although I expect Ricketts and perhaps even Darwish will have overtaken
him
in the rankings by then. Hopefully everything is okay.

The draw
for the US Open has already been released. There are some wonderful
first round match-ups already, and some exciting prospects once qualifying

is done. The tournament isn’t a super series event, but 24 of the
world’s
top 27 have signed up for the event. 6 of the 12 players in the qualifying

tournament have at one stage been ranked in the top 10! If you live in
North
America you should attend, if you don’t check if there is a special
on
flights to Boston.

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.
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column together with our responses. We hope to get a good dialogue
started!

 

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