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US
Open Player Preview

 

Sept
12 , 2003: by Joe and Dan Kneipp         

The first question
that needs to be answered about this tournament is; Why is it so bloody
strong? It’s not quite a super series event, which means it is a
16 man draw instead of a 32 draw. This means only twelve players get immediate
entry into the main draw, with another 16 (including 4 locals) battling
out a qualifying tournament for four coveted main draw positions. Of the
top 12 players in the world that are guaranteed a place in the main draw,
11 have made the trip to Boston. And the only player not present – Boswell
– was the finalist from last year and only has injury as the reason for
his no-show.

So we pretty much have the top 12 players in the world
in the main draw. Surely this would lead to the other players avoiding
the tournament and a weak qualifying tournament. Nope. The final player
to take a spot in the qualifying tournament is Shahier Razik ranked 30
– a ridiculously high number for a player that has only just managed to
take a spot in the qualifying tournament.

There are going to be some players leaving this tournament
with burnt fingers. Rankings are based on your average over a twelve month
period. If you win the World Open you get 2625 points towards your average.
The winner of the US Open will get 875 points. While this number is less
than the average of Nicol (1102), Palmer (914) and close to White’s
(865), it’s still a lot of points and every player would like to
win them. But here’s the downside – eight players are going to lose
in the first round and only get 125 points. Chris Walker is currently
ranked 33 in the world and wasn’t able to get a position in the
qualifying tournament, yet his average is higher than the first round
points available. All of the players ranked 9 or better have an average
higher than 350, yet that’s the points on offer for making the semi
finals – a position that only four players can get to. So as you can see
some players will be leaving this tournament with their fingers burnt.

There are numerous reasons why this tournament is so strong.
It’s the beginning of the season after a long tournament drought
over the summer. During that time most players get a chance to either
rest their bodies and let niggling injuries recover, or put in a concentrated
block of training that isn’t possible during the tournament and
league season. The other reason that this tournament is well attended
is that you know it’s going to be a wonderful event.

Every tournament has a lot of guys playing and losing.
Only one player doesn’t lose, the rest do at some stage of the tournament.
If you’re not losing you’re progressing further in the tournament
and playing more matches. The less times throughout the year that you
lose, the higher your ranking should be (depending of course on what tournaments
you play – going undefeated at the Alligator Creek Club Championships
doesn’t have the same prestige or ranking points as the US Open).
Here is how the twelve main draw players have performed since the last
US Open:

Peter Nicol – played 31 matches over 8 tournaments. 6
times he was beaten and twice he was undefeated – the Qatar Classic in
November and Tournament of Champions in New York in February. He was beaten
by White twice, Palmer, Power, Darwish and Ricketts.

David Palmer – played 26 matches over 6 tournaments. 3
times he was beaten and 3 times he was undefeated – the US Open, South
African Challenge and World Open. He has lost to Nicol twice and Power
once.

Johnny McWhite – played 33 matches over 9 tournaments.
7 times he was beaten. He made five finals and was undefeated in the last
two – Qatar Masters and English Open. He was beaten by Palmer three time,
Ricketts, Kneipp, Boswell and Lincou.

Jonathon Power – played 24 matches over 7 tournaments.
6 times he was beaten, went undefeated at the YMG Canadian Classic in
November. Lost to White twice, Boswell, Nicol, Palmer, Lincou and Darwish.

Thierry Lincou – played 25 matches over 7 tournaments.
Lost 7 times, but made the final of the past three that he has played
(Dayton Open, Tournament of Champions and Qatar Classic). Lost to Boswell,
Parke, Palmer, Power, Ricketts, Nicol and White.

Anthony Ricketts – played 26 matches over 9 tournament.
Lost 8 times, the undefeated tournament being the Dayton Open at the start
of the year. Lost to Nicol five times, Ryding, Shabana and White.

.

Ong Beng Hee – played 20 matches over 8 tournaments losing
8 times. Beaten by Boswell twice, Ricketts, Durbach, Beachill, Lincou,
Shabana and White.

Karim Darwish – played 26 matches over 9 tournaments.
Lost 6 times, winning 3 tournaments in Pakistan. Lost to Shabana twice,
Lincou twice, Palmer and Willstrop.

Lee Beachill – played 18 matches over 8 tournaments, losing
8 times. Lost to Palmer twice, Nicol, Kneipp, Heath, Lincou and White.

Joe Kneipp – Played 22 matches over 10 tournaments, losing
10 times. Beaten by White twice, Castelyn, Power, Parke, Gough, Palmer,
Beng Hee, Nicol and Matthew.

Amr Shabana – played 19 matches over 9 tournaments. Lost
8 times, remaining undefeated at the Spanish Open. Lost to Darwish twice,
Nicol, Palmer, White, Abbas, Ryding and Farrukh Zaman.

Martin Heath – played 14 matches over 8 tournaments losing
8 times. Defeated by Tuominen, El Hindi, Gough, Durbach, Palmer, Boswell,
Gaultier and Lincou.

The 1st round matches are:

[1] Peter Nicol (ENG) v Lee Beachill (ENG)

A great match to get the tournament started with. Nicol
is coming off his worst run of tournaments in six years. 1997 was the
last time he went more than two tournaments without making a final. He
has now gone three tournaments without making a final and won’t
want to make this tournament the fourth. He has got a tough draw with
his seeded quarter final opponent being Karim Darwish – the player that
knocked him out of the Spanish Open.

Beachill is currently ranked 10 and won’t be ecstatic
about his who his first round opponent is, particularly as he had the
exact same draw at last year’s US Open. He lost that encounter in
four, but he is a player that has beaten Nicol before, not something that
everyone even in the top 10 can boast. Of their four PSA encounters Nicol
has won three of them, losing in the quarter finals of the 2001 British
Open.

Nicol made the semis of this tournament last year, Beachill
lost first round.

[7] Karim Darwish (EGY) v Graham Ryding (Qualifier)

Darwish is currently ranked 9 and will face Canada’s
Ryding, currently ranked 19. Ryding has had to battle through the qualifying
tournament to reach the main draw, but has previously been ranked in the
top 10 and is a great player when his game is working. In the past two
tournaments that Darwish played he beat Power and then Nicol to finally
notch up some victories over top 10 players. There is a medium sized tournament
being held directly after the US Open in Pakistan. It’s not realistic
for a top player to aim to play them both. Tournaments in Pakistan have
previously been a huge boost for Darwish and allowed his ranking to steadily
climb without having to face all of the usual top players who are reluctant
to travel to Pakistan for a medium sized tournament. Darwish’s appearance
at Boston instead of Karachi appears to be a strong signal that he’s
taking on the top players.

Darwish didn’t play the US Open last year. Ryding
lost to Tuominen in the second round of the qualifying tournament.

[4] Jonathon Power (CAN) v Joseph Kneipp

Power’s current ranking of 4 is his lowest position
for many years, but it’s not going to change for a couple of months.
Even if he wins this tournament he won’t be able to catch White
at 3, who is making the #1 spot a three horse race. Power has Lincou breathing
down his throat for the crucial top 4 position and will be looking for
a good result to fend of the French man. He is playing the Detroit Open
the day after the final of this tournament and has announced to the media
that he’ll be looking to play two finals within five days. I hope
he’s not counting his chickens before they hatch – making the final
here would probably involve victories over Kneipp, Lincou and then Nicol,
a tough enough task to worry about first.

We have only played each other twice on the pro tour.
I won our first encounter in 2000 in Antwerp, but he won the recent tussle
in Toronto last year. It should be an entertaining match to watch.

Power lost in last year’s US Open in the quarter
finals to Boswell, I wasn’t at the tournament.

[5] Thierry Lincou (FRA) v Amr Shabana (EGY)

Lincou is currently ranked 5 and so far has been one of
the most consistent players this year. Shabana’s ranking was slipping
out towards the mid 20s when a dramatic tournament victory in June jolted
him back to 12. Lincou has a solid, conservative game that revolves around
lots of pressure, volleys, drop shots and no mistakes. Shabana is a wizard
with the racquet and would rather put the ball into the nick than down
the wall. Their contrasting styles could make for either a very entertaining
match, or an uneventful encounter.

They have played only once on the pro circuit, in the
semi finals of the South African Challenge of 2001. Lincou had just come
from the Hong Kong Open where he beat Nicol in the first round and made
the final. He beat Shabana in South Africa in straight games and went
on to win the tournament.

Lincou made the semis here last year, Shabana was entered
but didn’t turn up.

[6] Anthony Ricketts (AUS) v Martin Heath (SCO)

Ricketts’ confidence should be running high right
now. At the last tournament he finally got the Peter Nicol monkey off
his back – beating him dramatically in the fifth set after numerous losses.
Heath has been ranked as high as 4, earlier in his career, but is currently
more erratic with his form which is why his ranking is jostling around
the low to mid teens. He’s currently ranked 14 and will have his
work cut out for him trying to beat Ricketts.

These two have only played once before with Ricketts winning
at the Qatar Classic of 2001 in 4.

Ricketts beat White in the first round of last year’s
tournament, then lost to Nicol in the quarters. Heath was beaten in the
first round by Olli Tuominen who had to qualify first.

[3] John White (SCO) v Adrian Grant (Qualifier)

McWhitey has won the past two tournaments he has played,
and has been in the final of four of his past five tournaments. Obviously
the inform player at the moment. He is in Palmer’s half of the draw,
but would probably prefer to be seeded to play either Nicol or Power in
the semi finals. He has beaten Power the last four times they have played.
He has beaten Nicol the last two times they played. He has lost to Palmer
the last four times they have played!

Adrian Grant is currently ranked 22, his highest ranking
to date. This time last year he was ranked 42 so he is going in the right
direction. McWhitey has been ranked in the single figures for the past
two and a half years, and has been inside the top twenty for over four
years consecutively. He has a lot more experience and will go into this
match the raging favourite. McWhitey has a vocal group of supporters that
show their faces at the North American tournaments all dressed in the
same ‘John White Fan Club’ t shirts. It will be disappointing
if they’re not here this time.

McWhite and Grant have only played once before in a PSA
tournament. At the Qatar Masters earlier in the year they met in the 2nd
round. Grant lost in straight sets, but his victor was in fine form and
went on to win the tournament.

McWhite was dumped out of last year’s US Open in
the first round by Anthony Ricketts, so he doesn’t have any ranking
points to defend and can use this tournament to leap even further up the
ranking ladder. Grant didn’t play last year.

[8] Ong Beng Hee (MAS) v Nick Matthew (Qualifier)

Bengy is currently ranked 8, Matthew is 24 and working
towards making the breakthrough to the top 20. Matthew had to qualify
and got the nasty draw of Simon Parke in the second round. He wasn’t
phased by this, and after dispatching Parke will be hoping to do the same
with Bengy in the main draw. The only two encounters between these players
was last year, with the Malaysian winning both times.

Neither Bengy or Matthew played the US Open last year

[2] David Palmer (AUS) v Olli Tuominen (Qualifier)

Palmer is the defending champion and has said that he’s
fit and hungry to repeat that performance this year. His first hurdle
will be the flying Fin who is the only real challenger to Ricketts’
‘Energizer bunny’ title. We were recently training and coaching
in Prague and Olli was there and playing very intense, high quality squash.
He won’t be daunted by Palmer’s pace and intensity, and instead
will thrive off it. The last time these two played was in New York this
year at the Tournament of Champions in the first round. Tuominen was up
2-0, then lost the 3rd 13-15 and fizzled out over the next two games losing
the match. He’ll be hoping this time to get those two points that
alluded him.

Palmer won the tournament last year, Tuominen had to qualify,
upset Martin Heath in the first round then lost to Lincou in the quarter
finals.

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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