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World
Open Report Card

 

Dec
28 , 2003: by Team Kneipp         

A
New Ranking Order

December has been one of the craziest, most unexpected and advantageous
months for pro squash. The Qatar Classic and World Open have provided
many surprise results, and the rankings next month and for the first half
of 2004 will be scrambled because of it. The current (December 2003) top
20 order is:

Joe and Jansher at a World Open
03 Function

Photo © 2003 Dan Kneipp

1 Peter Nicol
2 John White
3 David Palmer
4 Jonathon Power
5 Thierry Lincou
6 Anthony Ricketts
7 Karim Darwish
8 Ong Beng Hee
9 Lee Beachill
10 Gregory Gaultier
11 Amr Shabana
12 Martin Heath
13 Graham Ryding
14 Joseph Kneipp
15 Paul Price
16 Mansoor Zaman
17 Simon Parke
18 Omar Elborolossy
19 Stewart Boswell
20 Alex Gough

The ranking on January 1st 2004 is going to be extremely different. Something
like this (give or take a few shuffles and placings):

Dan Kneipp traveling around Lahore
with his guard contingent.

Photo © 2003 Team Kneipp

1 – Thierry Lincou
(up from 5)
2 – John White
3 – Peter Nicol (down from 1)
4 – Lee Beachill (up from 9)
5 – Amr Shabana (up from 11)
6 – David Palmer (down from 3)
7 – Jonathon Power (down from 4)
8 – Anthony Ricketts (down from 6)
9 – Karim Darwish (down from 7)
10 – Joe Kneipp (up from 14)
11 – Nick Matthew (up from 21)
12 – Gregory Gaultier (down from 10)
13 – Ong Beng Hee (down from 8)
14 – Graham Ryding (down from 13)
15 – Omar Elborolossy (up from 18)
16 – Mohammed Abbas (up from 25)
17 – Paul Price (down from 15)
18 – James Willstrop (up from 28)
19 – Olli Tuominen (up from 24)
20 – Renan Lavigne (up from 30)

Next month every player in the top 20 except for McWhitey moves position,
and not just a small shuffling – an average of four places each.
The different strength and diversity of players represented in this group
is interesting. The top 20 consists of four Australians, four Englishmen,
four Egyptians, three French blokes, two Canadian, a Malaysian, a Scot
and a Finn.

The World Open was
the last Super Series tournament of the year. The first one was New York’s
Tournament of Champions in February. At that event the quarterfinals had
the top 8 seeds, with no major upsets occurring against the top guns.
Things couldn’t have been more starkly different in Lahore. By the
quarterfinal stage there was no remaining player that had even previously
reached the semi finals of the World Open.

Here is our perspective
on the relative successes and failures of the 2003 World Open:
Champagne and Strawberries
Amr Shabana (Egypt) – the new king.
Only a die-hard Egyptian fan would have listed Shabana as a genuine title
contender at this event. No one could doubt his talent, or ability, or
the fact that when he plays well he can beat anyone. But winning the World
Open? Not likely. He not only did it, he did it in style. He beat the
current World Champion, he saved five match balls in the quarter finals,
he bested his own nation’s highest ranked player ensuring he will
take that coveted position, and then he beat the new world #1. What a
spectacular ride. Shabana is entertaining to watch, not just because of
his fantastic racquet skills, but also because of his relaxed, likeable
and comedic nature that comes across on court. A good way of emphasising
how substantial of a result this was for Shabana, relative to his previous
wins – the amount of tax that Shabana had removed from his winning
cheque was a larger figure than any pay cheque he had had to date.

I can’t wait
to see how he reacts to this victory. Shabana can only be described as
a schizophrenic squash player. He is either awesome on court, or just
making up the numbers. There’s not much in between. Let me give
you some good examples: In June he unexpectedly won the Spanish Open,
then as the top seed at the next tournament lost in the first round. In
May he made the final of a medium sized event in Pakistan, then lost in
the first round at the next tournament. His results are erratic. You can’t
win the World Open without overcoming that.

After the tournament
we were going through customs with the Egyptian players (Shabana, Darwish
and Abbas). Shabana was carrying the impressive crystal trophy, but as
usual was trying to avoid attention. If we had won the event we would
be waving the thing around like a flare trying to attract attention and
hoping it could be used for a business class upgrade. Shabana had a security
officer approach him and congratulate him, and he seemed slightly embarrassed.
I told him he had to enjoy it and get used to it, despite it being contrary
to his nature. His response was priceless, “I’ll be ready
for the next time”.

Thierry Lincou (France)- finalist

Lincou has been the most consistent player this year, by a long way. Every
other top player has had upsets, injuries, or both. Because of this he’ll
go to #1 in the January rankings, becoming the first Frenchman to do so.
I’m hoping that with the first French #1 and the first Egyptian
World Champion we’ll have a substantial sized French Open and Egyptian
Open in 2004.

Lincou had to overcome
substantial pressure to achieve the final in this tournament. When we
met in the semi finals he had to win to achieve #1 status. Try playing
a match with that sort of pressure lingering in your mind. There was no
doubt that it affected him. We shared a van from the hotel to the tournament
venue. Because of the extreme security and frantic local traffic, these
rides were always annoying and stressful. We got a few hundred metres
into the ride and had to turn back because Lincou had forgotten his shoes.
He was playing the World Open semi finals and fighting for the #1 ranking
position, and he forgot his shoes! Pressure. He overcame it on court and
had a great tournament.

Davide Bianchetti
(Italy) – quarterfinalist

Aside from Shabana Bianchetti was easily the player who achieved the most,
relative to expectations. Lincou’s place in the final was impressive,
but far from surprising as he has been achieving well all year. But Davide’s
victories over Peter Nicol and Gregory Gaultier for a quarterfinal place
was both impressive and unexpected.

Joe Kneipp
(Australia) – semi finalist

We started this year out well, but fell into a slump after summer. We
had done the work and had faith that things would come good, and the timing
couldn’t have been better. The draw we faced could be considered
the hardest (Bianchetti’s and Shabana’s being the other obvious
contenders).

I had to beat Alex
Gough ranked 20 and a former World Open semi finalist, John White ranked
2 and last year’s World Open finalist, then Lee Beachill ranked
9 and the winner of the other Super Series event in December and the current
inform player, and finally Thierry Lincou ranked five and the most consistent
player of 2003. A very good week at the office, and I should finally crack
the elusive top 10 in January’s ranking (I’m bloody tired
of 11).

I had a funny interaction
with one of the referees at the tournament while I was shopping at one
of the local stores attached to the tournament hotel. I was just browsing,
but found something I really wanted. I didn’t have any money on
me and was going to go back to my room to get some, but the ref was also
in the shop and kindly lent me the money. The following day the same ref
was adjudicating my match. I saw him as I was warming up and went to repay
my debt, but suddenly realised how inappropriate it was to be handing
him money prior to him reffing my match. I thought about either getting
Daniel to do it, or doing it inconspicuously, but both options would look
incredibly dodgy if anyone saw it. I opted for paying him back much later.
I explained the situation to him and we both laughed.

Karim Darwish
(Egypt) – semi finalist

Darwish had a great tournament, but will rightly walk away from this tournament
and the January ranking feeling annoyed and unlucky. He made the last
four of the most important tournament of the year, but will lose his position
as the top Egyptian, but even more cruel – will suffer a ranking
slide in January! He made the semi finals of the World Open but will go
from being 7 in December to 9 in January (I think). That is an absolute
tragedy and I’d be trying to call someone to complain if it happened
to me. The reason for this is that he is a lot of ranking points behind
the guy at #6 (Ricketts) and the rest of the top five and despite the
great result won’t catch them, and is overtaken by Shabana whose
World Open victory has given him a ludicrous number of ranking points,
as well as Beachill whose points from his victory in Doha is only slightly
less ludicrous.

Ritwik Bhattacharya
(India) – 1st round

Ritwik is
the Indian qualifier that nearly handed Lee Beachill a first round loss.
This was a wonderful game and Beachill could be forgiven for feeling unlucky
at what a difficult first round match he had. If Ritwik can reproduce
this form in other tournaments his climb up the rankings will be rapid

Arshad Iqbal
Burki (Pakistan) – 2nd round

The only local player to make it past the first round. He had to qualify
first and then upset Shahier Razik in the first round.

Olli Tuominen,
Mohammed abbas, Nick Matthew, Renan Lavigne, Borga Golan, Tommy Berden
and Nick Taylor

These players all progressed further in the tournament than was expected,
upsetting seeds along the way.

Vinegar
and Rotten Tomatoes

The Defending Champions
The tournament was supposed to start with three former World Open champions.
It was whittled down to two with Power’s withdrawal. Very early
in this tournament (before the quarter finals) it became obvious that
a new champion was assured.
Peter Nicol exited the World Open at the surprisingly early stage of 2nd
round, defeated by Italian Davide Bianchetti. Nicol’s victor has
said that he was playing a sub-par champion and there has been talk of
Nicol having food poisoning. Staying healthy is just part of fitness (with
a large element of luck thrown in), but if you over-train and push your
body extra hard it makes you extra fit physically, but more susceptible
to illnesses. Dealing with diet and food poisoning when travelling in
a country like Pakistan is very serious.

The hotel we were
staying at in Pakistan was five star with incredible food. Even if the
hotel has similar food hygiene standards to what we’re used to,
it is still easy to get an upset stomach simply because of different bacteria.
Some of the Pakistani players struggle to remain healthy playing in Europe
because of different bacteria present in the food.

We didn’t want
to take any risks during this tournament so we brought packaged food to
ensure there would be no problems with any illness caused by food (a mildly
upset stomach can be the difference between winning and losing your match).
Some players laughed at this preparation and considered it an unnecessary
precaution – it obviously wasn’t considering Nicol’s
tournament was affected by food poisoning. Once the tournament was over
for us we gorged on local food and had no health problems at all, but
ensuring good food at a tournament isn’t a minor matter and we’d
rather err on the side of cautious.

Regardless of how
and why Nicol has exited this tournament, it means that he has had his
worst tournament in over five years, has had three bad results in a row
(quarters in Doha and first round in Toronto) and will be overtaken in
January for the #1 ranking.

David Palmer, the
2002 Champion, lost in the third round to the player that went on to take
the title. At the Qatar Classic played two weeks before the World Open
Palmer played some impressive squash while nurturing an injury, beating
Durbach and then me for a place in the quarterfinals. He then nearly won
the next match, almost progressing to the semis playing with an injured
leg. It was pretty impressive that he was able to have these victories
despite having to play with restrictions, but at the time we were surprised
he wasn’t resting the leg for the World Open – a considerably
more important tournament. Surely (with hindsight) playing these matches
and jeopardising his fitness for the World Open was a mistake.

John White
(Scotland)

McWhitey made the final last year, but lost in the 3rd round in Lahore.
His ranking will stay at 2, but March will be the month that it’s
most likely that he’ll take the top spot. At the Tournament of Champions
Nicol won the event, Lincou made the final while McWhitey only reached
the quarterfinal stage. This means Lincou and Nicol will have to perform
well just to maintain their present ranking, while Whitey will have room
to improve.

Local players
especially Mansoor Zaman

I expected great things from the Pakistani players at this tournament.
Everyone plays better when they have the home crowd behind them. I thought
Mansoor, as the top local player would exceed his seeding expectations
as he did at last year’s World Open. To do worse than expected here
is a blow for the local enthusiasm in squash.

The country’s
President and squash federation have dangled some considerable-sized financial
carrots in front of the players to entice greater results.

Anthony Ricketts
(Australia)

Ricketts made the quarterfinals as was expected of his ranking, which
obviously isn’t a bad result. But I’m fairly sure he will
walk away from the event disappointed with his performance. He had a 14-10
lead over Shabana in the fifth set of the quarterfinals and wasn’t
able to convert the victory, something he will rue.

Ong Beng
Hee (Malaysia)

Bengy has had a bad run over the past six months. I saw the end of his
match against Nick Matthew. Bengy was leading 2-1, but you never would
have guessed it. Bengy’s body language was dejected and he was swiping
at the ball like he didn’t want to be there. One of Malaysia’s
other top stars – Nicol David – was dealing with this herself recently.
She had overdosed on squash and took a reasonably long sabbatical. She
came back with renewed energy and determination, which culminated in a
semi final berth at the recent women’s World Open. Regardless of
any problems Bengy may be dealing with about trying to improve with his
game and technique – you have to want to be on court to play well.
To me it looks like it has been a while since Bengy enjoyed playing.

Simon Parke, Martin Heath, Adrian Grant, Mark Chaloner, Graham
Ryding and Shahier Razik

Players that lost early against the seeding.

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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