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Al Saad Kuwait Open – Preview


24 , 2004: by Team Kneipp         

Thierry Lincou – starts off 2004
at this event, Ranked World #1   
© 2004 Debra Tessier

The Kuwait Open represents
the first tournament of the year that has attracted the top 10 players
(our 2003 review is still being penned).

The $135,000 event is being held in memory of the late
Sheikha Saad Al-Abdullah Salem Al-Sabah, daughter of HH The Crown Prince
of Kuwait who died Feb 2, 2003 at the age of 38. The late Sheikha Saad
was an avid sportswoman and a first class squash player, and a member
of the ruling family.

The five-day tournament will be the Kuwait debut of a
the WISPA, see-through glass playing court specially imported from Boston,
USA for the event being held a Green Island Kuwait.


The closing date for entries for this tournament was in December which
has benefitted some players and has created some very interesting first
round matches. It means that a player like Lincou, who is now the new
World #1 plays this tournament seeded 5th, as was his ranking in December
and that Shabana isn’t even a seed. Considering January’s ranking represented
the biggest shake up in the pro pecking order in many years, December’s
tournament seeding creates another interesting element to this tournament.

Anthony Ricketts has been a late withdrawal, injuring
himself earlier in the year in the U.S.

[1] Peter
Nicol (Eng) versus Qualifier
will be hoping to start the new year off in better form than how it finished.
His last three tournaments have been very disappointing, losing in the
first round in Toronto, the quarters in Qatar and the 2nd round in Pakistan.
He is one of the four seeded players facing a qualifier.

[8] Lee Beachill
(Eng) versus Amr Shabana (Egy)
first round match is a promoter’s dream. Shabana and Beachill are
undoubtedly the two players who had the most significant year on the tour
in 2003 thanks to their unexpected and impressive victories in December.
Shabana’s World Open title and Beachill’s victory in the Qatar
Classic, the 2nd biggest tournament of the year, guarantees that both
players will remain ranked in the top 8 until at least December 2004,
meaning they will never play each other in the first round of a tournament
regardless of it’s size.

That’s not
the case here and Kuwait’s squash fans will be treated to a first
round match more befitting of the final. This game will be fast and furious
with a lot of nicks and beautiful racquet work by two blokes that are
very versatile, unpredictable and cordial on court.

Prior to this month Beachill hadn’t been ranked above
eight. His victory in Qatar helped him leapfrog past a whole bunch of
players straight into the top 4.

Shabana’s meteoric
rise to World Champion status is even more startling when you consider
his previous form. Prior to this month Shabana hadn’t cracked the
top 10. Less than two years ago he was ranked 37. He has obviously increased
the fitness that was lacking in his game and now has the sport’s
pinnacle achievement to bolster his on-court confidence. A fit and confident
Shabana is not good for the rest of us. This will not only be an incredible
match but provides a superb quarterfinal where the winner is scheduled
to play Peter Nicol.

Beachill and Shabana
haven’t played in a PSA event before!

[3] David
Palmer (Aus) versus Joe Kneipp (Aus)
the 2002 world champ, has spent the past three years ranked either 1,
2 or 3 so his current ranking of 6 isn’t good by his tough standards.
Although he won the British Open title again, 2003 has been a year more
dominated by injury problems than by squash results.

My semi final appearance in Pakistan means that this month
for the first time in my career I’ve cracked the magical top 10.
We spent five painful months last year ranked 11 but just couldn’t
go that one frustrating spot more. This result has been a long time coming.
It will help my confidence and will hopefully be just the start of bigger
and better things to come

Palmer and I played in December at the Qatar Classic.
He was playing with an injured leg but was still able to close out the
match, a result that will provide him with plenty of confidence for our
upcoming encounter. Hopefully I can redeem myself.

Gregory Gaultier
(Fra) versus Martin Heath (Sco)
the initial draw before Ricketts pulled out Gaultier was pitted against
his countryman and the new #1 Thierry Lincou, which would have been a
very interesting match. Instead he faces the sporadic brilliance of Martin
Heath. Heath has benefited greatly from the timing of the draw as his
new ranking plummeted from 12 to 24, meaning that he would normally be
qualifying for this event. You have to go back well into the past millennium
to find out when Heath was last ranked outside of the top 20, spending
most of last year ranked in the low teens.

Gaultier and Heath have only played once before in PSA
with the Frenchman causing a 3-0 upset at the Tournament of Champions
last year.

[5] Thierry
Lincou (Fra) versus Mansoor Zaman (Pak)
has been ranked 4, 5 or 6 since October 2001 but has broken that run with
a substantial jump from 5 to 1. He withdrew from a tournament earlier
in the month with an ankle problem which hopefully isn’t going to
affect his performance in Kuwait, his first appearance as the world’s
highest ranked player.

Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman had a disappointing performance
at the World Open considering it was staged in his backyard. He will have
to raise his game considerably to cause an upset here. It will be the
first time these two have played in PSA

[4] Jonathon
Power (Can) Qualifier
is currently a lot closer to falling out of the top 10 than regaining
the #1 spot. The Canadian will need to win a couple of tournaments to
get within range of the top 4, but can take solace that very little separates
the players ranked between #5 (Amr Shabana) through to #9 (Karim Darwish).
Included in this bunch are Ricketts, Palmer and Power and this tournament
will determine the pecking order for next month’s ranking.

[7] Ong
Beng Hee (Mas) Qualifier
May 2001 Bengy made his debut in the top 10 and prior to this month he
didn’t leave that exclusive club. He is seeded 7 for this tournament,
considerably higher than his January ranking of 13. Because of his run
of bad results the qualifiers will be happy to draw him first round. Perhaps
this will be the tournament where his form turns around.

[2] John
White (Sco) versus Qualifier
will be happy with this draw. He has a much better win record against
Power and Lincou – one of which he is most likely to meet in the semi
finals – than against Palmer who is in the top half of the draw.

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