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Preview
of the 2005 TOC in New York

 

Feb
16, 2005: by Dan and Joe Kneipp (kah-nipe)         

Firstly thank
you for the emails asking us why there was a hiatus in our stories. They
will be more regular again in 2005 and we appreciate feedback including
comments, compliments, criticisms and story suggestions.

2005
Preview

The Tourney of Champs at Grand
Central,
 Photo © 2005 Dan Kneipp

If you look
at the history of men’s squash there is always a dominating force
or duo. Players like Jansher, Jahangir, Hunt and Barrington who in their
time demolished the competition and made it difficult to gauge the comparative
strength of the top ten players around them. It was a level of domination
that was probably detrimental to the game due to the lack of competition
and predictability (Jahangir’s five and a half year unbeaten streak
a perfect example).

There has never
been a stage in men’s squash where there was such parity and depth
of strength in the top players as there is in today’s game. The
quality of the 24 main draw players in New York City is testament to that.
There are more players in the main draw of this tournament who at some
stage have been ranked #1 in the world (6), than those in the draw who
haven’t been ranked in the top 10 (5). Five of the players have
held the World Open trophy (Lincou, Shabana, Palmer, Nicol and Power)
whereas typically it is held by one or two players before a change of
era. Yet despite this strength since 1996 only J. Power and P. Nicol have
had their names engraved on the silverware.

Normally TOC
is the first tournament of the year that all of the players attend, but
two medium sized tournaments in January that most players attended have
given us an idea of different players’ form for the new year. With
the only absentees in New York being Price and Gaultier, the tournament
is guaranteed to be exciting.

The
Top Quarter
1*
THIERRY LINCOU {FRA} versus {Q1} Qualifier 1
Lincou
is in the rare position of being both World Champion and #1, something
that hasn’t happened for the past few years. You have to be very
consistent to make the final of the world open two years in a row, winning
on the second attempt, so he is obviously a hot favourite for this tournament,
yet in 2004 he lost 3 events in the first round and is obviously capable
of being upset.

15* MOHAMMED
ABBAS {EGY} versus SIMON PARKE {ENG}
Parke
is currently ranked 23 but has been as high as 3. Abbas has spent the
past year in the mid to high teens and is currently ranked 19. He was
16 last month when the seeding for this tournament was done, which is
why two players both ranked out of the top 16 are playing each other in
the first round

The stylish and dangerous Mo Abbas,
 Photo © 2005 Debra Tessier

Parke and Abbas
(try saying that fast without coming up with ‘parking a bus’)
have only played once against each other in PSA – at the 2003 World Open
in Pakistan. Abbas won that encounter in four, but Parke was having a
pretty ordinary year, something he reversed in the past six months. On
paper Parke would be the favourite for this match, but Abbas can never
be underestimated, and has a held volley boast that is one of the most
deceptive and hard to read shots in the game.

7* NICK MATTHEW
{ENG} versus {Q2} Qualifier 2
Nick Matthew is currently ranked 6, with a highest ranking of five. He
is coming up to a year of rankings in the single figures and seems to
be getting even stronger as a player.

13* ADRIAN GRANT
{ENG} versus ALEX GOUGH {WAL}
Grant
versus Gough would be a tough match to bet on. No one will be overly surprised
if Grant wins, or if Gough wins. Grant ranked 15, a couple of places from
his personal best, as the seeded player is obviously favourite, but Gough’s
ranking of 26 belies his ability to play like he’s ranked in the
top 10, something he did for quite a while.

Grant and Gough
played each other in 2002 and 2003 in PSA, with Grant winning the first
encounter in five, and Gough winning the second encounter in five.

Lincou and Matthew
are the seeded players to make their way through to the quarter finals
of these eight players but they have a number of hurdles to get through
first and could easily fall by the wayside.

The
2nd Quarter

4* DAVID PALMER
{AUS} versus MARK CHALONER {ENG}
Palmer
is currently ranked 3, but reached the top spot for a few months in 2001.
In the last four years he has only spent four months ranked outside of
the top 4. Squash doesn’t get regular or comprehensive television
coverage in Australia, but Palmer’s recent ban from WSF tournaments
made normal (not sport) coverage on the national broadcaster. How this
ban affects Palmer’s PSA performance will be interesting. Although
it could distract his concentration, it’s more likely to make him
more hungry and focused on court.

David Palmer has plenty to prove
 Photo © 2005 Debra Tessier

Chaloner is
currently ranked 27, but has spent a considerable amount of time in single
figures.

Chaloner and
Palmer have played each other three times in 2000, twice in 2001 and three
times in 2002. The reason they played so many times is because during
these years they were both ranked in the top 10 and regularly making quarter
and semi finals, and the more consistent two players are at reaching the
latter stages of tournaments the more frequently they will play each other.
Of their eight encounters Palmer won every one, so it would be a brave
bookmaker that put Palmer as anything but the roaring favourite for this
match.

14* JOSEPH KNEIPP
{AUS} versus WAEL EL HINDI {EGY}
Team Kneipp
is currently ranked 10. El Hindi is ranked 22, his highest yet as he gets
closer to breaking that elusive top 20. The only previous encounter between
us was four months ago at the British Open. It was a close and scrappy
match that I won in five.

El Hindi made
the final of December’s Malaysian Open and beat Nick Matthew in
the first round of last month’s Windy City Open, so he is obviously
playing well. I’ve had a particularly good lead up to this tournament,
opting to not play January’s tournaments in favour of a solid training
base. Let’s see how it goes.

6* JONATHON
POWER {CAN} versus {Q3} Qualifier 3
Power
was #1 four years ago, nearly slipped out of the top 10 at the end of
last year, but had a strong December and January including victories over
Palmer and Lincou which helped shoot his ranking back to 5. Power is a
player never to be discounted or underestimated particularly when he’s
playing in North America.

11* JOHN WHITE
{SCO} versus DAN JENSON {AUS}

John White hope to inaugurate
his move to the USA  Photo © 2005 David Barry

Last month,
for the first time since early 2001 White went out of the top 10, but
an immediate victory in the Windy City Open rectified that with a re-entry
at #9. McWhitey made the final of the Tournament Of Champions last year,
and in doing so cemented the #1 ranking. Many previous champions (Beachill
and Lincou included) have discussed the difficulty of remaining at the
top of the ranking once you get there. That was obvious with McWhitey.
For the rest of the year following his 2004 TOC final appearance he didn’t
beat a single player who what at the time was ranked in the top 10. He
reversed that in style last month, having to defeat Ryding, then Anjema,
Power and Shabana to win the Windy City Open.

Dan Jenson is
currently 20, has been as high as 5, but that was over 6 years, and numerous
injuries ago. The only time these guys have played in PSA during this
period was five months ago at the 2004 US Open which Jenson won comfortably
in 3.

This is a nasty
quarter, with six of the seven players having had been in the top 10,
and three previous #1s all fighting for one position in the semis. This
quarter should provide some fireworks and excellent squash.

The
3rd Quarter

10* ANTHONY RICKETTS {AUS} versus {Q4} Qualifier 4
Ricketts
is currently ranked 11 and has been as high as 6. This time last year
he was sidelined with injury that kept him out for over six months. It’s
pretty impressive to spend six months out of the circuit and hardly miss
a beat staying in the top 12.

MOHD AZLAN ISKANDAR
{MAS} versus 5* JAMES WILLSTROP {ENG}
Willstrop
is currently ranked 8, but was at a career high of 5 last month. This
time last year he was ranked 18, and 42 the year before so his ranking
is going consistently in the right direction.

Iskander has reached a career high of 17, breaking the
top 20 for the first time and joining Beng Hee to make two Malaysians
in the teens.

These two haven’t
played each other before in a PSA event.

16* ONG BENG
HEE {MAS} versus {Q5} Qualifier 5

Wael El Hindi takes on Jonathon
Power  Photo © 2005 David Barry

Bengy broke
into the top 10 in 2001 and stayed there until January 2004. He went out
of the top 20 six months ago but now has his ranking going in the right
direction again, currently sitting at 16. Part of the reason for this
ranking decline is that it has been over two years since he beat a player
who at the time was ranked in the top 10.

3* PETER NICOL
{ENG} versus SHAHID ZAMAN {PAK}
Nicol
has spent more time in the past six years ranked at number 1, than not
ranked at number 1. This month is the first time in this millennium that
he is out of the top 3. He has only gone to 4, but it’s an indication
of his consistency. He is obviously in fine form, winning last month’s
Dayton with victories over Parke, Darwish and Shabana.

Pakistan’s Shahid Zaman just broke into the top
20 for the first time and is sitting at 18. He has had recent victories
over Ryding, Kneipp and Chaloner.

This is the
first encounter between these two in PSA

Nicol is seeded
to win through this quarter, but will have some serious work to get there.

The
Bottom Quarter

9* AMR SHABANA
{EGY} versus {Q6} Qualifier 6

Shabana is currently ranked 7 and has been as high as
5. He made the final of the two tournaments in January, losing both but
dishing out defeats to Willstrop, Beachill, Ricketts and Power along the
way.

OLLI TUOMINEN
{FIN} versus 8* KARIM DARWISH {EGY}
Tuominen,
ranked 24 still hasn’t broken the top 15 or top 10, yet has the ability
to do this. He briefly had a flutter ranked in the high teens, peaking
at 16, but for most of the past five years has been a permanent fixture
sitting in the mid to high 20s. He continually causes upsets after qualifying,
having victories in 2004 over John White, Joe Kneipp, Amr Shabana, Karim
Darwish and Ong Beng Hee

Darwish is currently ranked 12 and has been at 5.

When Tuominen and Darwish played in 2000, 2001, and 2003
every match was won by Darwish, but their last encounter four months ago
in Detroit was won by Olli on the way to the final.
***

{Q7} Qualifier
7 versus 12* GRAHAM RYDING {CAN}
Ryding is currently ranked 14 and has been at 10. He made the semi finals
of last year’s World Open, but lost in the first round of both the
tournaments he played last month.

{Q8} Qualifier
8 versus 2* LEE BEACHILL {ENG
Beachill
was ranked 1 in January but enters this tournament at 2. He joins John
White as the only players to earn a world open championship point opportunity
and not walk away with the silverware. 8 of the 10 events he played in
2004 he made the semis or final of. Although he’s seeded two, he
surely goes into this tournament as the favourite.

Beachill and Shabana have plenty of work if they are to
meet each other in the quarter final, but if it happens you can expect
one of the best matches of the tournament.

 

Kneipp’s
SquashTalk Forum

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or comments, please email us at dan@teamkneipp.com.
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