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Saudi Int’l Preview – Top Half

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December
15,
2005: by Team Kneipp (kah-nipe)         

Top
Half of the Draw Preview
And
then there was one. We’ve had
the Qatar Classic, the World Open, the World Team Championships, and now
the final Super Series event to cap off the silly season – the Saudi International.
One more frantic tournament and then most players have time to get home
to a normal life over Christmas.

So
here’s a quick look at how the first round of
the last major tournament of 2005 unfolds.

1*
THIERRY LINCOU {FRA} v.JOSEPH KNEIPP {AUS}
Lincou
finishes the year where he started – ranked #1. That’s
not to say he’ll have the same ranking in two week’s time
to start the new year. His results in Qatar and Hong Kong have been solid.
He lost to Palmer in the semis of Qatar and Nicol in the quarters in
Hong Kong. These are solid results, but if Willstrop or Palmer make a
final appearance here and Lincou doesn’t his ranking buffer is
going to quickly dwindle.

Kneipp
has been consistent. 1st round loss to Power in Qatar. 1st round loss
to Beachill in Hong Kong. If this tournament’s seeding was
done this month I would have had to qualify for the first time since
January 2002 by the time the local wildcard kicked out the person ranked
24th (me). If I don’t start winning matches that’s going
to happen soon anyway, and if you’re going to beat anyone it might
as well be the top guy.

Lincou leads our head to heads 5-1. Hmm.

12*
GREGORY GAULTIER {FRA} v. {Q1} Stewart Boswell
Gaultier gets the pleasure of taking on the super qualifier. He lost
to Palmer in the quarters in Qatar in a marathon five setter and had
a similar battle in the second round in Hong Kong before losing to Lincou.
He was taken to hospital in Pakistan with an illness but was better the
next day.

Boswell
took out Iskandar and Power in Qatar, and Ryding in Hong Kong. This
should be a very interesting match, particularly as the last time they
played it was after Boswell had taken a small break from injury in
2003, but tried to play a major. His opponent was Gaultier who beat
him in five. This was the beginning of Boswell’s extended injury
break. If Gaultier expects a similar match he’ll be in for a nasty
surprise.

Gaultier
couldn’t have a more unfavourable draw. He’s getting
closer and closer to beating Lincou, but still hasn’t done it.
To have to get past Boswell before that can happen makes the task even
more daunting.

8* JAMES WILLSTROP {ENG} v.{Q2}
Renan Lavigne

Willstrop
will go into this tournament brimming with confidence. December has
been a very nice month for him. He won the first tournament, lost in
the semis of the second tournament and beat the new World Champion
to help England win the third tournament. Great preparation for the
fourth tournament (psychologically at least, as long as it isn’t
too physically draining which I seriously doubt).

His
opponent Renan Lavigne from France lost in the qualifying tournament
in Qatar and the first round in Hong Kong. Lavigne can play great squash
and is a real fighter, but this would be one of the biggest upsets
of the year if he moves into the second round. When he played Willstrop
in Hong Kong last year he wasn’t able to get a game.

16*
SHAHID ZAMAN {PAK}v.{Q3} Rodney Durbach
Shahid
made the first round in Qatar and the 2nd round in Hong Kong. His opponent
lost both tournaments in the qualifying stage. That should mean that
the result of this match is pretty clear, but that’s
not the case. This could go either way and as they haven’t played
each other before in PSA they won’t know what to expect.

This
quarter’s Quarters:
Willstrop should have a smooth run through to the quarters, unless he
partied too hard in Islamabad of course (that sentence just sounds
wrong).

Lincou’s run isn’t as easy, but he’ll be
hoping that Gaultier and Boswell beat up on each other enough to make
his second round task easier.

3*
ANTHONY RICKETTS {AUS} v.{Q4} Ramy Ashour
Ricketts made the semis in Qatar and the quarters in Hong Kong, where
he lost to eventual winner Palmer in a five set battle where it came
down to a couple of points. The World Open was one of his major goals
for 2005 (other goals like TOC and the British Open were very well achieved
thank you very much), so he was very disappointed with how Hong Kong
finished up. Coupled with our result in Pakistan it will be interesting
to see if this fuels his squash fire in Saudi Arabia.

The
next poor kangaroo in the headlights of Ricketts will be junior star
Ramy Ashour. He managed to qualify in Hong Kong but was impressively
brushed aside by Gaultier. He’ll have his work cut out for him
making sure Ricketts doesn’t do the same thing. This is their first
match together.

13* GRAHAM RYDING {CAN} v.{Q5}
Joey Barrington
Ryding
will be very glad to see a normal looking draw in front of him. One
where the seeded player has an obvious advantage and is expected to
win.

Ryding
had Bengy in Qatar, a player who used to be World Junior Champion,
used to be ranked 7 in the world and is getting his game back to the
top after technique and coaching problems. No one was really surprised
that Graham lost that match in the first round (just as no one would
have been really surprised if Graham had won that). Ryding had Boswell
in Hong Kong, a player who used to be World Junior Runner up, used
to be ranked 4 in the world and is getting his game back to the top
after injury. No one was really surprised that Graham lost that in
the first round, but would have been surprised if he won it considering
Boswell’s
recent form. So now he’s got a player who wasn’t the best
or second best in the world as a junior and hasn’t cracked the
top 30 yet. He’ll be relieved.

That’s
not to say it won’t be tough. Barrington thrives
on long matches and will be hoping the match is played on a panel court,
with no air conditioning, an open roof, a 19 inch tin, a blue dot ball,
camels roaming near the back wall (don’t know why) and a lot of
long rallies and lets.

Ryding
will try to finish it as fast as he can. The only time these two played
was in Canada last year. Ryding won in four.

7* PETER NICOL {ENG} v.ADRIAN
GRANT {ENG}
Nicol
lost in the first round in Qatar to White and the semis in Hong Kong
to Shabana. Both of these players are great shotmakers. Grant can certainly
hit great shots, but he tends to be more of an attritional player.
It almost never works to beat Nicol at Nicol’s game (have
a look at Thierry’s record against him). One of Grant’s two
first round losses in December came at the hands of Nicol. Although he
beat him last year, and has the advantage of rest from not attending
the men’s teams, he’ll have an uphill battle causing an upset
here.

9* JOHN WHITE {SCO} v.PETER
BARKER {ENG}
In
Qatar White had a tough draw and great matches. He squeezed past Peter
Nicol in the second round by three points in the fifth set, only to
have Thierry Lincou return the favour (but to two points) in the quarterfinals.

He
has a similar scenario here. Get past Barker to meet Nicol to face
Ricketts instead of Lincou. No worries. Whitey’s results in the
tournaments so far (quarterfinal and second round) have been exactly
what is expected of his seeding. For a player looking to get back to
#1 again this doesn’t get the job done. He’ll be expecting
a much longer tournament here. Keep your eye on him.

His first round opponent is Peter Barker. He lost to Gaultier in Qatar
and Ricketts in Hong Kong, both in the first round. He has played White
twice
(’03 and ’04) and got a game off him the second time.

This
quarters Quarters:
Scheduled
second round matches of White and Nicol are always exciting. It will
be very surprising if Ricketts doesn’t make it through
to the quarters, but the unknown factor is obviously Ryding. Flip a coin
as to whether it’ll be Nicol or White joining the last eight (I
hope Barker or Grant make me eat my words).

Kneipp’s
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