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Liverpool’08
Preview (Top Half of Draw)

    

May
2,
2006: by Dan Kneipp (kah-nipe)      

[See also: Liverpool
Draw
and Liverpool Qualifier
Final
]

saudi intl
The Liverpool08 Open Venue

That’s
one thing you’ve got to love about squash. Sure we
mightn’t have the money and prestige that tennis has, and it’s
very annoying that both table tennis and badminton are Olympic sports
and we’re not, but none of the other racquet sports have the spectacular
venues that squash have. It’s lovely to come to a new city that
you don’t really know and find your work venue for the week (at
least hopefully for a week) is some beautiful, culturally significant
building. This week’s office is Liverpool’s Saint George’s
Hall, a grand building in the centre of the city that is over 150 years
old and whose past regulars include people like Charles Dickens. I doubt
he went there to play or watch squash though.

His
loss.

There
has only been one major ranking event since February’s Tournament
of Champions (Bermuda) yet it seems like there hasn’t been time
to stop and breath. Once you include WSF events and non-ranking events,
like league matches, the Commonwealth Games, the European team championships
and such, it has been a lot of squash lately. Which is probably why the
draw looks like it does. Normally any decent-sized UK-based event gets
strong entries because players don’t have to travel so far. No
Shabana, Ricketts, Nicol, Abbas or Ryding indicates the players need
a break, particularly considering Ricketts, Nicol & Iskandar are
all based in the UK. But if they want to give up valuable points then
the rest of us will happily take them. Here’s what the first round
matches look like:

1st Quarter

saudi intl
Will Palmer and White meet in the
quarters (photo from their January meeting in Chicago © 2006
Debra Tessier.

[1] David Palmer (AUS) v Qualifier
Palmer, currently ranked 2, has lost to Jonathon Power or Peter Nicol
in three of the four big tournaments this year (including the Commonwealth
Games). He won’t mind that neither of them are here.

[15]
Ramy Ashour (EGY) v Alex Stait (ENG):
Ramy
Ashour, the 18 year old Egyptian wiz kid has only been a PSA member
for a year and a half. At the start of last year he was ranked around
100, but now sits at 23. In 2004 he became the youngest World Junior
Champion in history and he’s showing that he’s not
going to wait around before he breaks into the senior ranks. He has already
had victories this year over Bengy, Razik and Touminen in the Dayton
Open, losing to White in the final. None of this boads well for Stait,
who is the 26 year old Englishman who receives a wild card entry into
the event, hence his ranking is 57.

Stait
and Ashour haven’t played each other before.

[6]
John White (SCO) v Simon Parke (ENG):
Whitey
is currently 9, where he has been sitting for the past year and a half,
although he was #1 two years ago. He has won two medium-sized tournaments
this year so far, but hasn’t gotten past the 2nd round
of any major events.The main reason for that is he’s ranked outside
the top 8, meaning in the past two tournaments he came up against Lincou & Shabana
(Team Kneipp is suffering the same problem, but in the first round because
we’re ranked outside the top 16 – a tough handicap to give
yourself).

Parke spent most of last year in the low 20s, but is now back in the
low 30s.

White
leads Parke 4-1 in their PSA head-to-heads, with Parke’s
only victory being their first match together, in 2000 when Parke was
ranked 3 and White 14. They haven’t played each other in PSA since
the scoring has been to 11.

I
don’t know who this will favour.
In theory it should favour White, but I suspect it would motivate Parke
more. In the last three years Parke has only had one first round victory
in a 32 draw tournament. This has to put White as the firm favourite,
considering in the same space of time White has won 12 first round matches.

[9]
Olli Tuominen (FIN) v Qualifier:
Tuominen is at a career high best of 13, and looks like he may finally
break the top 10. Although he’s only 3 places away from that, the ranking
point difference is so big he virtually needs to win this tournament
to close the gap, so that elusive top 10 will continue to remain elusive.

Quarter Finalists:
Tuominen should be the only hiccup stopping Palmer and White meeting
each other in the quarters. Olli has beaten White before (and Palmer),
but he’s got a battle on his hand. If Palmer and White meet in
the quarters as they should (nothing is certain with White, never be
surprise when he annihilates someone, or loses surprisingly quickly)
then we should see Palmer moving through to the semis. Although Palmer
and Whitey always have tough close matches, in PSA they almost always
go Palmer’s way, with the tally being 7-1 in Palmer’s favour.

2nd Quarter

[4]
Nick Matthew (ENG) v Davide Bianchetti (ITA):
Matthew is currently ranked 7. He has been bouncing between 8 and 12
for a few years now. He has shown that he can beat anyone, and his fitness
and physical determination on court can be astounding to watch. When
your ranking has been reasonably stable (or stagnant, however you want
to look at it) and you’ve shown that you can beat the players above
you, then there has to come a point where you need to try new training
techniques or tournament tactics. Not to dismiss Matthew’s success,
his current ranking is a few points higher than Team Kneipp’s best,
but a couple of years at the same spot justifies some analysis and change.
Matthew was rested for Saturday’s European Team Championships final with
a sore hip, so we’ll soon see if that has recovered completely.

Bianchetti
is currently ranked 33, but has spent about a year of his career in
the 20s. Bianchetti is a bit like Guinness – more potent
in the homeland and doesn’t travel so well. You always get a sense
with Davide that ever minute that he’s away from Italy is painful
for him and is such an overwhelming thing that it is a major hurdle for
his squash success. The European players that have a problem with this
(add a few Dutch players to that list, virtually all the Germans and
the #1 Czech player who has just won something like his 6th tournament
hosted in Prague in a row, but struggles to qualify in other countries)
get absolutely no sympathy from us Aussies who have had to uproot everything
and move to the opposite corner of the globe to succeed at squash. A
quick trip home for us involves mortgaging the house to pay for a flight
and buying 42 dvds to counter the ludicrous flight hours.

Bianchetti
has played Matthew twice, both times in 2004, but one of those was
a walkover. Matthew didn’t drop a game in
their first encounter.

[11]
Adrian Grant (ENG) v Qualifier:
Adrian Grant is currently ranked 15, a few places off his best ranking.
He has spent the past few two around 15 and will probalby need to beat
Bianchetti and Beachill to do something about to improve that, a tough
ask.

[5]
Lee Beachill (ENG) v Cameron Pilley (AUS)
:
Beachill
has been ranked 8 for all of this year, which is his lowest ranking
since 2003. Beachill has only progressed past the quarter final stage
once in the past 12 months, hence his ranking is moving backwards.
Pilley is at 28, one off his career best. Pilley will be learning that
the toughest move in PSA is going from around 30 and 40 into the top
20, and more importantly the top 16. There’s
a reason that it takes most players a long time and mainly stall at
that hurdle.

These
two haven’t played each other in PSA before. I won’t
be surprised if Pilley takes a game, but will be pleasantly surprised
if he does more.

[13]
Alex Gough (WAL) v Jonathan Kemp (ENG):
Gough
is currently ranked 19 and is making a last push to get back into the
top 10. Kemp is ranked a career high 25. There’s a lot of players
missing in this tournament. Normally for an event this big Kemp would
have to qualify to make the main draw but instead he was the 17th main
draw entrant, just missing out on being a seeded player. I’m sure
given the choice of Palmer, Lincou or Gough, he’d prefer the draw
that he has. The only time these two have played in PSA was in New York
in 2004. Gough won, but it was a close 5 setter.

Quarter
Finalists: Matthew versus Beachill. Grant has beaten Matthew before
and Gough has beaten Beachill before, but this quarter should go to
the seeds. And if that happens it’s anyone’s
guess who comes through.

Kneipp’s
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