By JOEL DURSTON
From The Huffington Post
All eyes at the AJ Bell World Men’s Squash Championships, the squash world’s biggest event, will be on World No.1 Ramy Ashour, who is “hungry” to extend his astonishing winning run of 45 straight games.
Such is the Egyptian’s focus on the tournament, and the gruelling toll of the PSA tour, that he chose not to play the prestigious US Open, where the strength of the various other pretenders to the throne was displayed.
World No2 Gregory Gaultier was in imperious form in Philadelphia, where he did not drop a game all tournament and near-dominated Nick Matthew 11-4, 11-5, 11-5 in the final – the “Wolf” himself playing well, having beaten fierce rival and fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop in three sets in the semi-finals.
The fiery Frenchman has significantly improved mentally and, recently, seems to have added even more agility to his game, which makes him the strongest challenger to Ashour.
If the seeding plays out as expected, and Ashour beats Matthew (4th seed) and Gaultier beats Willstrop (3rd seed) in the semis, Manchester will be set for a fireworks in the final, perhaps even better than their recent five-game thriller in San Fransisco’s Netsuite Open.
There are many other strong players looking to make sure that isn’t the case though, including four more Egyptians in the top 10 seeds – veteran Darwish (5th seed), 22-year-old Mohamed Elshorbagy (6th), wily old fox Amr Shabana (8th) and Tarek Momen.
More strong home representation for the Manchester crowd to support comes in the form of Essex players Peter Barker and Daryl Selby.
World No7 Barker, squash’s “Mr Consistency”, is enjoying a bit of a twilight in the game, having earlier this year beaten Matthew to get to the final of Canary Wharf (losing to Willstrop) and won the Colombian Open, which he attributes to enjoying the game more after realising “squash is not the most important thing” to him.
Selby is also enjoying life at the moment, currently sitting at World No14 (not a career high but more than respectable), having won all of his six matches in France this summer to help England to the World Team Championship, beating favourites Egypt in the final, and with wife Lucie having given birth to their son in January.
This year, the quarter-finals onwards will be staged under the magnificent arched glass of the Manchester Central exhibition centre – moved from the National Squash Centre, where the three rounds before the quarter-finals will still be played.
And, understandably, the players are excited about the idea.
In his Yorkshire Evening Post column, James Willstrop, for whom the “pulsating” event is sort of a homecoming, said: “Time will tell if it proves to be as exhilitaring a spectacle as a Grand Central Station, San Francisco Bay or the Pyramids at Giza.
“But this is certainly a mouthwatering prospect for any squash enthusiast.”
And Ramy Ashour said:
“Every single player, from number 1 to number 64, wants to win this title – everybody trains for it and is very, very hungry to get in there and compete and show the world they’re up to the standard.
“It’s going to be a crazy week of competition over there. So you guys should come and watch – it’s going to be interesting.”
Tickets for the event can be brought from: http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/PSA-Mens-World-Squash-Championship-tickets/artist/1853765 .
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