NORTH AMERICAN OPEN; Top eight seeds
By ALAN THATCHER
1 Nick Matthew
The reigning Richmond champion and runner up in 2009. He met Ramy Ashour in both finals. He is often compared to Peter Nicol, but Matthew has a more athletic, aggressive and physical dimension to his game.
He returned to the sport stronger, fitter and more focused after a shoulder injury kept him off court for several months two years ago. During his recovery phase he went to see a conditioning coach who asked him what his ambitions were. Matthew replied that he wanted to be the fittest and fastest player in the world. The guy said “Come back and see me when you are.” Matthew did.
He reached the World No.1 slot in the rankings in June last year, having clinched his maiden PSA victories in Richmond and Canary Wharf, and followed that up with gold in the Commonwealth Games and the World Open title, beating fellow Englishman James Willstrop in the final.
A fierce campaigner for squash’s rightful place in the Olympics, Nick is a magnificent ambassador for the sport. He is desperate to see the British Open return to the calendar so that he can attempt to add to the two titles he already holds.
In 2010, he won the Swedish Open, British Nationals, North American Open, Canary Wharf Classic, Sky Open (Egypt), Australian Open, Commonwealth Games, World Open and Punj Lloyd PSA Masters in India. What a year!
OTHER MAJOR TITLES:
British Open: 2006 and 2009
US Open 2007
|Born:||25 July 1980|
|Height:||183cm (6′ 0″)|
|Current World Ranking:||1|
|Highest World Ranking:||1 (June 2010)|
2 Ramy Ashour
Not many coaches would teach a beginner to play like Ramy. You wouldn’t teach them to hold the racket like he does, and you probably wouldn’t get them to flick the ball around court the way he does. But, hey, I’m not an Egyptian.
In short, you can’t teach genius, and that’s what Ramy has by the barrowload. Unconventional? For sure. Dazzlingly effective? Always creative? Impossible to read? You bet.
Those mesmerising skills, allied to a phenomenal work ethic and an obvious love of the game, have produced one of the most gifted and naturally talented players in the history of squash.
Ramy may have conceded the world number one ranking position to Nick Matthew in June last year but he began 2011 determined to impose his authority on the squash world once again, beating Matthew in the final of the Tournament of Champions in New York.
Last year he won the Kuala Lumpur Open, Egyptian Nationals, Hurghada Open, Hong Kong, British Grand Prix and the Kuwait Open.
Other major titles:
World Open 2008
|Born:||30 September 1987|
|Height:||180cm (5′ 11″)|
|Current World Ranking:||2|
|Highest World Ranking:||1 (January 2010)|
|Coach:||Difo/Ahmed El Matany/Amir Wagih|
3 Karim Darwish (WITHDRAWN)
Struggled with injuries at the tail-end of 2010 and pulled out of the World Open. He has matured into one of the most dangerous players in the world. Deservedly reached the world No.1 ranking two years ago on the back of a massive run of results where he showed that he had added physical maturity and mental toughness to his undoubted racket ability. He held the world number one spot for 11 months in a period when it was shared around among the Egyptians, with Ramy Ashour and Amr Shabana confirming that nation’s supremacy in the sport.
His arrival at the No.1 position ended a 33-month period of dominance by Shabana.
Runner-up to Ramy Ashour in final of 2008 World Open, Darwish enjoyed great success during that year and 2009, when he won the Oregon Open, Qatar Classic, Sky Open, Motor City Open, and reached the final of several other competitions. In 2010 he won the Motor City Open in Detroit, the El Gouna International in Egypt and the Qatar Classic.
|Born:||29 August 1981|
|Height:||179cm (5′ 10″)|
|Current World Ranking:||3|
|Highest World Ranking:||1 (January 2009)|
|Coach:||Hesham El Attar/Amir Wagih|
4 James Willstrop
One of the most gifted players in the world. His height (6ft 4in) gives him a huge reach and makes it very difficult to get the ball past him. Won the ToC at the start of 2010 and reached the quarter-finals or better in every World Series event last year. Phenomenal shot-maker who deserves to have won more titles. His musical talent is a clear indication of the creative genius that lurks inside. Son of the great coach Malcolm Willstrop, his great love for the game and knowledge of the sport inspires his dedicated approach to the sport. An intelligent commentator on the game who writes a weekly column for the daily evening newspaper in Yorkshire.
Like Ramy, he loves to play squash with a smile on his face. However, after winning in New York last year he admitted: “In the past I know I have gone out to entertain the crowd. The big difference for me this year was that I was more businesslike. I had a job to do and that came before entertaining the audience.”
After winning the ToC final in 2010, Willstrop was runner-up in the finals of seven other tournaments, including the World Open, and reached the semi-finals of four others.
|Born:||15 August 1983|
|Birthplace:||North Walsham, Norfolk|
|Height:||194cm (6′ 4″)|
|Current World Ranking:||4|
|Highest World Ranking:||2 (December 2005)|
|Racket:||Prince O3 Speedport Black|
5 Amr Shabana
The senior man in the Egyptian camp. A winner of the World Open on four occasions, and world No.1 for an astonishing 33 months, he is the most celebrated Egyptian squash player in history. Intelligent, thoughtful, artistic and dangerous from anywhere on the court – what a combination!
And boy, can he dive when he wants to! His retrieving powers are almost as spectacular as his shot-making prowess. Possesses a fierce, warrior-like approach, which, allied to his dazzling skills, makes him the complete player – and some!
His World Open wins came in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, all odd-numbered years. After going throughout 2010 without a tournament win, maybe that pattern will repeat itself in 2011.
He’s been a PSA member since 1995 and is currently president of the players’ association, a wise, shrewd and intelligent man to have on board any organisation.
After a quiet time in 2004, Shabana stormed back to the top of his game in 2005. Over a short period, he acquired a new coach, Ahmed Tahir; a new manager, the former Egyptian international Omar Elborolossy; and a wife, Nadjla. “All I have to worry about now is playing my matches – everything else is looked after for me now”, said Shabana.
And play he did, winning the Heliopolis Open in his home town of Cairo before clinching the St Louis Open in the United States and the Hungarian Open. He then crushed all opposition to win the World Open in Hong Kong Open. His magical run continued in the following months with victories in the Canadian Classic, the Tournament of Champions and the Bermuda Masters.
He continued through 2006 with further victories in Hong Kong and the Saudi International, before another magnificent run during 2007 which produced tournament triumphs in Chicago, New York, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Hong Kong and the World Open in Bermuda.
In 2008 he won the Kuwait and Hong Kong titles before a resurgent run in 2009 produce tournament sins in the Malaysian Open, the US Open in Chicago, the Hong Kong Open and the World Open in Kuwait.
|Born:||20 July 1979|
|Height:||173cm (5′ 8″)|
|Current World Ranking:||5|
|Highest World Ranking:||1 (April 2006)|
6 Gregory Gaultier
One of the classiest players on the world tour, this talented Frenchman won the British Open in 2007 and was runner-up in the World Open in 2006 and 2007. Flamboyant and full of Gallic flair, Gaultier reached the world number one ranking position for the first time in 2009 and admitted that it created psychological stresses that he had never anticipated.
After a brief spell away from the game he returned to court with a new determination and a desire to enjoy the sport again and quickly began to show his old style. The runner-up in Richmond to England’s James Willstrop, Gaultier is always a crowd-pleaser and a player never slow to let his emotions come to the surface. His any fans will say that he should have won more major titles in his career but there is still plenty of time for that to be put right.
The 2007 British Open final in Manchester, England, was an all-French affair, with Gaultier defeating Thierry Lincou 11–4, 10–11 (0–2), 11–6, 11–3.
At the 2006 World Open, Gaultier defeated World No. 1 and defending-champion Amr Shabana in the semi-finals, before losing in five games in the final to David Palmer 11–9, 11–9, 9–11, 10–11 (4–6), 2–11. In 2007, Gaultier again reached the World Open final, losing 7–11, 4–11, 6–11 to Shabana.
In 2003, Gaultier was a member of the French team which finished runners-up to Australia at theWorld Team Squash Championships. In the semi-finals against England, Gaultier won the deciding match against Lee Beachill which took France through to the final.
At the 2009 Tournament of Champions, Gaultier defeated the world No.1 Karim Darwish in the semi-final, and beat Nick Matthew in the final with a score of 11–9, (2–11), 11–8, 11–4. He is the only Frenchman to have won the title.
|Born:||23 December 1982|
|Height:||176cm (5′ 9″)|
|Current World Ranking:||6|
|Highest World Ranking:||1 (November 2009)|
7 Peter Barker
The left-handed Londoner has cemented a place in the world top ten after many years as a nearly man. Now he’s the real deal and hungry to start winning major tournaments. If you’re an ambitious leftie living in London there’s only one man you want to learn from and that’s former world champion Peter Nicol. Barker has absorbed many a valuable lesson from his mentor and continues to travel to Scotland for further training sessions now that Nicol has returned north of the border in the UK.
The main lesson Barker learned from Nicol, among many, was that the quality of the shot had to be, well, quality. Especially at the top level, where anything loose is likely to be punished very quickly.
A tough, tenacious opponent for any of the top boys, he is keen to turn that newly-honed quality into silverware.
A quarter-finalist at the 2009 World Open, Barker is now one of England’s leading players. Last year he reached the semi-finals of the Bluenose Classic in Canada, the Canary Wharf Classic in his home town of London, the Hong Kong Open and the World Open, where three of the last four were Englishmen.
|Born:||26 September 1983|
|Height:||183cm (6′ 0″)|
|Current World Ranking:||8|
|Highest World Ranking:||6 (January 2010)|
8 Daryl Selby
Like Barker, Selby is an Essex boy. And Essex boys don’t like losing. The county to the east of London has a long history of producing gutsy, aggressive squash players and Selby certainly fits the mould. But there’s more to him than a never-say-die approach to the game. His recent ascendancy into the world top ten has come on the back of a long list of impressive performances. Those results have brought the confidence which has resulted in a more expressive style of play. So more shots have started to emerge from the locker, with an increasing quality and style, and a better percentage ratio. The whole package is evolving into a dangerous character who, having come this far, is determined to power on even further.
He began 2011 with victories in the Comfort Inn Open in Canada and the Edinburgh Open in Scotland, and will be flying into Richmond with that nice warm glow of success tempered by the knowledge that here, in the World Series, he will have to step up a gear.
|Born:||3 November 1982|
|Height:||180cm (5′ 11″)|
|Current World Ranking:||10|
|Highest World Ranking:||9 (April 2010)|