Belgian sisters Nele and Tinne Gilis are top seeds in the women’s draw
By JAMES ROBERTS (Squash Mad Correspondent)
Victor Crouin has climbed to a career high position of No.11 in the PSA world rankings after finishing runner-up to Mohamed ElShorbagy in Qatar – and despite a combination of tiredness and jetlag he will be entering this week’s Open de France in Nantes full of confidence.
This morning the event organisers announced the location of “the secret venue” that has formed much of the pre-event media campaign.
The glass court is set up inside Hangar 24, Quai du Président Wilson, at the end of the Three Continents Bridge.
Crouin enters the Hangar tomorrow as No.4 seed and is due to meet compatriot Gregoire Marche (seeded two) in the semi-finals.
Having lost to Mohamed ElShorbagy in Doha, Crouin will be keen to go all the way to the final in Nantes, where Mohamed’s brother Marwan is the top seed.
Fortunately Crouin has a bye in today’s first round. Both he and Marche will have to work hard to reach the last four.
After his fantastic performances at the QTerminals Qatar Classic, the presence in Nantes of Crouin, who has climbed from No. 18 in the world, represents a real attraction, but it remains to be seen if he has recovered both physically and emotionally from his phenomenal exertions in Qatar..
We will know as soon as he enters the fray against the winner of the first round tie between Egypt’s Mazen Gamal or the dangerous Aly Abou Eleinen, a player he often encountered during US College matches between his Harvard team and Penn.
The quarter-final will also not offer him any respite, with the former World Championship runner-up Omar Mosaad potentially on the menu, although he has recently beaten him, or even the Mexican Leonel Cardenas, a player from the same generation with whom he has fought some big battles.
Marche, winner of the first three editions and semi-finalist at the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne in 2019, loves Nantes. The man from Drome will enter the fray on Tuesday afternoon against either his compatriot Auguste Dussord or the Scot Rory Stewart, the battle between whom will undoubtedly provide the highlight of the first round.
Stewart, who impressed so much in the Commonwealth Games, will be keen to take that form into his PSA season.
In that section of the draw, Marche is seeded to meet England’s fiery George Parker in the quarter finals. Parker is seeded eight and will come into the draw in the second round against the winner of today’s first round tie between India’s Mahesh Mangaonkar or Faraz Khan (USA).
This year’s Open de France certainly promises to be a grandiose sporting spectacle.
In the top half of the draw, Marwan ElShorbagy and Saurav Ghosal are seeded one and three.
Both could be facing English opponents in the second round, with ElShorbagy meeting Nick Wall or Egypt’s Yahya Elnawasany, and Ghosal playing either Charlie Lee or France’s Bernat Jaume.
Declan James, Nantes champion in 2018 after beating James Willstrop on stage inside the stunning Théâtre Graslin, plays French wild card Benjamin Aubert with the winner meeting America’s Shahjahan Khan in the next round.
James has recently teamed up with Willstrop to win the men’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games and will be looking to build on that gold-medal confidence as he seeks to rise up the rankings again this season.
The Spaniard Iker Pajares is undoubtedly a rising star of the World Tour but suffered a few physical concerns last season and has not played for four months.
Seeded six, he has a bye today and faces either Lucas Serme (France) or Juan Carmilo Vargas (Colombia). In that section of the draw, the 36-year-old Ghosal shows no signs of decline and has just won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games.
In the women’s draw, the New Zealand world No.5 Joelle King, who would have been the No.1 seed, has unfortunately been forced to withdraw due to an injury.
If the seedings are respected, the final will oppose the two Belgian sisters, Nele Gillis and Tinne Gillis, who last week were ranked 13 and 12 respectively. Currently rising up the rankings and the victor in their last two meetings, the latter is the logical favourite, despite her older sister having fond memories of Nantes (finalist at the Machines de l’Isle in 2017 and the victor at the Théâtre Graslin in 2018).
Nele’s potential opponents in the semi-final will either be Tesni Evans (No. 19) – after suffering a fair few physical mishaps, the Welsh player will be looking to return to her best form – or Lucy Turmel (No. 27), a rising star of the new generation of English women’s squash. If it takes place, the quarter final between these two British players on Thursday night promises to be hotly disputed.
In the early rounds, Tinne will have to watch out for the Japanese player Satomi Watanabe and could meet Melissa Alvez in the last four.
Just a few weeks ago, Alvez, who is France’s best hope for success at Nantes, provided Tinne with stiff resistance at the same stage of the competition in the European Individual Championships, before succumbing in four games.
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Open de France, Nantes