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Alan Thatcher Player Profiles
Matthew is in good Nick
Wizard Willstrop hits right notes

Peter Nicol
Profiles the top 8

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Former world champion PETER NICOL gives you the lowdown on our top eight seeds


Amr Shabana was Egypt’ first winner of the World Open title in 2003, when he powered through the field as ninth seed to win the event in Pakistan. Since then he has added two more World Open titles and numerous other tournament triumphs during an illustrious career in which he has and has held down the world No.1 ranking slot for an unbroken spell of three and a half years, which emphasises just how strong he is.

I hope he will be in full working order after a recent injury in the States. He will be 30 this year but he still has the hunger to compete and train at the highest level.

We have seen a gradual evolution in his style of play, from a very open shot maker to a clinical finisher with a very strong basic game. I know that sounds ridiculous for such a great shot player he has matured into a truly majestic all-round player.

I have spoken to him about the changes in his career and he puts it down to a fundamental change in his priorities, first of all getting married and becoming a father, and his religious beliefs.

Shabana recently accepted an invitation to become President of the PSA, the governing body of the Men’s World Tour.

LOOK OUT FOR: Amazing racket head speed and shot-making ability.


Current world ranking: 2
Highest: 1
Left hander.
Born: July 29, 1979 (Cairo)

Main titles: 22 PSA titles including World Open (3 times), Hong Kong Open, Qatar Classic, Saudi International, Tournament of Champions (New York), Bermuda Masters, Canadian Classic, Heliopolis Open, Windy City Open (Chicago), Spanish Open, St Louis Open, Hungarian Open. 


I watched Greg recently as he won the Tournament of Champions in New York. He was in excellent form and beat David Palmer in the quarters, new world No.1 Karim Darwish in the semis, and an in-form Nick Matthew in the final.

Greg moves wonderfully well and when he is mentally focussed he is very difficult to beat. In the final Nick tried everything to stem the tide but could not upset his rhythm. Greg took his time and just played great squash. As the match moved on he was getting further up the court as Nick was pinned further back.

Greg is still improving and has clearly been working hard back in France with a very solid support group around him. He knows he needs to stay physically fit and learn how to use up less energy as he is playing.

In 2007 he became the first Frenchman to win the British Open, beating compatriot Thierry Lincou in the final.

He finished 2008 strongly, reaching three consecutive finals, winning the Macau Open and finishing as runner-up in both the Hong Kong Open and Saudi International. He is clearly continuing that form in 2009 and will be hungry for success here at Canary Wharf.

WATCH OUT FOR: Blistering speed and beautiful movement.

Current world ranking: 3
Highest: 2
Born: December 23, 1982 (Epinal)

Main titles: 15 PSA Tour titles including British Open, PSA Super Series, Tournament of Champions, Macau Open, European Open. Twice runner-up in the World Open final.


James is always a hugely popular visitor to Canary Wharf and he has won the title three times. He has had a few problems with injuries and illness in recent months and has been finding it hard this year to really keep on top of things and keep his place in the pecking order, slipping down the rankings to seven.

At this time last year he enjoyed a phenomenal run of success, reaching the finals of five consecutive tournaments. He was runner-up in the final of the Tournament of Champions at new York’s Grand Central Station, losing an incredible match to Egypt’s Ramy Ashour, but he then won back to back titles at the Swedish Open, the Virginia Pro Championship, the new Players Cup in Boston, and capped it all here at the East Wintergardden, where he fought back from a deficit of two games to one to beat Australian Cameron Pilley in a magnificent final to record his third tournament success.

He will be looking forward to a period of time when he can play continually and get his rhythm back. He loves Canary Wharf and his open, expansive game is a delight to watch.

I have been working a little with James in recent weeks and have given him some homework to do leading up to Canary Wharf!

LOOK OUT FOR: Superb shot making and amazing lunges.

Current world ranking: 7
Highest: 2
Born: August 15, 1983 (North Walsham, Norfolk)

Main titles: 11 wins from 17 finals including ISS Canary Wharf Classic (3 times), English Open, English Grand Prix, Swedish Open, Virginia Open, Players Cup. Twice National champion.

4 DAVID PALMER (Australia)

I have played David a lot over the years and he can be a brutal opponent. He has impressed me greatly with his ability to stay at the top and thrive with another bunch of players coming through.

He is an amazing competitor with a cabinet full of trophies to prove it, including four British Open titles and two World Open wins. He has amassed a lot of other major titles on tour and he is still up there and still able to mix it at 32.

I have been very impressed with his passion for the game and his ability to maintain that level of performance.

He has been in the top ten in the world rankings for more than 100 consecutive months and celebrated his latest PSA Tour success in February this year at the Bluenose Classic in Canada, with his victory over England’s Peter Barker marking his 24th Tour title in his 51st final.  

David’s title tally extends his lead over Egypt’s Amr Shabana (with 22 wins) as the current player with the most Tour trophies to his name.

LOOK OUT FOR: Forehand hitting power and how early he takes the ball.

Current world ranking: 6
Highest: 1
Born: June 28, 1976 (Lithgow, NSW)

Main titles: 24 PSA Tour titles including British Open (4), World Open (2), US Open, Hong Kong Open, Village Open (New York), Dutch Open, Australian Open, Swedish Open, Windy City Open (Chicago), Kuwait Open, Motor City Open (Detroit), Milo South African Challenge.


Thierry is an ex-world No.1, a former world champion and one of the most respected players on the tour. Thierry loves coming over to England and winning our big titles. 2006 was a great year for him over here, winning the Canary Wharf final, the Liverpool Open and the English Open in Sheffield, and I am sure he would love to relive those moments. 

He is a consummate player and an immaculate mover. He is very deliberate in the way he constructs his rallies and physically very strong – a bit of a beast. He will find that side of the game harder as he gets older but is keeping himself in good shape. He has the mental ability soak up pressure and still be involved throughout a match.  All round, he is an amazing competitor.

His victory in the 2006 final here at Canary Wharf was well deserved. He beat Australian Anthony Ricketts in the final after gaining his first career victory over me in the semis.

Back home, he triumphed in the final of the 2009 French National championships, beating Gregory Gaultier in the final, to lift the trophy for a remarkable 11th time.

In January, Thierry was appointed an Olympic Athlete Ambassador to spearhead Squash’s bid to join the Olympic Games programme in 2016.

LOOK OUT FOR: His fluidity of movement and especially his lateral movement across the T. He is a tactical genius and watch how he works points out.

Current world ranking: 8
Highest: 1
Born: April 2, 1976 (Reunion Island).

Tour titles: 19 PSA titles including World Open, Super Series Finals, Hong Kong Open, Canadian Classic, Liverpool Open, ISS Canary Wharf Classic, English Open.


Another top Egyptian player in an amazing era for Egyptian squash. To be top nine in the world and four in your own country is a bit hard. Wael is a very talented player with a great competitive streak. In the past two or three years he has played more tournaments and that has made him physically stronger.

He has trained a lot with Jonah Barrington and you can only hazard a guess at the workload he was forced to undertake.

Wael is a great mixture of Egyptian flair and European fitness and is always an entertaining character. He made his world top ten debut in 2007 after impressive performances in both the Kuwait Open and Qatar Classic.  In the July, he successfully defended his Heliopolis Open crown after overcoming fellow Egyptians in each round, including Karim Darwish in the final.

El Hindi's 2008 campaign began with victory in the El Ahly Open in Egypt in February but his standout performance of the year came in the new Petrosport International Championship in Cairo where, seeded five, he beat favourite Amr Shabana in the semi-finals before overcoming Darwish in the final to clinch not only the sixth Tour title of his career but the biggest by far.

LOOK OUT FOR: His fashion sense, flair and personality on court, and his speed retrieving balls at the front of the court.

Current world ranking: 9
Highest: 8
Born: June 25, 1980 (Cairo)

TITLES: Six titles in 11 finals including KL Open, Spanish Open, El Aly Open (twice), Heliopolis Open, Petrosport International (Cairo).

7 NICK MATTHEW (England)

Nick is playing the best squash of his life after recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him of court for a large part of last year. He is seeded number seven this week but that is a false ranking. He is certainly the man in form at the moment and really hungry after last year’s injury.

He is one of the most exciting guys to watch on the tour at the moment, playing exceptionally attacking but thoughtful squash at a frantic speed. I saw him beat Ramy Ashour in New York recently and, without giving away any secrets, he had clearly worked out how to play him.

The great thing with Nick is that he is such a good professional and works out what he needs to be doing and does it. As long as he is fit he will test anyone to the limit.

Nick will be looking for a good performance this week to make up for the disappointments on his previous visits when he has been hampered by injury and fatigue.

The highlight of Nick’s career came in 2006 when he became the first English-born winner of the British Open for 67 years, beating Thierry Lincou 3-2 in the final.

In 2007 he won his maiden Super Series crown, the US Open, beating fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop in a pulsating final.

Towards the end of 2007 Nick led England to the World Team Championship title in India but a brutal playing schedule caused a major injury to his right shoulder and he was out of action for eight months until making a winning return in the Dutch Open in September.

He has recently won the Swedish Open and regained his National title in Manchester, having also reached the finals of the Tournament of Champions and the North American Open in Virginia.

LOOK OUT FOR: His position on the court and his sheer intensity of play.

Current world ranking: 5
Highest: 5
Born: July 25, 1980 (Sheffield)

MAIN TITLES:  26 PSA finals including the British Open, US Open, Swedish Open, and two British National crowns

8 PETER BARKER (England)

Peter will be expecting lots of local support as he lives a stone’s throw from the venue in Limehouse. He was disappointed to go out early last year and I know he will want to improve on that this time round.

He started this season in superb fashion, beating David Palmer in two consecutive PSA finals, in Chicago and Baltimore. That level of performance earned him a deserved place in the world top ten and now everyone in squash is wondering how much further he can go.

Last year he did very well and he knows that this year he needs to push on to get better. His movement is very good and physically he is improving all the time. He is now looking to challenge the top eight in the world but is struggling to do so consistently. However, his recent win the Kuala Lumpur Open in Malaysia will give his confidence a major boost leading up to Canary Wharf. He beat fellow Londoner and left-hander Adrian Grant in straight games to win the title, which brought him 13 victories in 18 Tour finals.

It’s a strong draw this week and Peter will not shirk away from the task in front of him. He loves playing the top guys and has already recorded a superb victory over Amr Shabana.

As a fellow left-hander, I know how much that can count in your favour as the right-handed players have to adjust their game to counter yours.

LOOK OUT FOR: The pace he loves to play the game at, followed by his superb movement and court craft.

Current world ranking: 10
Highest: 9
Born: September 26, 1983 (Harold Wood, Essex)

MAIN TITLES: 13 PSA titles from 18 finals, including the Windy City Open (Chicago), Baltimore Open, Saskatoon Open, Colombian Open, Kuala Lumpur Open.


Wizard Willstrop always hits right notes at Canary Wharf


James Willstrop loves Canary Wharf. He says: “The atmosphere here is great, the venue is one of the best in the world, the crowds are always knowledgeable and make a lot of noise, and the tournament has developed into one of the best on the circuit.”

The fact that Willstrop has won the ISS Canary Wharf Classic three times may help to explain the warmth of his sentiments, but both he and the tournament are two modern British success stories in squash’s long and colourful history.

While the event has grown bigger every year, Willstrop is happy to remain where he is, at 6ft 5in the tallest player on the world tour.  His astonishing reach makes it difficult for any opponent to get the ball past him, and, when he gets his racket on the ball, he possesses the flair, vision and ability to improvise that takes your breath away.

Willstrop is a gifted musician and loves to finish each movement on court with a statement – a spectacular, crashing winner or a deft, sublime touch.

He wears his energy, passion and love of the sport clearly on his sleeve. And when all the notes are in the right place he is the most open, entertaining squash player on the planet.

Right now, he is taking the score back to the drawing board to try to fathom out a recent loss in form that has seen him slip to seven in the world rankings. But, with England Squash’s coaching armoury behind him, as well as his father Malcolm, one of the world’s most gifted coaches, it will surely not be long before James has ironed out the bum notes and got his game back in tune.

Willstrop admits that much of the trouble has been down to illness and injury. He says: “It has been a difficult time, coping with a virus and an ankle injury. Luckily I have recovered from the virus but I might need an operation on my ankle.

“It’s made my whole life disjointed. I’m feeling OkKnow but I could have done with a smoother build-up to the tournament if possible. I hate pulling out of tournaments but that’s what I had to do with the recent North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.”

Despite the negative impact of his recent health issues, Willstrop remains extremely positive about the future of squash: “This is a real bonanza for squash fans in London, with the Super Series followed by Canary Wharf, and there are clearly exciting times ahead. It’s like a turning point for the game, and a place in the Olympic Games could do massive things for squash.

“Canary Wharf is certainly one of my favourite venues. It has the feel and the atmosphere that you associate with great places like Grand Central Station in New York. That helps when players know they are being well looked after, which is always the case at Canary Wharf, and I love being in London anyway, so it’s a week I always look forward to.

“This year it looks like a very tough draw, incredibly tough. To get eight out of the world top ten is amazing. I can only hazard a guess at the lobbying that Peter and Tim must have done to get everybody to commit!”

Willstrop now lives in Leeds but continues to train at the Pontefract club where his father is coach. Despite the recent retirement of regular training partner Lee Beachill, there are plenty of top-class players based at the club, including a strong Indian contingent led by Saurav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal, the British Junior Open finalist who is destined for Bollywood stardom alongside her squash career.

Willstrop adds: “There are still plenty of familiar faces around the place and even Simon Parke pops in for a hit every now and then.”

Willstrop, England’s most successful junior player of all time, became the world's top-ranked Englishman just two years after becoming a 'senior'.  In December 2005, after reaching a career-high world No2, he led England to victory - for the first time in eight years - in the World Team Championships in Pakistan.

After a disappointing 2006 - in which he was hospitalised with food poisoning in Cairo on the eve of the World Open in Egypt - the Yorkshireman struck back with a vengeance in 2007, first winning the British National Championship for the first time, then claiming his first PSA Tour title for more than 16 months at the Canary Wharf Classic in London.

It was not only a confidence-boosting Tour triumph, but one he achieved after finally ending a career-long tally of 12 defeats by Lee Beachill, beating his Pontefract and England team-mate - and close friend - in a five-game quarter-final.

But Willstrop's new-found form gathered pace after signing a new racquet contract with Prince in August:  In the inaugural English Grand Prix in Birmingham, coincidentally sponsored by the brand, fourth seed Willstrop forced himself into the final after overcoming favourite David Palmer in a 95-minute five-game semi-final - then clinched the trophy when he beat third-seeded Frenchman Thierry Lincou 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 7-11, 11-3 in 77 minutes.

Later, he began his career-best Tour run when he beat his England team rival and local hero Nick Matthew in the final of the English Open in Sheffield to set up a series of five successive appearances in PSA finals.

The fourth seed in the Tournament of Champions in New York, James outplayed French rival Gregory Gaultier to reach the final where he finished as runner-up to Ramy Ashour.  Then it was three title wins in succession – at the Swedish Open, the Virginia Pro Championship in the USA, and, later in March, his successful defence of the Canary Wharf Classic crown, his final victory over Australian Cameron Pilley marking the 11th PSA Tour title of his career.

Within two months, he was back in the British Open final for the second time – the fourth seed facing fifth-seeded Australian David Palmer for the title in Liverpool.  In one of the most dramatic finals in the event’s lengthy history, James fought back from 0-2 down, and had match-balls in the decider before Palmer finally clinched his fourth title 11-9, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11, 13-11 after 111 minutes.

In September, an ankle injury halted Willstrop’s progress on the Tour, and by the beginning of 2009 it was a virus which the 25-year-old from Leeds was unable to shake off.  James failed to progress past the quarter-finals in the Tournament of Champions in New York, and was stopped at the semi-final stage (for the second time in successive events by Nick Matthew) in his defence of the Swedish Open title in Linkoping.

Willstrop enjoyed a glittering junior career ,winning British National titles at all age groups U12, U14, U17 and U19, and British Junior Open trophies at U14, U17 and U19.  In his final year in the category, he won both the European Junior and World Junior Championships 

It was in his final junior year (2002) that he won his first PSA Tour title, the Swiss Open, in March, followed by the Santa Barbara Open in October. 

The following year, he became one of the youngest players ever to play for the senior England team, representing his country for the first time at both the European and World Team Championships.

Matthew is in good Nick


Nick Matthew is playing the best squash of his life and is determined to produce a massive performance in this year’s ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic.

Matthew has risen to No.5 in the latest world rankings after a sensational return to form following a long lay-off last year with a shoulder injury.

After an operation in January 2008, it was not until June that he was able to get on court and hit a squash ball.

Following a slow and frustrating recovery period, Matthew eased his way back into competitive mode by winning the Dutch Open in September.

A month later, he exceeded his seeding to reach the semi-finals of the Qatar Classic after upsetting fourth seed David Palmer 11-3, 11-9, 10-12, 13-15, 11-6 in 111 minutes, which proved to be the longest match of his Tour career.

Making rapid improvement since his lay-off, eighth seed Matthew also made the last four of the Saudi International in December after upsetting new World Open champion Ramy Ashour.

Matthew celebrated the first anniversary of his appointment with a surgeon’s scalpel  with a sensational run of form early in 2009, firstly by making the final of the Tournament of Champions in New York as the No.8 seed (upsetting Shabana, Ashour and Willstrop before losing out to fourth seed Gaultier) then securing the Swedish Open trophy for the first time after despatching title-holder Willstrop in the semi-finals.

Within a week, he had claimed the British National crown for a second time, and by the end of the February the rejuvenated Englishman had battled through a high quality North American Open field to reach the final of the new Super Series event in Virginia, this time losing to Ashour in the 26th PSA Tour final of his career.  His consistency propelled Matthew to a career-equalling-high No.5 in the world rankings in March, interestingly enough after the seedings and draw had been done for Canary Wharf!

To say that Matthew is delighted to be back on top of his game is something of an understatement. He says: “I was off court for five months and there so many different stages to go through during the recovery process.  

“Even when I got back on court in June, it was a case of how hard and how often I was allowed to hit the ball. It was a very frustrating time. I was training hard away from the court but every time I played and stepped up the intensity my shoulder got sore, so I had to be extremely careful. There were so many different hurdles to overcome.

“It was great to start 2009 so well and I was able to improve my ranking from 12 to five with some good results. It was definitely the best form of my career and I won my National title back as well, which was a bonus.

“I try not to worry about the rankings, though. The key things are your performance and preparations, and if they are OK then the rankings should take care of themselves.

“I was at five in 2004 but it feels like a different world now to what it was then. From a personal point of view, my own game has developed and matured. I can’t put my finger on one thing; it has just been a gradual process.

“Much of it is down to attention to detail and hard work, day in and day out, and hoping things will improve.

“There was one unexpected bonus to being off court, and that was the time I was able to train away from the tournament circuit. Alister Walker said to me it was like I had done three summers’ worth of training back to back.

“Usually when you are playing tournaments you do not have a lot of recovery time to work on any weaknesses. And if you do well in a tournament and get to the semi-finals or the finals, you have even less recovery time. It is a double-edged sword, really, but I am not complaining.

“Your whole body is affected by the lunging you do on a squash court: the knees, back, hips and glutes. So you have to work on your core and be able to cope with the workload.

“Because of my injury I am doing specific physio and rehab drills every day and this has now become part of my daily warm-up, training and cool down. The important thing is to learn how to manage those situations and not take your health or fitness or granted.”

Matthew is aware that the brutal travelling schedule undertaken by the top pros did not help his injury. He added: “It was brutal at the end of 2007. We had Saudi, and Qatar, followed by Hong Kong, the World Teams in India, the English Open and then Bermuda.  You always get niggles in most tournaments you play, but now I am more aware of it and what needs to be done to take care of my body.”

Matthew is convinced the game has changed dramatically in the five years since he last held the No.5 ranking position. He says: “Is the game changing? Yes, it is a very different sport to five years ago. The Egyptians have come along in a big way and changed things. Suddenly a lot of the angles are different.

“In a recent tournament there was Ramy Ashour and Karim Darwish from Egypt in one semi-final and Gregory Gaultier and me, two Europeans, in the other.

“The Egyptians have are playing a new kind of game, but the basis is still the same. Karim Darwish has got to be world No.1 by playing immaculate length and width so the basics are still the same. A lot is made of the shot-playing ability of the Egyptians but they have such a strong basic game that enables them to set up the openings in the first place.

“Much of what we are seeing now is a marriage between the Egyptian flair and European fitness.

“As the game develops, courts are becoming truer and truer, and training methods and support systems are improving, so the standard will continue to rise, as in all sports.”

Matthew knows he is overdue a major performance at Canary Wharf. He says: “Last year I was injured, the year before I was exhausted after winning the Nationals and the year before that I had an ankle injury, so I am looking forward to playing my best.”


Pictures from Day 2 Qualifying Wimbledon Racquets Club
Copyright and thanks to Patrick Lauson
Pictures from Day 1 Qualifying Wimbledon Racquets Club
Copyright and thanks to Patrick Lauson