By PETER NICOL
Former world champion PETER NICOL gives
you the lowdown on our top eight seeds
1 AMR SHABANA (Egypt)
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
Shabana recently accepted an invitation
to become President of the PSA, the governing body of the Men’s World
LOOK OUT FOR: Amazing racket
head speed and shot-making ability.
Current world ranking: 2
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.
2 GREGORY GAULTIER (France)
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
WATCH OUT FOR: Blistering speed
and beautiful movement.
Current world ranking: 3
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.
3 JAMES WILLSTROP (England)
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
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
LOOK OUT FOR: Superb shot
making and amazing lunges.
Current world ranking: 7
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
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
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
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.
5 THIERRY LINCOU (France)
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
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.
6 WAEL EL HINDI (Egypt)
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
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
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
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
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
LOOK OUT FOR: His position on
the court and his sheer intensity of play.
Current world ranking: 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
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.