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Karim Claims Squash's Richest Prize In Saudi

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Karim Claims Squash's Richest Prize In Saudi

Karim Darwish rounded off the best year of his career by far when he beat Gregory Gaultier in the final of the Saudi International to win the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship - the richest tournament in the history of squash - in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar.

It was the pair's fifth Tour meeting of the year.  But, after losing in straight games in last month's final of the Macau Open, Darwish avenged his defeat in stunning style - maintaining the fine form he had shown all week to beat the second-seeded Frenchman 11-9, 11-5, 3-11, 11-8 in 52 minutes.

The victory - which brought the full house in Al-Khobar to an incredible crescendo - not only earns the Egyptian the biggest ever winner's cheque, of $37,400, but will also take the 27-year-old from Cairo to the top of the PSA world rankings next month.

"This is the greatest moment of my career," Darwish said later.  "I've been working really hard all my life to reach this moment - thank god I should do it in this, the richest tournament ever, and in front of a crowd like this.

"The crowd were unbelievable in their support.  I was almost in tears even before we went on - the way they were chanting my name and making so much noise!

"I was a bit up and down in the first but I managed to come back and win it at the end.  I had to refocus and come out stronger for the second.  I couldn't afford to give him anything loose, especially on a cool court.  I had to play deep to the back.

"It's a fantastic moment for me, such a great feeling. Thanks to my family who have been supporting me all my life, my mum and dad, my brother and now my wife (fellow Egyptian international Engy Kheirallah), and to my coach Amir Wagih."

Gaultier was magnanimous in praise of his opponent:  "Congratulations to Karim, on reaching number one and for the match today.  It was a tough game but he's a worthy winner.

"Thanks to everyone who supported me this week - I know you weren't supporting me today but I still enjoyed playing in front of such a big and noisy crowd!"

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. Current Rankings

Dunlop PSA Super Series Rankings
(after eight, of nine, events in 2008):

   (Prev)                           Points
1  (3)  Amr Shabana        (EGY)   8056.25
2  (1)  Karim Darwish      (EGY)   7462.50
3  (2)  Ramy Ashour        (EGY)   7256.25
4= (6)  Gregory Gaultier   (FRA)   5081.25
4= (4)  James Willstrop    (ENG)   5081.25
6  (5)  David Palmer       (AUS)   4450.00
7  (7)  Wael El Hindi      (EGY)   3668.75
8  (8)  Thierry Lincou     (FRA)   3656.25
9  (9)  Peter Barker       (ENG)   2381.25
10 (10) Adrian Grant       (ENG)   2293.75
11 (11) Mohd Azlan Iskandar(MAS)   2118.75
12 (13) Nick Matthew       (ENG)   1825.00
13 (12) Olli Tuominen      (FIN)   1806.25
14 (15) Ong Beng Hee       (MAS)   1687.50
15 (14) Laurens Jan Anjema (NED)   1656.25
16 (-)  Cameron Pilley     (AUS)   1531.25


Saudi International
Draw  $250k
Round 1
14 Dec
Round 2
15-16 Dec
17 Dec
18 Dec
19 Dec
[1] Amr Shabana (Egy)
11/9, 13/11, 11/6 (42m)
Shahier Razik (Can) 
Amr Shabana
11/9, 11/6, 2/11, 11/8 (49m)
Borja Golan
Amr Shabana
6-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 (50m)
Karim Darwish
Karim Darwish
14-12, 11-3, 11-13, 11-6 (71m)
Nick Matthew
Karim Darwish
11-9, 11-5, 3-11, 11-8 (52m)
Gregory Gaultier
[15] Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned)
11/8, 11/8, 11/6 (46m)
Borja Golan (Esp) 
[7] Karim Darwish (Egy) 
11/0, 11/1, 11/5 (21m)
Omar Abdel Aziz (Egy)
Karim Darwish
11/4, 11/4, 11/7 (35m
Alister Walker
[14] Adrian Grant (Eng)
 5/11, 11/8, 11/4, 11/8 (42m)
Alister Walker (Eng) 
[4] Ramy Ashour (Egy)
5/11, 11/8, 11/4, 11/8 (42m)
Omar Mosaad (Egy) 
Ramy Ashour
14/12, 11/8, 11/8 (35m)
Ong Beng Hee
Ramy Ashour
11-9, 9-11, 11-3, 11-6 (56m)
Nick Matthew
[10] Ong Beng Hee (Mas)
11/9, 11/7, 6/11, 5/11, 11/7 (69m)
Joey Barrington (Eng) 
[8] Nick Matthew (Eng)
 7/11, 11/4, 12/10, 11/8 (56m)
Aamir Atlas Khan (Pak) 
Nick Matthew
11/7, 11/9, 8/11, 11/13, 15/13 (79m)
Peter Barker
[12] Peter Barker (Eng)
 11/5, 9/11, 11/2, 11/7 (58m)
Davide Bianchetti (Ita) 
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (Col) 
11/5, 11/5, 13/11 (41m)
[9] Wael El Hindi (Egy)
Wael El Hindi
11-6, 11-7, 3-11, 12-14, 11-2 (80m)
David Palmer
David Palmer
12-10, 11-8, 4-11, 12-10 (50m)
James Willstrop
David Palmer
13-11, 15-13, 11-7 (56m)
Gregory Gaultier
Naif Abureqah (Ksa) 
11/2, 11/5, 11/6 (25m)
[5] David Palmer (Aus)
Daryl Selby (Eng) 
11/6, 11/3, 11/2 (27m)
[11] Azlan Iskandar (Mas)
Daryl Selby
11-9, 11-6, 11-7 (39m)
James Willstrop
Jonathan Kemp (Eng) 
11/6, 11/5, 11/7 (22m)
[3] James Willstrop (Eng)
Amr Swelim (Egy) 
9/11, 11/7, 11/6, 11/5 (40m)
[13] Lee Beachill (Eng)
Lee Beachill
11-8, 11-3, 11-9 (25m)
Thierry Lincou
Thierry Lincou
11-9, 11-7, 11-5 (50m)
Gregory Gaultier
Mohammed Abbas (Egy) 
7/11, 11/9, 11/4, 11/7 (54m)
[6] Thierry Lincou (Fra)
Cameron Pilley (Aus) 
12/10, 11/6, 11/9 (39m)
[16] Olli Tuominen (Fin)
Cameron Pilley
11-4, 5-11, 11-7, 11-5 (52m)
Gregory Gaultier
Stewart Boswell (Aus) 
11/4, 11/7, 4/11, 11/9 (63m)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)


Gaultier & Darwish To Battle For Squash's Richest Prize

Second-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier and Egypt's Karim Darwish, the No7 seed, will compete for the richest prize in world squash when they meet in the final of the Saudi International after surviving tough semi-final battles in the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar.

Darwish, the world No2 from Cairo, followed up his sensational quarter-final victory over world number one ranked compatriot Amr Shabana with a hard-fought win over Nick Matthew, the No8 seed from England, to reach his sixth PSA Tour final of the year - and the 24th of his career.

The 27-year-old from Cairo saved a game-ball in the first game before going on to forge a two-game lead - then reached match-ball at 10-8 in the third.  But Matthew fought back to force the match into a fourth game - before Darwish took control again to close out the match 14-12, 11-3, 11-13, 11-6 after 71 minutes.

"The first game was crucial," Matthew said later.  "I had a couple of chances but couldn't take them, then I slowed up in the second when I had a drop in energy and he caught me out with drops and when I started moving forward he threw in a few good flicks."

Darwish was delighted with his performance:  "It's a dream come true this week, getting to number one and getting to the final of a $250k event.  I've played well all week but that was a really tough match.  Nick played well and the support of the crowd was great."

The second semi saw second seed Gaultier save game balls in the first two games against David Palmer before completing a straight games win to take him into his second Saudi International final.

"He's a tough man, big and strong and he has so much experience and gives you no cheap points," said Gaultier of his fifth-seeded Australian opponent after the 13-11, 15-13, 11-7 victory.  "You have to fight for each rally and that's what I did tonight.

"I pushed a lot when I was down in the first two, I had to play my best squash at game ball down and luckily I was really fast and found my shots at the right time.

"I know the crowd will support Karim tomorrow, but I'm here to win.  I'll go on and focus on my game and my squash, it won't bother me. I beat him 3/0 in the Macau final a couple of weeks ago, but he's playing much better this week so it should be a good match."

Like Darwish, Gaultier is also celebrating his sixth final appearance of the year - but has now built up 31 career final appearances. 

But, for both players, all previous finals will take a back seat as they do battle for the biggest cheque of their lives - worth $37,400.

Darwish Prevails Amidst Egyptian Shocks In Saudi

Karim Darwish emerged as the only Egyptian to make it through to the semi-finals of the Saudi International after compatriots Amr Shabana and Ramy Ashour – the world number one and world champion, respectively – suffered shock defeats in the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar.

It was seventh seed Darwish who dealt Shabana’s blow in the world’s richest squash tournament in history:  Currently number two in the world, Darwish recovered from a game down to beat Shabana - who has topped the world rankings unopposed since April 2006 - 6-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-6 in 50 minutes.

"It's a dream come true - not only to beat Shabana here in Saudi on this court he loves so much, but I worked out the rankings before the match and I knew that making the semis if he didn't was enough to put me at world number one in January,” Darwish said afterwards.

"It's always hard to play Shabana, he's got so much confidence, so many shots.  Everything went for him in the first, but I came better in the second and played really well from then on.

"I wanted to win this match so much, I was so focused in the third and fourth.  I was getting to every ball and attacking as well, you can't play Shabana at the back all the time you have to attack too.

"I'm just so pleased to win, but now I need to put that out of my mind and concentrate on the semi-final!”

The 27-year-old from Cairo will now face Nick Matthew – out of action for most of the year following shoulder surgery - after the No8 seed from England pulled off one of the best wins of his career to beat recently-crowned World Open champion Ramy Ashour 11-9, 9-11, 11-3, 11-6.

"That's my best win since the layoff, for sure, I'm very pleased with that,” said the 28-year-old Yorkshireman.  "I had to stay focused and concentrate on every shot, every rally, one bad shot or if you relax one percent, he can hit a winner.

"I had to play very good squash to win and I think I did that.  I'll enjoy it for an hour, then refocus for tomorrow - another big match, against an Egyptian again, and with another big crowd supporting him!”

Gregory Gaultier produced the only non-upset of the day when he beat fellow Frenchman Thierry Lincou 11-9, 11-7, 11-5.

"It was a tough match,” acknowledged the second seed from Aix-en-Provence.   “Thierry played well in the first, but I started to get used to it, got warmer and warmer and started to find my shots.

"I'm really pleased with the win, there's always more pressure when you play one of your won countrymen, but we've played each other enough now that we can concentrate on the match, not the national ranking.”

Tour veteran David Palmer extended his run of marathon victories over Englishman James Willstrop when he upset the third seed 12-10, 11-8, 4-11, 12-10.

"I'm more relieved than anything else, they were tough conditions on there, and that's not the best way to play but you just have to do what you need to do,” explained the 32-year-old fifth seed who celebrated his 100th successive month in the world's top ten this month.

"He usually has the shots and I have to try to get the edge by wearing him down over four or five games, but on there it's so hard to get the ball going it just came down to a shootout. Whoever went short first probably had an 80% chance of winning the rally and to beat a shot player like James on that type of court is a big bonus,” added Palmer.

Palmer Survives Saudi Marathon

British Open champion David Palmer survived a fight-back by ninth seed Wael El Hindi in the second round of the Saudi International before taking his anticipated place in the quarter-finals of the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship - the richest event in squash history - in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar.

Palmer, the 32-year-old former world number one from Australia, is competing in his 15th year on the PSA Tour - and this month celebrated his 100th successive month in the world's top ten.

And the fifth seed opened up a two-game lead over his Egyptian opponent, before El Hindi, the world No8 from Giza, battled back to take the match into a fifth game decider.

But Palmer dug deep to restore his supremacy, coming though to win 11-6, 11-7, 3-11, 12-14, 11-2 in 80 minutes.

"I played really well for two games, then got a poor start to the third," Palmer explained.  "As the match went on it got colder and the ball became deader, which suits him more.  In the third and fourth I tried to keep the rallies longer but it was difficult.  He surprised me how strongly he came back, all credit to him for that."

The US-based Aussie now faces English rival James Willstrop, the world No5 whom he beat in the final of the British Open in May.  The pair met later in the World Open quarter-finals in October - with Palmer winning his fourth successive five-game marathon over the Yorkshireman.

Third seed Willstrop earned his place in the last eight in just 39 minutes - beating compatriot Daryl Selby, a qualifier, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7.

"It's been a long wait for both of us, after quick first round wins and a rest day, we both needed to get on court," said the 25-year-old afterwards.  "I was a bit slow to start, a little 'rabbit in the headlights', but from mid-game I put some good spurts in, took the first and got a good lead in the second and there was no looking back after that."

The other quarter-final clash set up on the second day of second round Saudi action sees the third Tour meeting this year between Frenchmen Gregory Gaultier and Thierry Lincou.

Gaultier, the second seed, ended unseeded Cameron Pilley's run by beating the Australian 11-4, 5-11, 11-7, 11-5, while sixth seed Lincou, a former world number one, despatched Englishman Lee Beachill - also a former world number one - 11-8, 11-3, 11-9.

"It's very cold on there now and the ball's quite dead, so it was tough," said Lincou after his victory.  "You're tempted to go short too early and you can get punished for it.

"As usual I'm looking forward to playing Greg.  He's been beating me for two years now and he's the second seed, so he's the favourite!"

Egyptians Excel In Second Round In Saudi

It was a good day for Egyptians on the first day of second round action in the Saudi International after Amr Shabana, Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour - the top three players in the Dunlop PSA World Rankings - moved into the quarter-finals of the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar.

World number two Karim Darwish was in excellent form as he despatched 'giant-killer' Alister Walker, the English qualifier who had reached the last sixteen after ousting 14th seed Adrian Grant in the first round.  The 27-year-old from Cairo's 11-4, 11-4, 11-7 win over Walker takes Darwish into a quarter-final against compatriot Shabana.

"I felt pretty comfortable there today, but I knew I had to be focused right from the start," Said Darwish.  "Ali's made great progress in the last year and if you let him in he's very dangerous."

Two times defending champion and world number one Shabana met unseeded Borja Golan, the in-form Spaniard.  Though the 25-year-old from Santiago pushed Shabana close, the top-seeded Egyptian won 11-9, 11-6, 2-11, 11-8 to go through to set up an all-Egyptian quarter-final.

"For him it was a bit up and down, I tried to be steady and concentrate all the match - but at this level that's very difficult," said Golan.  "But I enjoy every moment on court with him, it can only help me improve my game.  I'm very proud to play him, it's always such a good, fair game with him."

Last year's runner-up Ramy Ashour, now the World Open champion, faced top Malaysian Ong Beng Hee. The pair provided great entertainment for the crowd in a fast, attacking match - but fourth seed Ashour had too much firepower and beat the No10 seed 14-12, 11-8, 11-8.

The remaining quarter-final place settled on the first day of second round action in the world's richest squash tournament was secured by Nick Matthew.  But the eighth seed was taken the full distance before beating fellow Englishman Peter Barker, the 12th seed, 11-7, 11-9, 8-11, 11-13, 15-13 in 79 minutes.

"To be honest I feel like I lost that at the moment - at 2/0 up I thought I had it won, then missed those match balls," rued Matthew after beating the opponent currently ranked one place higher in the world. 

"All credit to him for coming back - I played really well for two games and felt in complete control.  Then he came out attacking in the third and completely changed the game.

"We're good mates, it's a shame that someone has to lose a match like that, but in this tournament a couple of points makes a lot of difference in prize money, so I'll take it," concluded the 28-year-old from Sheffield.


English Qualifiers Lead Upsets In Saudi

English qualifiers Alister Walker and Daryl Selby led a series of upsets on the opening day of action in the Saudi International which caused the downfall of four seeds in the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum championship in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar - the richest event in squash history.

Daryl Selby was responsible for the highest-seeded scalp.  The 26-year-old world No35 from Essex defeated Mohd Azlan Iskandar, the 11th seed from Malaysia, 11-6, 11-3, 11-2 in just 27 minutes.

Alister Walker faced compatriot Adrian Grant, the 14th seed.  The 26-year-old from Leeds battled for 51 minutes to conquer left-hander Grant, the world No11, 11-6, 2-11, 13-11, 11-8.

"A really good win, I'm very pleased with that," Walker said afterwards.  "He played his game too well in the second but I managed to keep the pace up and get him out of his comfort zone in the others."

While Walker now faces Egypt's world No2 Karim Darwish, Selby will take on fellow countryman James Willstrop, the third seed who beat English qualifier Jonathan Kemp 11-6, 11-5, 11-7.

In his first ever win over the Finn, Australia's unseeded Cameron Pilley upset 16th seed Olli Tuominen 12-10, 11-6, 11-9 to claim a surprise place in the last sixteen.  The 26-year-old from New South Wales - who rose above Tuominen to No18 in the December world rankings - will now face second seed Gregory Gaultier.

Pilley will be the Frenchman's second Australian opponent after Gaultier beat former world No4 Stewart Boswell, from Canberra, 11-4, 11-7, 4-11, 11-9.

Spaniard Borja Golan was the first unseeded player to earn a place in the second round after beating Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema, the 15th seed, 11-8, 11-8, 11-6.

"It wasn't easy, but I managed to stay ahead in the first two games rather than him getting his usual fast start, and that seemed to unsettle him" said Golan, the world No14

Saudi Arabia Hosts World's Richest Event

The world's leading squash players head for Saudi Arabia this weekend where the Saudi International will offer the biggest prize in the sport's history.

The winner of the $250,000 PSA Tour Super Series Platinum event, from 14-19 December in the Saudi city of Al-Khobar, will receive an unprecedented $37,400.

Egypt's world number one Amr Shabana is seeded to secure the title for the third successive year.  The 29-year-old from Giza heads a star-studded field which includes three former world number ones, and his two compatriots Karim Darwish and World Open champion Ramy Ashour - who this month combined to establish the first ever all-Egyptian world top three.

The Saudi International also completes the year's Super Series calendar - the leading events on the PSA Tour from which the eight players earning the most points qualify for the ATCO Super Series Finals championship.  The PSA's flagship event will take place for the first time at the prestigious Queen's Club in London next March 

Shabana tops the latest Dunlop Super Series Rankings following his victory in last month's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open, the eighth and penultimate event of the year.  Runner-up Gregory Gaultier, the world No4 from France, moves up to equal fourth place - with England's James Willstrop - behind Qatar Classic champion Karim Darwish and World Open winner Ramy Ashour.

The remaining players who will be keen to consolidate their top eight positions in Al-Khobar are Australian David Palmer, the 2002 Super Series Finals champion; Egyptian Wael El Hindi, the world No8; and Frenchman Thierry Lincou, three times a finalist and winner of the title in 2004.

But just outside the elite group are Peter Barker and Adrian Grant - Englishmen who will be seeking Saudi success in order to earn debuts in next year's Finals.  But Egyptians seem to stand in the pair's way in Saudi - Barker looking as if he would have to beat Darwish in the quarter-finals in order to help his cause, and Grant heading for a predicted showdown with Ashour to have the chance of a top eight finish.

David Palmer, the 32-year-old British Open champion from New South Wales who marked up his 50th PSA Tour final appearance earlier this year, has now achieved a further remarkable milestone on the eve of the Saudi championship.  The former world number one reached No8 in September 2000 - and this month celebrates his 100th successive month in the world's top ten.

"I am proud to have achieved this and it shows how consistent I have been over the years," said Palmer from his US base before departing for Saudi.  "Hopefully I can keep up there for another few more years and keep competing at the high level."