24 - 30 August 2000
Issue No. 496
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Squash spectacularBy Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
In an open-air court alongside the Great Pyramids of Giza, the world's top squash contenders gathered last week at the fifth $110,000 Al-Ahram International Squash Championship, the first major event of the 2000/2001 season.
The tournament, which ends tomorrow, gathered 64 players from around the world -- 32 in the preliminaries and 32 in the main draw. They included Scottish world number one Peter Nicol, and his arch-rival Jonathon Power, the world number two from Canada. The duo have long been the source of impassioned play and passionate crowds, and there is no reason why this week will offer the fans anything less.
Nicol came to Egypt in fine fettle, having won the last three major Professional Squash Association (PSA) events plus the Super Series finals. Comfortable in the number one spot and known to bask while playing in the shadow of the ancient wonders, where he clinched third position last year, stakes are high on the Scotsman.
Power, however, is another story. Despite not being in such solid shape as Nicol, critics believe he can still give the fans something to scream at. And while beating the Scot may not be an option, downing world number three Ahmed Barada, and number four Simon Parke are definitely on his agenda, if he is fit enough, strong enough, and wants to win enough. However, squash critics believe he could just prove his potential number one stature. Nicol and Power currently both have 10 wins pocketed from the 20 times they have met on court.
For number three and number four, this year things may be different. The 23-year-old Egyptian golden boy Barada won the 1998 Ahram championship but has been on a turbulent ride since his double back stabbing outside his Cairo home last March. While he has pulled himself together and in recent months proved he is back in full Barada-style blast, this season might mark Simon Parke's dominance.
Parke took Nicol to a super close final in the last Super Series in June, which he followed by a solid summer training stint at the Nottingham base. He is confident he has moved up a notch in standard and consistency, and could be the one to upset the odds in Egypt.
The women's event has much the same basket of potential surprises. Having spent a vigorous summer training with the English squad -- led by her squash pro husband David -- Cassie Campion, world number one, is ready for action. She has put the British Open defeat by Leilani Joyce behind her, beating the New Zealander every time since the harrowing defeat. Next on her list; the opportunity to avenge the Grand Prix final defeats by Carol Owens.
In Joyce's case, the tables have turned -- the Campion surprise has failed to re-surface, and her performance has been lacklustre since. The world ranked two has failed to find her best form this season, and despite winning some recent events in New Zealand, she still has to prove that her British Open win was the start of a run of major titles.
Amr Shabana, far left, hits a backhand on his way to beating Mark Chaloner. Karim Darwish, in the all white, cruising to a three-set victory over Anthony Hill
photos: Osama Abdel-Nabi
World number three Owens, however, is on the flip side of the coin. Since winning the last major women's event, the Grand Prix finals, she fears no-one.
Sarah Fitz-Gerald, ex-world champion and currently world number 10, is unbeaten in 2000, but having to make yet another return from injury. After a series of knee injuries, the most recent being these past eight months, the three-time world champion made her comeback in Giza. Having returned to the Al-Ahram spectacle as the 10th seed, she meets Leilani in the second round.
The finale? There is Fitz-Gerald, but there also is Joyce who, after a poor start to 2000, has rediscovered her form with a series of tournament wins in New Zealand. Is she, though, capable of beating the unbeaten Fitz-Gerald?
The contenders are tough, but the draw is tougher. Top seed Campion faces stern challenges in British teammate Natalie Grainger (quarters), and Owens in the semis.
The men's event is just as unpredictable. Top seed Nicol faces a probable second round match with Nick Taylor, followed by the powerhouses of Martin Heath and Parke. Meanwhile, Power's route to the final -- if seedings have a say -- would put him against Graham Ryding, Paul Johnson and Barada. Barada always raises his game in Egypt, and there is no doubt that he will have the entire crowd cheering behind him, enough to raise any patriotic player's game up to that of local hero. Time, the knock-on cliché goes, will tell.
The first round of the main draw witnessed the victory of four and the loss of two Egyptians in the men's event and the exit of all five Egyptian women players.
Ahmed Barada beat Stefan Casteleyn 17-14, 15-6, 15-9.
Omar El-Borolossi took Frenchman Thierry Lincou 17-15, 15-8, 4-15, 15-8.
Amr Shabana dropped Mark Chaloner 13-15, 15-5, 15-8, 15-5.
World junior champion Karim Darwish beat Anthony Hill 15-8 15-3, 15-4.
Peter Nicol beat Mohamed Abbas 15-3, 15-9, 15-8.
Paul Johnson beat Ahmed Faizy 15-10, 15-9, 15-12.
Cassie Campion beat Salma Shabana 9-0, 9-4, 9-1.
Natalie Grainger ousted Eman El-Amir 9-1, 9-0, 9-5.
Suzanne Horner beat Maha Zein 9-4, 9-4, 9-6.
Rebecca Mcree beat Ingi Kheirallah 10-8, 10-8, 9-5,
Leilani Joyce beat Omneya Abdel-Qawi 9-0, 9-3, 9-2.
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