Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 September 1999
Issue No. 448
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Lucky by the Pyramids

By Nashwa Abdel-Tawab

Peter Nicol became the world squash champion for the first time when he defeated Egypt's world No 3 Ahmed Barada in the final of the $170,000 Al-Ahram Men's World Open MobiNil Championship. The triumph brought double delight to the 26-year-old Scot who will now return to the top of next month's Dunlop PSA (Professional Squash Association) men's world rankings, just ahead of Canada's Jonathan Power who succeeded him as No 1 in May.

Nicol's sensational 65-minute 15-9, 15-13, 15-11 victory on the open-air court overlooking the Great Pyramids of Giza was his seventh in a row against the 22-year-old Egyptian superstar and his third successive appearance in the world open final. "I'm a lucky boy in front of the Pyramids," said Nicol, the 1997 champion of the Al-Ahram tournament. "I was happy and optimistic when I knew that the world open would be played in Egypt in front of the Pyramids. I told myself, 'wouldn't it be great to win a great tournament in front of a great place?'"

Victory for Nicol in the 64-player tournament was made easier when Power crashed out of the semi-finals due to a spasm in his leg and back after a sudden fall against Barada. Barada had thrilled the 3,500 capacity crowd with his easy victory over top seed Power, his first over the Canadian since their quarter-final meeting in the US Open in October 1996. Power took a 9-0 lead in the opening game before Barada got into form. The 25-year-old from Toronto went on to take the game but suffered a heavy fall during the penultimate rally, ultimately conceding the contest to Barada 9-15, 15-9, 13-3 after 48 minutes.

"The view of the Pyramids is great but to play a world championship in front of them is not a good choice because there are so many flies and so much sand," Power said after the match. "It's also hot. The PSA and Al-Ahram should have taken all this into consideration in such an important championship," he added.

Barada blamed his loss to Nicol on his match with Power, even though Power's injury left him less than match fit.

Nicol said he owed the victory to coach Nil Harvey. "Without Harvey, I wouldn't have become world champion," Nicol said. "He wants to know the players as people, how they are motivated, their financial problems and backgrounds." Nicol said Harvey would brief him on his rivals, their strengths and weaknesses, and to just be himself when playing them. Under Harvey's watchful eye, Nicol won the British Open, the first player from Great Britain to win the title in 25 years. He was also a gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games and, as a result, was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) from the queen for service in sports.

squash Scotland's Peter Nicol overpowering Ahmed Barada
photos: Osama Abdel-Nabi

Nicol left Scotland seven years ago and resides in London where he shares an apartment with Harvey, a man who knows how and who to coach. At 30, Harvey retired as a player after 10 years of playing on the PSA circuit. He was ranked Europe's No 1 player and was 12th in the world in 1987. Armed with a teaching background and a degree in psychology, Harvey trained the British national team for a decade, leading it to the world championship in 1995. He also tutored stars such as Ong Beng Hee of Malaysia, a world under-19 champion.

Harvey firmly believes Nicol is the world's best player. "The key to victory is not squash because all the players know how to play the game," Harvey said. "It is the happiness that is in Nicol. What is in Peter is rare to find in any other player -- the sense of the game, the feeling. When you watch players on the court, you'll be amazed to see how some play so mechanically. Only a few like Pakistanis, have the game in their hearts."

Meanwhile, Australian world No 1 Michelle Martin kept up her winning ways in Egypt, taking just 35 minutes to claim her second victory in five days when she beat compatriot Carol Owens 9-5, 9-0, 10-9 in the final of the $41,000 Third Women's Al-Ahram Squash International. Martin captured the Fifth Women's Heliopolis Open two weeks earlier, winning the title for the fourth successive time after trouncing Leilani Joyce of New Zealand, ranked No 6, 9-7, 9-7, 9-5.

Martin, 32, from Sydney, is unbeaten on the women's tour since losing to fellow Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald in the final of the World Open in Germany in November. A finalist in the three Al-Ahram international events since 1997, Martin first won the Egyptian Grand Prix last year. This year she has amassed six titles, including the Australian, Singapore and Heliopolis Opens, the German Grand Prix and the Women's World Grand Prix Finals in Hurghada.

In the 17th Al-Ahram's Men's World Team Squash Championship, defending champions and top seeded Britain defeated Malaysia 3-0 in the final qualifying round of the tournament to finish at the top of Pool A. Britain beat Wales 3-0 and Egypt 2-1 in its group to meet Pool D winners France in the quarter-finals. Egypt beat Wales and Malaysia 3-0, but against Britain, Barada lost to world No 4 Paul Johnson 9-0, 5-9, 9-2, 9-3. "I was not in form," said Barada after losing to Johnson. "I was still affected by the loss in the World Open," Barada said, adding that he had disappointed his country and fans.

Amr Shabana, Egypt's No 3, felt no such remorse as he mowed down all before him, including a sweep of Britain's Chris Walker, ranked No 17. "I lost to a great player," said Walker. "He totally overpowered me. He is a great talent."

Second-seeded Australia scored its third successive 3-0 win to finish with maximum points in Pool B after a victory over third-seeded Canada, weakened by Power's absence. The Aussies trounced Finland and Pakistan 3-0.

Despite beating Finland 2-1 in the final match in Pool B, former champions and sixth seeds Pakistan failed to qualify for the quarter-finals. Finland, the ninth seeds who beat Canada in the second qualifying round, go through to the last eight where they meet fourth seeds Egypt, runners-up in Pool A. The full quarter-final line-up is: England v France, Wales v Canada, Egypt v Finland and South Africa v Australia.

Thirty countries participated in the Cairo finals. Matches are played in a best of five format and each game consists of only nine points, not 15 as is the case in individual events. Each country is represented by three players.

Since its inception in 1967, the world team championship has been won by only three countries. Britain was crowned four times while Australia and Pakistan won six titles between them. It is Egypt's second time to host the event, the first being in 1995. The country came fourth six times and took third in 1977 and 1995.

Nicol and Martin Heath, ranked No 5 in the world, were nowhere to be found in the team event. Both had bowed out and refused to play for Scotland because of financial problems. "We asked for our fair share since it is our right but they refused so we pulled out," Heath said. "The federation doesn't care, so why should we," Nicol added. According to the president of the Scotland Squash Federation, the players had demanded money from the Lottery Organisation that sponsors sports in general but were refused because both players take in more than 150,000 pounds sterling a year. "It's not the federation's problem," he said, adding that players who make less than that amount are normally given extra money. But both players remained adamant about their stand and certain that their absence would have a telling affect. "Without us, Scotland wouldn't have a chance of winning," Nicol said.

The Al-Ahram World Open was not only a battle between the world's best players. Al-Ahram Organisation took the opportunity to turn the event into a unique cultural festival, displaying a book exhibition, presenting a history of the printing press in Egypt and inviting writers, poets and singers to the party.

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