ROWE British Grand Prix – Manchester 2010 Preview

If that idea was a shock to the English, who have long enjoyed the good fortune of having more players, coaches and courts than anyone else, it also increased a feeling of envy at the talent possessed by the Egyptians.
It may also have provided the final motivation, if one were necessary, for England’s Nick Matthew to embark on an astonishing run of form that would see him eventually overcome the Egyptian challenge and reach the pinnacle of the men’s game by becoming only the second English born World No.1, after Lee Beachill who topped the World Rankings for three months in 2004.
On the eve of the ROWE British Grand Prix – Manchester 2010, there are three Egyptians in the world’s top four, four in the top ten, and ominously several more moving up the world order.
In January, Ramy Ashour became the third Egyptian World No.1 in the past fourteen months and at 22 years of age, the youngest since the legendary Pakistanis Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan in the eighties.
His reign was cut short in June by the relentless pursuit of Matthew, however his victory in the recent Hong Kong Open has seen him reclaim the prized world number one ranking from his English rival.
His two most significant tournament wins have both come in Manchester, where he won the Super Series Finals in 2007 and World Open in 2008, in only his third appearance at the sport’s most prestigious tournament, and he can be relied upon to make a determined challenge for one more treasured title in England.
Amr Shabana, another Egyptian player of exceptional brilliance and deceptively hidden mental strengths, has not won a World Tour title on British shores and has shown only sporadic signs of pushing back up to the pinnacle which he occupied for a full thirty-three months.
He has already guaranteed his status as one of the all-time greats, and with a recurring knee injury restricting his participation in recent major events, one is bound to ask whether if, at thirty-one years of age, he is preparing to hand over to the younger Egyptians. Is the great man preparing to wind down, or does he still have the ambition to do it all again?
Manchester may provide answers as well as offering glimpses into his heart.
Both Egyptians, who hold five World Open titles between them, know that England’s Nick Matthew is likely to provide the biggest obstacle in the UK’s squash capital.
Matthew secured the sport’s premier position after winning the Sky Open in their homeland, a triumph which marked his fourth World Tour title of 2010 and moved him ahead of Ashour and so ending a prolonged and intense spell chasing the mercurial Egyptian.
Since making a courageous comeback in the latter part of 2008, following surgery to repair damaged shoulder cartilage, the 30-year-old Englishman overcame the effects of nine depressing months on the sidelines and returned to the international stage mentally, physically and tactically stronger.
Whilst he was hoping to be become the first Englishman to win a tournament on home soil as World No.1 since April 2002, conceding the top spot in the September world rankings, following his unexpected loss in the quarter-finals of the Hong Kong Open, is likely to make him even more determined to win Europe’s biggest title.
"Nothing has really changed - my aim is always to win the next tournament, whether I'm ranked one, two or 102," said Matthew who refused to be downhearted by his slip to World No.2.
"Ramy played exceptionally well in Hong Kong and over the course of the month away, his results added up to the highest total, so he deserves to take back the number one spot.
"It just shows how close it is, and with Greg Gaultier coming back in to good form, as well as the likes of James Willstrop and Amr Shabana, I'm sure there will be a few more changes of hands at the top before the end of the year”.
"The British Grand Prix is a good opportunity, in my home country, to stake my own claim to get that number one spot back, and finish on a high before the Commonwealth Games."
Matthew has shown formidable form on Manchester’s spectacular all-glass show court, where he won the British Grand Prix in 2006, his second British Open title, last September and his third British National Championship crown, in February this year.
Be under no doubt that the Englishman’s confidence remains at an all-time high.
For some though, Gregory Gaultier of France remains amongst thefavourites for this year’s title.
Having often looked the best in the world, Gaultier eventually, in November last year, became only the second Frenchman to top the world rankings. His rise to the pinnacle of the game has been followed by an alarming decline, but he has now assembled a team around him who have worked hard to develop his body and state of mind. His ability to mix the short and the long games, his capacity to switch from defence to attack and back again with disorienting fluidity, the speed with which he accelerates the rallies when his opponent is weakening, all these strengths are greater than before.
He is aware that he has arrested his decline and started once more to improve, but by how much, he is less sure. His main fault, a combustible temperament, has seemed a little more channelled, with regular inputs from what he calls his mind coach, and following an extended summer break the young Frenchman may have been keeping some of his powder dry for Manchester.
Gaultier’s compatriot and inspiration Thierry Lincou is trying to eke out the remains of a very special career. At thirty-four years of age, time may now be short for the charismatic Frenchman, but that should focus his mind and make his intelligent game even more of an area to beware. Lincou is still good enough to beat anyone.
We should also not forget about James Willstrop, who is showing the form that may win him a second PSA Super Series title in 2010, and his compatriots Daryl Selby, Adrian Grant and Alister Walker who are all capable of stopping a big name and adding even more interest, thrill and excitement.
Finally, there is the great Australian David Palmer who also may have enough left in him for another serious challenge. Fitness and stamina have been cornerstones of a will to win, which has already won Palmer two World Open and four British Open titles and made him one of the most successful players of all time.
He may be thirty-four years of age, but underestimating him could probably be costly.
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Egypt was the new capital of world squash, proclaimed its Head Coach Amir Wagih, speaking in the first flush of delight immediately following the Men’s World Open Final when the sport’s most prestigious championship was staged in Manchester in 2008 and featured two of his country’s players.