KUWAIT MEN’S WORLD OPEN 2009: PLAYER BIOGRAPHIES

Although earlier in the year he reached the semi-finals at Hurghada and the North American Open, and the final of the Swedish Open, he lost to Gregory Gaultier, Ramy Ashour and Nick Matthew in the process.
 
The World Open, in which he was runner-up last time, arrives at a moment when he needs to show he can still beat them all.
 
GREG GAULTIER (France) is at a career-best ranking of World No.2, but can he make the final stride?
 
Certainly Gaultier has never been fitter or better prepared and has often looked the best in the world this year. He has reached the final of six out of eight World Tour events, winning at Macau, at the Tournament of Champions in New York, and at the Super Series Finals in London with his wonderfully versatile style.
 
Twice the Frenchman has been in World Open finals too, and now, at the age of twenty-six, with a team around him which has helped him get his head in shape, Gaultier may never have a better chance.
 
RAMY ASHOUR (Egypt) is only 21 years-old and has lived constantly with the label of the heir apparent. However, the reigning World Open Champion now finds himself in a new situation.
 
Instead of being the one expected to take over, he's the one to be targeted, having enjoyed the greatest success of his career at last years Hi-Tec World Squash Championships in Manchester, England he has been trying to add more patience to his explosive attacking game. Despite winning the North American Open and the Hurghada International, where he beat both Gaultier and Shabana, his injury problems at the Super Series Finals in London, where he did not win a match and the state of his body may have the biggest influence on his ability to defend his World Open title.
 
AMR SHABANA (Egypt) has already guaranteed his status as one of the all-time greats, as three times a former World Champion, but does he have the capacity at the age of thirty to add to his considerable achievements?
 
After relinquishing the World No.1 ranking in January, Shabana fell in the semi-finals at Canary Wharf and Hurghada and slipped outside the world’s top three. Nevertheless the two who beat him, Ramy Ashour and James Willstrop, were also the two whom Shabana beat at the Super Series Finals in March when he claimed that his knee injury problems were over.
 
Shabana, a husband and father became President of the Professional Squash association in March and those who admire his exceptional squash will hope his life's emphasis is not yet shifting to matters away from the court.
 
NICK MATTHEW (England) is considered a good outside bet to win his maiden World Open title.
 
Since making one of the most courageous comebacks last year, Matthew has strung together big wins and advanced to a career-high ranking of World No.5. He has overcome nine depressing months on the sidelines and returned mentally, physically and tactically even stronger, and being prepared to indulge a little more risk-taking too.
 
His orthodox, well-ordered game, supplemented by great movement and stamina, overcame Ramy Ashour in New York, Gregory Gaultier in Virginia and Karim Darwish in the Swedish Open final, where he won his eighth World Tour title.
 
The threat to his career has intensified the English No.1’s ambition.
 
DAVID PALMER (Australia) has won the World Open twice, on both occasions from match point down, which means no-one should rule him out, even though some will undoubtedly try to do that on the basis of age.
 
Palmer, thirty-three years of age, is the most successful Australian since the great Geoff Hunt nearly three decades ago and might remind his us that his legendary compatriot won the last of his four World Open titles at the same age. Palmer's racket was similarly persuasive as he won the Canary Wharf Classic in April, beating Gaultier in the semi-finals and titleholder James Willstrop in the final. It earned him his twenty-fifth career World Tour success, three ahead of Amr Shabana as the active player with the most titles.
 
PETER BARKER (England) reached a career-high ranking of World No.7 earlier this year and is establishing himself as someone who plays better when the pressure is greatest.
 
His debut at the World Team Championships concluded with his winning the title-deciding match against Australia in 2007 and after winning the CIMB Kuala Lumpur Open this year he had won fully thirteen of his eighteen World Tour finals. Crucial to Barker's improvement has been two wins over David Palmer last year, after which he says he knew he could beat top ten players.
 
Barker is also one of the few to avoid injuries, the consequence, he believes of his impact avoidance training, which uses bikes and swimming rather than running.
 
THIERRY LINCOU (France) is the oldest man in the field but perhaps the most interesting and certainly still a contender.
 
The only Frenchman ever to win the World Open, five years ago further down the Gulf in Qatar, Lincou remains tough enough to have reached the final of the Super Series Finals this year, beating Amr Shabana and Ramy Ashour en route. He also avenged his shock defeat in last year's World Open by beating Mohammed El Shorbagy in the Irish Open final.
 
The French veteran has made his movement more economical, his slow starts less frequent, and his attacks a little earlier and more surprising. He also had an emotional boost by winning the inaugural Internationaux de la Reunion, the Indian Ocean Island which, when he was born thirty-three years ago, had no squash courts at all. Lincou is the closest thing to a miracle squash has.
 
WAEL EL HINDI (Egypt) divides his time between his home and England, where he trains with squash legend Jonah Barrington at Millfield School which has given him a tighter focus, better organisation and more disciplined tactics.
 
This year the young Egyptian has reached the quarter-finals of the Davenport North American Open and the Canary Wharf Classic, and made a sixth place on his Super Series Finals debut.
 
El Hindi also beat Karim Darwish to win last year's Petrosport Open at Cairo, but his best performance is arguably in beating Darwish and Nick Matthew to reach the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Open at Giza where he was born. He could easily influence the destination of the title by beating a front runner.
 
ADRIAN GRANT (England) the left-hander from England, who reached the top ten for the first time in May, credits his father with helping him to a high level and a car accident with the catharsis which made him focus better.
 
It was in last year's World Open that he achieved a career-best victory over Gregory Gaultier, saving three match points in a stunning victory by 13-11 in the fifth. Gradually Grant has added more iron in his soul to his stroke-making talents, reaching the finals at the Motor City Open in Detroit and the KL Open in Malaysia before winning the Indian Challenger in Kolkata, and his more than capable of creating another major upset.
 
BORJA GOLAN (Spain), the highest Spanish-born player ever at World No. 11, has been described as the fastest man on the Men’s World Tour. True or not, he has been learning how to create an interesting story, studying journalism at the University of Santiago while climbing the rankings at a fair speed. Another impressive statistic emerged from Golan's capture of the Motor City Open title in Detroit, bringing the nineteenth of his career.
 
His best performances happened at the Internationaux de France last year when he ended Thierry Lincou's hopes of a home triumph and then beat James Willstrop to reach the final. It revealed Golan as more dangerous since trying to use speed not only for counter-attack but for attacking more often too.
 
JAMES WILLSTROP (England) may have sunk to his lowest world ranking for more than four years, but few should be fooled by that. The former World No.1 has been bothered by illness and injury, but when he has taken the court in reasonable condition he has shown the exhilarating stroke play and sturdy will which has enabled him to beat every leading player.
 
Willstrop beat Ramy Ashour for the first time in the Super Series Finals and made two tremendous comebacks in defence of the title at the Canary Wharf Classic, from two games down against Borja Golan, and from 1-2 down against Amr Shabana, before losing to David Palmer in the final.
 
If fit, he could do damage.
 
MOHAMMED AZLAN ISKANDAR (Malaysia) won his first title for twenty months in Kuala Lumpur in March, but the drought is misleading.
 
Iskandar notably beat Ramy Ashour at the 2008 British Open and in July was within a point of beating Nick Matthew in the semi-finals of the World Games in Taiwan.
 
Sarawak-born, he describes himself as a “jungle and beach man” despite having been being based in London for much of his career. Synthesize his contrasting qualities and he should prosper: his capture of the Asian Championships title last year lifted him to a career-best World No.11.
 
A good performance may enable him to crack the top ten.
 
ONG BENG HEE (MALAYSIA) reminded us that his talent has seemed destined for even more than it has achieved by returning to the World’s top ten at the start of the year.
 
Ong began at the club his father built in Penang, became Malaysia's most successful ever man with four Asian Championships, two Asian Games titles and twelve PSA World Tour titles, but faltered when it seemed he would push beyond his highest ranking of seven. A comeback gathered momentum at Kolkata in March, when he took Ramy Ashour to five games and at Kuala Lumpur in July when he won the Malaysian Open for a the third time.
 
Confidence is key and Beng Hee may have enough of it to do better than his second round exit last year.
 
LAURENS JAN ANJEMA (Netherlands) believes he has the ability, commitment and dedication to become World No.1.
 
Though this comment was designed for product promotion, LJ is certainly capable of troubling those at the top. He beat the top-seeded Karim Darwish in the 2006 Heliopolis Open, reaching the final unseeded, and at last year's Bluenose Classic in Canada prevailed in a marathon 108-minute final with Borja Golan.
 
He succeeds, he says, by visualising the worst case scenario and his capture of the Toulouse title in June signalled a hopeful comeback from torn ankle ligaments.
 
ALISTER WALKER (England) should be bursting with positive vibes having this year made his England debut, secured his third and biggest World Tour title, the Midtown Sanctuaire Open in Montreal, and reached a career-best World No.16 ranking.
 
Walker, who says that he learned something about mental strength from tennis players, was for a long time unable to beat leading players despite playing well, something he rectified with a career-best win against Gregory Gaultier at Canary Wharf in 2008. Since then he has beaten Wael El Hindi in Qatar, Adrian Grant in Saudi and Borja Golan in New York.
 
Inspired by wearing an England shirt for the first time, Walker defeated Gregory Gaultier again at the European Team Championships and he may be ready for something similar at the world’s biggest championship.
 
MOHAMMED EL SHORBAGY (Egypt) from Alexandria who is coached by squash legend Jonah Barrington at Millfield School in England has been touted as the next great Egyptian.
 
Such a compliment can be a millstone, but the 18 year-old has made light of it, climbing from ninety-three to thirty-three in the World rankings last year, during which he beat Thierry Lincou to reach the World Open quarter-finals, moving into the top twenty this year and pointedly describing Amr Shabana as like a big brother. El Shorbagy allows no adverse comparisons, but then he has help on psychology from Barrington who, he says, “can understand what's happening in my mind.”
 
His best result El Shorbagy reckons has been beating Nick Matthew at Canary Wharf. Better could follow in Kuwait.
 
By Richard Eaton

KARIM DARWISH (Egypt) began 2009 as the surprise of the Men’s World Tour.
 
After many years touring without looking like becoming World No.1, he suddenly leaped to the summit at the age of twenty-seven. By then he was a married man, sometimes coached by his wife, and a significantly fitter and more confident player. But so far Darwish has not quite recaptured the exceptional form he showed at the end of 2008 when, with his consistent, high-paced game, he reached six finals and won three.