internationalSPORTgroup™ BRITISH OPEN – MANCHESTER 2009 MEN’S PREVIEW BY RICHARD EATON

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.
 
On the eve of the internationalSPORTgroup™ British Open – Manchester 2009, there are three Egyptians in the world’s top four and four in the top nine, and a fifth, Mohammed El Shorbagy the World Junior Champion who is already making his way ominously up the world's top twenty.
 
Karim Darwish has been World No.1 all year but superbly improved though he is, with better developed physical attributes and greater self-confidence, he has yet to win the British Open. Till he does his status as the leading player will be questioned, a situation which may create tension for him, and tension has sometimes been his greatest opponent.
 
Shabana, another player of exceptional brilliance and with deceptively hidden mental strengths too, who also has not won a British Open title, has not yet shown signs of pushing back up to the pinnacle which he occupied for fully thirty-three months until Darwish toppled him at the turn of the New Year.
 
A recurring knee injury has seen Shabana slip outside of the world’s top three and one is bound to ask whether, at thirty 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.
 
For some though, the favourite for the title is Greg Gaultier, the 2007 British Open Champion who triumphed when this prestigious event was last held in Manchester.
 
He has a new team around him and has 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 accelerated the rallies when his opponent was weakening, all these were greater than before.
 
Gaultier is aware that he has improved, 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 their powder dry for Manchester.
 
Gaultier's compatriot, inspiration and opponent in the 2007 British Open final Thierry Lincou is trying to eke the remains of a very special career and could easily become inspired himself by playing in the event for possibly for the last time. At thirty-three years of age, Lincou may still be good enough to beat anyone, however England’s Nick Matthew is showing the form that may win him his second British Open title.
 
There have been many courageous comebacks over the years but few better Matthew’s, who was unable to compete of the World Tour for nine months with a shoulder injury but came back to reach a career-high ranking of World No.5 and be crowned World Games Champion.
 
Finally, there is the great Australian and defending champion David Palmer who too 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 four British Open titles and made him one of the most successful players of all time.
 
He may be thirty-three years of age, but underestimating him will probably be costly. Even for the Egyptians.

Egypt is the new capital of world squash, according its Head Coach Amir Wagih, speaking in the first flush of delight immediately following the Men’s World Open in Manchester last year which featured two of his country’s players.