Egypt’s world No7 Amr Shabana will defend his crown in the Delaware Investments US Open this week inPhiladelphia – bidding to become only the third player in the event’s history to win the title a third time.
The PSA World Series event – the fifth of the year – takes place at Drexel University from 4-12 October and has attracted all of the top 20 players in the world, including six who have held the world number one ranking.
The established US Open became a PSA event in 1985, since when only two players have won the title more than twice – Pakistan’s three-time champion Jansher Khan (1987, 1988 & 1990) and illustrious four-time champion Peter Nicol, of England, in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2003.
Shabana, arguably one of the greatest players of all time, is a four-time world champion who held the world number one ranking for 33 unbroken months between 2006 and 2009. The reign secured his position among the five longest-standing world number ones of all time – Nicol, Pakistani squash legends Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan, and Australian Geoff Hunt.
“Being world number one was actually the easiest period I spent on the world tour since I joined in 1995,” said the distinguished 33-year-old from Cairo. “I cherish the achievement just as much as winning the World Open title, as I proved myself as the best player on tour for three years straight without dropping pace.”
There are also only three other players in the history of the game who have been World Champion four times or more: Jansher, Jahangir and Hunt.
“Being a four times World Champion is a reality that I never dreamed of achieving, but I realise it is also a huge responsibility that I have to take care of and maintain, whether inside or outside the squash court,” said Shabana.
When asked which tournament is his favourite, the left-hander responded: “My favourite tournaments are the ones I’ve won!”
Undefeated in the US Open since 2007, Shabana first won the title in 2009, then beat England’s world No2 Nick Matthew last year to win the title a second time.
“The experience was really good for me last year. Philly is a great city and it felt great winning the event. At that time in my career I was struggling with injuries and lack of form, so to have it all happen in a big one like the US Open was awesome,” he says.
“I like playing in the US as I always feel the excitement of the people, whether off or on court. I get nothing but love from people around here, so it’s easy to perform my best.”
Shabana bases himself between the USA and his home country of Egypt, and also often spends time in Canada.
“People might think it’s strange, but we squash players are used to travelling around the world many times over each year so having a few places that I could call a first, second and third home comes very naturally to me,” he says.
As one of the Tour’s ‘elder statesmen’, Shabana is still going strong despite some physical setbacks in recent years. In January this year, he won the World Series Finals, beating world No1 James Willstrop in the semi-finals, and world No3Gregory Gaultier in the final.
“The past three years for me have been the hardest – trying to work myself out of knee, wrist and back injuries,” explained the event’s No7 seed. “It has taught me everything I need to know about my body and my squash game.
“I feel if I put in a decent amount of physio and training, hopefully I can extend my career a few more matches.”
Shabana faces a qualifier in the opening round and is expected to line up against second seed Nick Matthew, the 2007 champion in the quarter-finals.
England’s James Willstrop is the event favourite. The 29-year-old from Leeds faces US-based Alister Walker, of Botswana, in the first round – and would be expected to meet home rival Matthew in a repeat of the 2007 final.
Firstt round draw:
 James Willstrop (ENG) v Alister Walker (BOT)
Daryl Selby (ENG) v Qualifier
Cameron Pilley (AUS) v Qualifier
 Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) v Simon Rosner (GER)
Hisham Ashour (EGY) v Christopher Gordon (USA)
Borja Golan (ESP) v Qualifier
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Olli Tuominen (FIN)  Ramy Ashour (EGY) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v Tarek Momen (EGY)
Tom Richards (ENG) v Ong Beng Hee (MAS)
 Peter Barker (ENG) v Qualifier  Amr Shabana (EGY) v Qualifier
Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) v Qualifier
Adrian Grant (ENG) v Qualifier
 Nick Matthew (ENG) v Omar Mosaad (EGY)