This week’s Qatar PSA World Squash Championship will provide one of the most dramatic climaxes to the end of a PSA World Tour year ever – with four players in reach of the first world number one ranking of the New Year 2013.
Furthermore, four different players will be out to consolidate their positions in the top eight of the ‘World Series points race’ [our term] in order to confirm their places in January’s flagship ATCO PSA World Series Finals in London.
Meanwhile, a further four will be looking to stage late bids to join the World Series Finals field by battling through to at least the semi-finals in Doha.
And, finally, England’s Nick Matthew will be looking to defend the sport’s premier title he won for the second time in Rotterdam in 2011 – and become the first player since Pakistan’s legendary Jansher Khan to claim the trophy three times in a row.
The event gets underway at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex in the Qatar capital Doha on Thursday 6th December. Boasting a $325,000 prize-fund – the second biggest in the sport’s history – the event reaches its climax on Friday 14 December.
Title-holder Matthew, who topped the world rankings throughout 2011 but saw English rival James Willstrop succeed him for most of this year, currently leads a quartet in line for January’s top slot. Current incumbent Willstrop could retain his position – while Egyptian Ramy Ashour and Frenchman Gregory Gaultier both also have the potential to regain the world number one ranking they each once held.
All four have already booked their places in the World Series Finals in January.
Amr Shabana, the four-time world champion from Egypt; compatriots Karim Darwish and Mohamed El Shorbagy; plus Englishman Peter Barker currently occupy places five to eight in the points race – but need to consolidate those positions in Doha.
The chasing pack is led by England’s Adrian Grant and Germany’s Simon Rosner – neither of whom has yet to compete in the World Series Finals. But England’s Daryl Selby and Australian number one Cameron Pilley are also in possible contention.
Matthew, who went out of last week’s Hong Kong Open at the semi-final stage, has had his eye on a third world title for some time: “It’s been my main focus the whole year really,” said the 32-year-old from Sheffield. “Obviously I have been chasing hard to be consistent enough to get back the world number one ranking, but if I had a straight choice between the two, I would choose this every day.
“I am looking forward to it but I’m aware that the hard work has been done and trying to get in as much downtime as possible between now and when it starts.
“Winning the title three times in a row would be career-defining – but I also think it’s important not to get too far ahead of yourself. I have a tough first round match with Nicky Mueller and that’s all I’m looking at for now.”
With two world titles, a historic three British Open trophies and a pair of Commonwealth Games gold medals, are there any goals still left for the English squash star?
“One step at a time!” responded Matthew candidly. “But obviously the World Championship in Manchester next year is big, and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, as well as the British Open which is being held in Yorkshire for the next two years.”
Matthew begins his title defence against the Switzerland number one Nicolas Mueller, the highest-ranked Swiss player of all-time, while Willstrop opens his world campaign against fellow countryman Chris Ryder.
Players from 21 countries will contest the 64-man main draw in Doha, with a further 11 nations represented in the qualifying competition.
Formerly known as the ‘World Open’, the world championship will be hosted by Qatar for the third time, following stagings in 1998 and 2004.