After a difficult year for the world of squash, in which the sport once more failed in its bid for Olympic inclusion, attentions have turned to matters on the court this week.
The Men’s World Squash Championships got underway at the National Squash Centre in Manchester on Monday, where 64 hopefuls were whittled down to 32 after the first day of play.
All the seeds made it through their respective encounters against lower-ranked opposition, but day two should present a greater challenge for the world’s best players.
Egypt’s Ramy Ashour, who won his second world title in Doha last year, is seeded No. 1 for the event, but he will face some stern opposition in the form of Frenchman Gregory Gaultier and home hopefuls James Willstrop and Nick Matthew.
Amazingly 30 players in the main draw of #mwsc2013 from England or Egypt. 14 from England, 16 from Egypt— Nick Matthew (@nickmatthew) October 28, 2013
The event, which has returned to England after a five-year absence, was first played in London in 1976. While five of the last eight winners have hailed from Egypt, Pakistan leads the way in titles with Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan winning 14 crowns in total, per the tournament website.
Here’s a look at some matches and players to keep an eye on during Day 2.
|Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1 p.m. BST||Nick Matthew||vs.||Max Lee|
|Tuesday, Oct. 29, 4 p.m. BST||Ramy Ashour||vs.||Fares Dessouky|
|Tuesday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m. BST||James Willstrop||vs.||Max Lee|
|Tuesday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m. BST||Gregory Gaultier||vs.||Matthew Karwalski|
Ashour is a two-time world champion and the current world No. 1.
His fellow competitor James Willstrop once called him "one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet," per Piers Newbery of BBC Sport, and the Egyptian arrives in Manchester as the man to beat.
Ashour made history at the prestigious British Open this year—per PSA World Tour —when he became the first Egyptian to win the title since 1966 (see him in action below).
Egypt's @RamyAshour takes winning streak to 50 matches and 17 months as squash world champs begin in Manchester - BBC coverage from Thursday— Piers Newbery (@piersnewbery) October 28, 2013
The 26-year-old has won all four PSA World Series events he has contested in 2013, and his unbeaten streak stretches back to the British Open final last season, which he lost to Gregory Gaultier.
The world No. 1 looked a shade off his best when he dropped the opening set against Laurens Jan Anjema of the Netherlands in Monday’s first round.
But the defending champion bounced back to win in 65 minutes and set up a second-round clash with fellow Egyptian Fares Dessouky, who came through qualifying before dispatching Scotland’s Alan Clyne in round one.
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Gaultier came through his first-round match in relatively comfortable fashion, defeating Danish qualifier Kristian Frost 11-8, 11-7, 11-6 in just 47 minutes.
The Frenchman won the Abierto Mexicano de Raquetas and the US Open this year, while reaching the final of both the British Open and NetSuite Open, losing to rival Ramy Ashour on both occasions.
He has been runner-up at the World Championship on three different occasions—2006, 2007 and 2011—and at 30 years old, he will be gunning to get his hands on the top prize.
Gaultier who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, has reached more than 50 PSA World Tour finals, and he will be one to keep tabs on in Manchester this week.
Willstrop’s best showing at a World Championship came in Saudi Arabia in 2010 when he reached the final before losing to rival Nick Matthew in four sets.
The 30-year-old and fellow Englishman Matthew have never seen eye-to-eye. The pair have publicly spoken about their difficult relationship—per Nick Hope of BBC Sport—and Willstrop would love nothing more than to match his foe’s world title runs in both 2010 and 2011.
James Willstrop expecting first baby this week. After 3-0 win, says he won't pull out of tournament (the joys of worlds being held in UK).— Rod Gilmour (@_rodgilmour) October 28, 2013
Willstrop is the third favourite, behind Ashour and Gaultier, for the title in Manchester. If he is to get his hands on a maiden crown, he will have to get past last year’s runner-up Mohamed Elshorbagy and Gaultier, who both lie in his half of the draw.
The former world No. 1 won his first match comfortably against fellow Englishman Joel Hinds and he will face Tom Richards, yet another compatriot, in round two.
Matthew became the first Englishman to win the World Championships when he defeated Willstrop in the 2010 final in Saudi Arabia.
Matthew went on to defend his crown a year later in the Netherlands, becoming the first man in 15 years to retain the world title, per PSA World Tour.
The 33-year-old will be eager to wrestle the trophy back from Ashour in front of his home crowd, and he got off to a flier on Monday, disposing of Zahed Mohamed in under 40 minutes.
Matthew is projected to meet Ashour in the semi-finals, but there are a few threatening seeds he will need to get past between now and then.
Next up for the two-time champ is Max Lee from Hong Kong, who won comfortably in round one.