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02-Dec, Preview
Ashour seeks record money
at his second home ...

by Richard Eaton

World number one Ramy Ashour will have the richest pay day any squash player has ever had if he regains the World Open title this week and next.

The brilliant Egyptian will earn $45,600 - part of a record-breaking $327,500 prize fund in a tournament staged by the largest Arab country in the Middle East partly to help enhance its global image.

With the World Open hosted by a Gulf state for a third time, and Egypt capable of winning it a fourth successive time, the centre of influence in squash appears to be shifting still further towards the Middle East.

Among Ashour's closest rivals are two compatriots - Karim Darwish, a former world number one, and Amr Shabana, the defending World Open champion, who overcame Ashour in last year's final in Kuwait.

But the ambushing attacker from Cairo is so talented that he was once described by one of former coaches, Anthony Hill, as “capable of being number one for the next seven years if he wants to be.”

Certainly Ashour seems capable of winning his second World Open title, especially as he says playing at Al Khobar is like experiencing “a second home.”

The 23-year-old from Cairo may feel that way because the Chairman of the Professional Squash Association, Ziad Al Turki, is the Saudi businessman who set up his sponsorship with ATCO, and who has now acquired the World Open for his country.

Al Turki also founded the Saudi International Championships at the same Al Khobar venue where 12 months ago Ashour became year-end world number one before an enthusiastically supportive crowd.

The man he beat in the final was Nick Matthew, the Englishman who has been made the World Open's top seed because he was ranked number one when qualifying matches happened back in August.

Matthew relinquished his chance of regaining the top spot from Ashour by focussing on the Commonwealth Games in Delhi where he became the only squash player to win two gold medals. However the ambience of the Gulf venue probably means that Ashour is unofficial World Open favourite.

Another Englishman, James Willstrop, still has time to show that he can win the World Open. But it is probably a last chance for two 34-year-old squash greats – David Palmer, the most successful Australian player since the legendary Geoff Hunt nearly three decades ago, and Thierry Lincou, the only Frenchman to have won the World Open.

Lincou's achievement could yet be matched by Gregory Gaultier, the 27-year-old former world number one from Aix-en-Provence who has four times gone the full distance with Ashour this year and may be returning to near his best after gradually recovering from injury problems.

Extra Transport for 2010 World Champion

The Saudi PSA World Open kicked off with the opening dinner at Sunset Beach, where Ziad Al-Turki announced an extra prize for the new World Champion ... a new car courtesy of Volkswagen !!!

Transport at the dinner itself was limited to a Camel, which the Egyptian contingent, amongst others, thoroughly enjoyed.

Lots more photos in the gallery ...

GALLERY: progress in Sunset Beach & The Day Before

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