By Kirsten Carlson
Ricketts wins in front of excited Richmond crowd
When the first Virginia Pro Championship was held in January 2004, the No. 1 seed was Paul Price, ranked No. 17 in the world at the time, and since retired from the PSA. The tournament had a prize fund of $10,000. Third seed Rodney Durbach defeated seventh seed Jan Koukal, ranked 66, to take home the title.
This year, the annual tournament celebrated its fourth anniversary, and featured a top-notch draw and a $50,000 prize fund, jumping from $30,00 last year and $20,000 in 2005. Along with the prize fund, the level of players competing at the event has also increased each year. Dan Jenson, who two years ago was the No. 1 seed, was a qualifier this year (grant it he is a little older now and there have been many young players that have come up). The Country Club of Virginia is where Jenson and the other qualifiers started their play. Up until last year, the CCV—which has made this Tournament so successful with all of their support—hosted the entire Tournament. Now it hosts only the qualies. Like last year, the main draw was played on a glass court at The University of Richmond, where the 150 seats for each match had been sold out for more than a month. Plenty of space was left in the viewing gallery though, which was free and open to the public all week.
The Tournament had large, enthusiastic crowds throughout, an indication of how much squash is growing in Richmond, thanks in part to the Virginia Squash Racquets Association, which organized the Tournament. The Virginia State Open—held at the CCV in conjunction with the pro event—is another indication that Richmond may eventually become a thriving squash hub, as 70 men, women and juniors from all over the country played in the amateur event.
One of the highlights for the crowd in the pro event was seeing Richmond based Patrick Chifunda—the assistant squash pro at the Country Club of Virginia—play third seed, and last year’s winner, John White. With a rowdy crowd supporting him—including many of his junior players—Chifunda did not let White off easy, losing 12-10 in the third game against the former World No. 1.
White next faced a qualifier, Egypt’s Hisham Mohd Ashour, who gave the defending champ more than he could handle, winning in five games, and proving that younger brother Ramy isn’t the only one capable of taking on the big dogs. Unfortunately for Hisham, he didn’t have the same luck that his brother has had against his semifinals opponent, Australia’s Anthony Ricketts. Ricketts came to Virginia hungry for victory, after seeing his ranking drop and losing the previous week in the Windy City Open final to Amr Shabana. Ricketts defeated Hisham in three, giving himself another chance to win a final.
England’s Lee Beachill also came to Virginia in need of a PSA title. The last PSA tournament he won was the 2005 US Open, and the former World No. 1 has slipped to No. 12 in the rankings. Neither Ricketts nor Beachill dropped a game on the way to the final, and for Ricketts, the perfect trend continued. In front of a packed crowd excited to witness such a high level of squash, Ricketts stayed one step ahead of Beachill in the first two games, playing quick, aggressive squash. Beachill found his groove in the third and had game ball at 10-5, but Ricketts’ determination was just too much, and he came back to win 12-10 and take a title that surely boosted his confidence and will do nothing but help him in the world rankings.
And with that, the Virginia Pro Championship was firmly established as one of the premier PSA tournaments in the US. As each year the Tournament has been better than the year before, next year’s Virginia Pro Championship—which will likely be a Super Series event—should have great things in store.
No Longer the Bridesmaids
Ashour and Kawy WIN at EBS Dayton Open
Great things that have come out of Dayton, Ohio. The airplane. Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers was born there in 1871 (brother Wilbur was born in Indiana). A US President—well at least a popular TV one—Martin Sheen was born in Dayton on August 3, 1940. And Ramy Ashour. Well, sort of. Technically he is from Egypt, but he first made his mark on the PSA at the EBS Dayton Open in 2006 when he made it to the final, losing to John White.
Ashour had long been a superstar on the world junior scene—a two time World Junior Champ—but it wasn’t until his performance in Dayton that he began to really shine on the PSA Tour. Ashour went from World No. 30 in February 2006 to World No. 5 one year later. He started 2007 with a win over David Palmer at the Pace Canadian Classic in January. Expectations were high when the young Egyptian rolled into Dayton. He was featured on the front page of the Dayton Daily News sports section with an article referring to him as the “Michael Jordon” of squash. Is there a better compliment a professional athlete can receive?
Ready to stop Ashour from continuing his meteoric rise were No. 1 seed Thierry Lincou, fellow Egyptian Karim Darwish, and the wall he could not overcome last year, John White. The fans, who were so anxious to see the wonder boy play, ended up missing his quarterfinal match against Malaysia’s Mohd Azlan Iskandar. Fellow Malaysian, Ong Beng Hee, and Lincou were battling it out on another court in a match that went the distance and lasted 88 minutes, with Beng Hee coming up with the upset. With the crowd engrossed in the point-for-point marathon, few had made it over to see Ashour’s match. When Lincou and Beng Hee’s match finally ended, the crowd went to watch Ashour. They were a little late, as he had dispatched of Iskandar 3-0 in 19 minutes.
John White put an end to Beng Hee’s momentum in the semis, defeating him in four to reach the final for a second straight year. He waited to find out who his opponent would be. Ashour gave him an answer rather quickly, as he defeated compatriot Karim Darwish in three, setting up a repeat of last year’s final, which White won handily 3-0. However, last year Ashour had to battle through two qualifying rounds just to make it to the main draw. This year he found himself the slight favorite, as opposed to the massive underdog.
White came so close to winning a second straight title. It seemed, down 2-0, Ashour wasn’t really in the match. But, after getting more comfortable and gaining some confidence, Ashour took over. He got to 6-5 in the third, and never looked back.
After the tournament, Ashour thanked all in Dayton for making it his PSA tournament “home,” and vowed to come back next year to defend his title.
White has other thoughts for Ashour, jokingly saying, “Quit coming to Dayton!”
Omneya makes it an Egyptian Double
Ramy Ashour was not the only Egyptian coming back to Dayton hungry for a win after previously getting a taste of the finals. Omneya Abdel Kawy made it to the finals each of the two years since the WISPA event was added, losing to the now retired Linda Elriani both times. Kawy must have been happy to see her Dayton nemesis was not making a return trip.
This year Kawy did not even face a challenge until she reached the final, dispatching of Aisling Blake, the US’s Latasha Khan and rising star, Joshna Chinappa, in three games each.
Chinappa had a couple of great wins to get to her quarterfinal meeting with Kawy. First, she upset the WISPA 2006 Most Improved Player Nicolette Fernandes (a title given at the World Squash Awards), in the first round. In the quarters, Chinappa came back from 2-0 down to defeat England’s Becky Botwright. When interviewed afterward, the young Indian, upon realizing the level of player she had beaten responded, “Wow!” She went on to say she felt severe cramping in her leg, but tried not to show it, and decided “then and there to gut it out.”
Making her way through the bottom half of the draw was Jaclyn Hawkes, who defeated second seed and New Zealand rival Shelley Kitchen in five games to set up a meeting with Kawy in the final. Hawkes managed to do what no one else in the tournament had, by taking one game from Kawy. But this is Kawy’s tournament and this year it was her turn to finally take the title. Proving that the third time is indeed a charm, Kawy took what had twice almost been hers—the EBS Dayton Open Trophy.