Sunday 28 October 2007

Biggest weekend sees Grinham and Shabana take spoils

World Champion 2007 - Rachael GrinhamIn one of the biggest weekends ever for the men's and women's game, Rachael Grinham became World Champion for the first time (so much for my prediction) in Madrid, while Amr Shabana continued a rich run of form to take the largest ever squash tournament cheque in the Saudi International 2007.

A glance at the history books threw up a surprise: it was only the older Grinham sister's second appearance in a World Open finally (after losing to Vanessa Atkinson in 2004). Younger sister Natalie - again losing out in the final - had been runner-up twice in the past three years ...

Grinham junior might not begrudge sister the victory, given her own triple haul of gold medals in last year's Commonwealth Games. But this was to become champion of the world - and there must be no better feeling than telling your grandchildren that you once held that moniker.

The sisters battle it out in the finalIn the end the final was over relatively quickly, reading accounts of the match, with Natalie making a lot of mistakes in the first game, and Rachael resorting to her trademark lob to get out of trouble.

The 9/4, 10/8, 9/2 outcome was probably a briefer affair than many watching would have predicted, but both must have realised that, with Nicol David gone, not having to beat the number one player in the world presented a fantastic opportunity to take the title.

The ATCO Saudi International 2007 was the richest squash event ever staged, and it was fitting that the two best players in the world would do the sponsor's proud by making it to the final.

The all-Egyptian affair (I feel that phrase may soon become quite ubiquitous ...) saw Amr Shabana, the world number one, see off compatriate Ramy Ashour in four games. Shabana looked to be moving comfortably towards the title winning the first two games 11/5, though his younger opponent took the third relatively easily 11/1.

It is a mark of Shabana's consistency and maturity, that was not there in his earlier career, that saw him come back to win the fourth 11/9. There was a time when his brilliance was all too fleeting, such as becoming World Champion in 2003, with many commentators doubting his ability to maintain the level of performance to cement himself as the best player in the world.

Amr Shabana playing in Qatar, 2007Winning the World crown again in 2005 proved them wrong, and his dominance has been abundant ever since - it's just a shame that his lack of appearances in the UK have meant that this particular squash fan has only seen him in action a couple of times (losing to David Palmer in the 2004 British Open and to John White at Canary Wharf in 2005).

ATCO owner Ziad Al-Turki was particularly pleased with the event that went to seeding, though in a comment to the Squashsite website he indicated that perhaps the wrong Egyptian won this time:

"It would have been nice to see Ramy win, but the future is his ..."

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