Ashour seeks record money in the Gulf

AFP, Wednesday 1 Dec 2010

World number one Ramy Ashour will have the richest pay day any squash player has ever had if he regains the World Open title which gets underway in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Squash world champion, Ramy Ashour

The brilliant Egyptian will earn 45,600 dollars - 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 is 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.

However the explosively ambushing attacker was described by his former coach, Anthony Hill of Australia, as "capable of being number one for the next seven years if he wants to be".

Ashour certainly 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 President 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 is the World Open top seed because he was ranked number one when qualifying matches happened back in August.

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

It may be the last time 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 may be returning to somewhere near his best after a hip operation in August.

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