Egyptian squash star Ramy Ashour is seeded to reach his ninth PSA World Tour final in a row next month at the 2013 Davenport North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.
With a record unequalled since the eras of Pakistan legends Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan, Ashour made the final of each Tour event he competed in last year – winning five, including the Australian, US and Hong Kong Opens, and the PSA World Championship in December.
And the 25-year-old from Cairo began 2013 in dazzling style by winning the Tournament of Champions in New York after powering back from two games down to beat world No4 Gregory Gaultier in the final at Grand Central Station.
The new world champion, now back at number one in the world, is the top seed for a week of explosive squash at the $115,000 PSA World Series event which is celebrating its tenth anniversary at the Westwood Club.
Despite England’s James Willstrop spending 11 months of 2012 as world number one, it was Ashour who was voted PSA ‘Player of the Year’ – a year he finished in style by winning his second World Championship title in Qatar after overcoming compatriot Mohamed El Shorbagy in the final.
Ashour has reached the last four Richmond finals, beating Nick Matthew in 2009 but then losing to the Englishman two years running.
Last year another Englishman stood in his way of glory, as the tall, methodical, Willstrop (pictured in the match with Ashour) produced an immaculate performance of disciplined squash to stop the usual flow of winners from Ramy’s racket.
Since then Ashour has been the dominant player on the PSA World Tour, beating Willstrop in the El Gouna International final, the British Open semi-finals, the Hong Kong Open final, and the Tournament of Champions semi-finals in New York.
“I am excited to be back again in one of my favourite tournaments of the year,” said top seed Ashour. “The effort Gus Cook, the sponsors and the enthusiastic squash community in Richmond put in year after year just makes it so special and thrilling for us – besides the truly amazing hospitality we get there.
“Everything is well-prepared, well-organised and very comfortable for players to get themselves mentally just right to bring their best game on court.
“I am also glad that the NAO is going to be my first tournament playing officially with Prince rackets after we have officially signed earlier this month,” added the world number one. “Hopefully there will be more success for both of us to come in the near future.
“I wish myself (!) and all the rest of the players the best at the tournament,” Ashour concluded. “I am looking forward to a big exciting elegant event in Richmond this year – may the best player win!”
Returning to Virginia, Willstrop again finds himself in the same half of the draw as Ashour, with Matthew seeded to meet Gaultier in the other semi-final.
Ashour’s ascendancy has highlighted a change in the balance of power at the top of the PSA rankings, with Matthew at two, Willstrop slipping to three and the resurgent French star Gregory Gaultier at four.
Gaultier recently retained his Swedish Open title, beating Matthew in straight games in the final, a repeat of his victory in the NetSuite Open in San Francisco last year.
Two newcomers to the top 20 are hoping to make significant progress in Richmond. South African Stephen Coppinger tackles seven-time German champion Simon Rosner, while the leading Indian player Saurav Ghosal hopes to cope with the trickery of Ramy’s brother Hisham Mohd Ashour.
The first round of qualifying takes place on the new courts at the ACAC centre at Short Pump on Saturday (23 February), before the qualifying finals switch to the glass court at the Westwood Club the following day.
The first round action gets under way at the Westwood Club on Monday, with the final scheduled for the following Saturday 2nd March.
1st round draw:
1 Ramy Ashour (EGY) v Chris Simpson (ENG)
Cameron Pilley (AUS) v Qualifier
Simon Rosner (GER) v Stephen Coppinger (RSA)
8 Omar Mosaad (EGY) v Qualifier
5 Karim Darwish (EGY) v Qualifier
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) v Qualifier
3 James Willstrop (ENG) v Alan Clyne (SCO)
4 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Qualifier
Adrian Grant (ENG) v Shahier Razik (CAN)
Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) v Qualifier
7 Amr Shabana (EGY) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
6 Peter Barker (ENG) v Qualifier
Max Lee (HKG) v Olli Tuominen (FIN)
Tarek Momen (EGY) v Qualifier
2 Nick Matthew (ENG) v Laurens Jan Anjema (NED)
For complete event information, visit the official 2013 Davenport NAO website www.naosquash.com