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James Willstrop (right) takes on Karim Abdel Gawad (left)

Canary Wharf Classic: Round One Preview

Alan Thatcher previews the opening day of the Canary Wharf Classic

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The opening day of the St. James’s Place Canary Wharf Classic boasts eight blockbuster battles in Sunday’s first round at the East Wintergarden.

Former World No.1 James Willstrop, who recently won a fourth British National title, to add to his four Canary Wharf titles, opens proceedings against wild card Richie Fallows, the local hero from Stratford, East London.

World No.11 Joel Makin, the Welshman who lost to Willstrop in the Nottingham final, then takes to the court against England captain Daryl Selby in what is sure to be a feisty Battle of Britain clash.

Makin, who has climbed into the world’s top 10 in the latest PSA World Rankings, always seems to play well at Canary Wharf.

Selby, at 37 the oldest player in the competition, will be wearing protective glasses after being hit in the eye in the Nationals. He said: “Fortunately I only suffered bruising but it could have been so much worse. It really made me think about my safety and so from now on I will wear eye protection every time I go on court.”

Selby wore his eyewear during the two recent tournaments, the Canada Gold Cup and Windy City Open, where he recorded a 97-minute victory over France’s national champion Lucas Serme before losing to Mohamed ElShorbagy.

Next up is an all-French contest between the athletic World No.14 Gregoire Marche, famed for diving across the court, and former champion Mathieu Castagnet, who won the Canary Wharf title in 2016.

There is a strong English presence in the competition and Londoner Tom Richards, who is based at the renowned St. George’s Hill club in Weybridge, tackles Indian national champion Saurav Ghosal, the World No.13.

Egypt, currently dominating the men’s and women’s world rankings and providing the top four seeds at Canary Wharf, will have three phenomenal players competing in the first round.

The 6ft 4in Omar Mosaad, known as 'The Hammer of Thor' and runner-up to Castagnet four years ago, meets Malaysia’s former World Junior Champion Eain Yow Ng in a mouthwatering meeting of youth versus experience.

The flamboyant Mazen Hesham then takes to the court to tackle Scottish number one Greg Lobban, who recently beat 2019 Canary Wharf champion Paul Coll and veteran Selby to reach the final of the Edinburgh Open.

Fares Dessouky, like Hesham, is working his way back up the rankings after injury and meets Germany’s national champion Raphael Kandra, who impressed on his first appearance at Canary Wharf last year while on his way to reaching a career high ranking of No.13 in the world.

The day one programme concludes with a phenomenal finale between England team-mates Adrian Waller and Declan James.

Waller will be aiming to improve on a shock first round defeat to Kandra last year. The 30-year-old left-hander from Enfield put that defeat behind him to climb to a career-best position of 17 in the world in November.

James, meanwhile, will be seeking to return to the form that took him to an all-time high of No.15 in the world last May.

Declan James (right) celebrates his win over Marwan ElShorbagy (left) during the 2019 Canary Wharf Classic

Last year at Canary Wharf, James beat Scotland’s Greg Lobban on the opening day, followed that up with a spectacular win over Marwan ElShorbagy that really brought the house down, but then lost in the quarter-finals top seed Mohamed ElShorbagy. 

Their current rankings are No.20 (Waller) and No.24 (James), which shows what a close and intriguing battle is in store for spectators, finishing off the day’s action in compelling style.

Now in it’s 17th year, the PSA World Tour Gold tournament attracts the world’s leading players and continues to sell out every season. Tickets for this year’s event went on sale in October and were snapped up within six days.

Once again the early rounds will feature a best-of-three games format, reverting to best of five for the semi-finals and finals.

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