SQUASH: Nicol leads as players challenge on five fronts
IT will be a busy weekend for Malaysian squash professionals who will be involved in five international tournaments across three continents starting today.
The United States, Sweden and Kuala Lumpur will be the focus of attention as four national players have been given top billing in the respective tournaments they are entered.
Leading the way is Nicol David, fresh off her first World Series Finals triumph in London at the start of the year, as she attempts to go one better at the Cleveland Classic in Ohio on Sunday.
The World No 1 was upset by England's Laura Massaro in the final last year and Nicol will look to set things right in only her second appearance in the US$50,000 (RM160,000) Women's Squash Association (WSA) tournament, the first WSA Tour gold event of 2012.
Nicol meets a qualifier in the opening round before a quarter-final meeting with either Asian No 2 Annie Au of Hong Kong or French national champion Camille Serme while Ireland's Madeline Perry, Egypt's Raneem El Weleily or Natalie Grinham of the Netherlands could all be possible semi-finals opponents.
National No 2 Low Wee Wern will seek to end a four-match 2012 losing run by avenging her group stage defeat to Laura in London when they meet in the first round in the bottom-half of the draw which also includes World No 2 Jenny Duncalf of England and Australians Rachael Grinham and Kasey Brown.
Over in Detroit, national No 3 Ong Beng Hee hopes to build on a strong showing in New York last week despite a first round exit at the Tournament of Champions when he takes to court at the Motor City Open today.
Beng Hee rued a missed opportunity when he blew a two-game lead against England's Peter Barker and hopes for an extended run in Detroit where he meets a qualifier in the first round.
"I'm on a comeback plan," said Beng Hee, referring to his slump down the rankings, in an online chat with Timesport. "I almost had the World No 6 (Barker). Wasted (chance). The draw here is good, but I've got to start winning!"
The unseeded Beng Hee could face fourth seeded Cameron Pilley in the quarter-finals and having beaten the Australian in three of eight meetings on the PSA Tour, the Malaysian would fancy his chances of making the last four where top seed Mohamed El Shorbagy of Egypt awaits.
Staying in the US, national No 3 Delia Arnold, who turned 26 yesterday, is the top-ranked player at the US$10,000 Delaware Open in Wilmington where she will be hoping for a belated birthday present by claiming her first WSA title since October 2010.
Asian champion Nafiizwan Adnan is another who will be looking to redeem himself after a shock first round exit to an English junior in Canada last week.
Nafiizwan meets Nicolas Mueller of Switzerland in the Swedish Open first round in Linkoping on Thursday in a battle of two unseeded players with the winner moving to a last-eight clash with second seed Karim Darwish of Egypt.
On the local front, Asyraf Azan and Siti Munirah Jusoh are the favourites for the NSC Series No 2 men's and women's titles respectively when the tournament gets underway at the National Squash Centre in Bukit Jalil today.
Asyraf aims to bounce back from a semi-final defeat at the Australia Day Challenge in Queensland where he was also the top seed. By Devinder Singh