It will be a week of lively action, with the possibility of a new World No. 1, when the $165,000 Punj Lloyd PSA Masters squash tournament kicks off at the Siri Fort Sports Complex here on Monday.

With two former World No. 1 stars Ramy Ashour and Karim Darwish of Egypt figuring at the top of a pretty strong field, the absence of the defending champion and World No. 1 Nick Matthew of England may not be felt. Another Englishman, James Willstrop, will try and win the title and ascend to the No. 1 status.

Having won back-to-back titles in Hong Kong and Kuwait in the last two tournaments in the big league, James, son of Malcolm Willstrop who has been training National champion Saurav Ghosal for long, should be brimming with confidence. However, he figures in the half of the draw that has Ramy Ashour, who enjoys the upper hand against him in career meetings.

Willstrop had given a good account of himself in the final of the last edition at the same venue, and would obviously be keen to go one better this time.

Darwish ready

Darwish figures in the other half of the draw, and is equally keen to improve on his good work through the season. He had lost two successive finals to Willstrop, but asserted that he was ready physically and mentally, to give his best in the last tournament of the season.

“I'm keen to do well, and would love to win the title. I couldn't come the last two years owing to injury, and am looking forward to playing well here,” said Darwish, looking confident, as he waited for his turn to practise at the venue on Sunday.

Conceding that the competition was high, Darwish stressed that everyone was hungry for success in a field that has about 25 of the top 30 players in the latest ranking list.

The stars may fancy their chances, but the lower-rated players will have a chance to fare better at the end of a hectic season in a very demanding game. Seventh-ranked Peter Barker, following in the footsteps of his illustrious compatriots Matthew and Willstrop, said he was keen to improve on his consistent performance of reaching the quarterfinals.

“I am playing well, but need to improve. Everyone is physically and mentally very tired,” said Barker, who has been to India for the previous editions of the prestigious event, and said he knew “what to expect.”

Seven-time National champion Saurav Ghosal will open against Julian Illingworth of the US on Tuesday evening. He had given a memorable performance against former World No. 1, Amr Shabana of Egypt, quite an entertainer with a very attractive game, in the last edition.

Wild card Siddharth Suchde will get a taste of top-rung squash when he takes on fourth-seeded Gregory Gaultier of France on Monday evening.

The seedings: 1. Ramy Ashour (Egypt), 2. Karim Darwish (Egypt), 3. James Willstrop (Eng), 4. Gregory Gaultier (Fra), 5. Peter Barker (Eng), 6. Mohamed el Shorbagy (Egypt), 7. Daryl Selby (Eng), 8. Laurens Jan Anjema (Ned).

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