Big squash names to line up here

Big squash names to line up here
Egypt's world No. 1 Mohamed El Shorbagy, seen here in a file photo from 2009, may play in the inaugural Lion City Cup in October.

Squash's Egyptian royalty Mohamed El Shorbagy and Ramy Ashour served up a titanic clash in last November's World Championships final in Doha and another chapter of their epic rivalry could soon be written in Singapore.

The duo, ranked first and fifth in the world, along with many of the stars on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Tour, are expected to feature in the Lion City Cup in October.

The new tournament, to run until 2019, will be staged inside a purpose-built show court specially erected at the Padang.

With prize money totalling US$100,000 (S$133,000) and world ranking points at stake, the Lion City Cup will be an official leg of the prestigious World Series, which is the most lucrative and in the highest tier of events on the PSA circuit.

Other legs include the British Open, Hong Kong Open and season-finale Tournament of Champions, held annually at the iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Singapore Squash Rackets Association (SSRA) president Woffles Wu told The Straits Times yesterday: "We're thrilled to have this event and it will help create a week-long festival of squash for Singapore."

Besides El Shorbagy and Ashour, France's Gregory Gaultier (world No. 3) and fourth-ranked Briton Nick Matthew, a former world No. 1 and three-time world champion, are other big names slated to arrive.

The estimated cost of the tournament is around $350,000 and negotiations with a title sponsor - believed to be an international blue-chip company - are currently taking place. It is understood that a television deal with Fox Sports has also been finalised.

The last time the Republic hosted a major international squash competition was the 2011 CIMB Singapore Women's Squash Masters.

During its five-year run before the Malaysian bank ended its backing, it regularly attracted the likes of Malaysia's world No.1 Nicol David and a host of top-10 ranked female players.

The wait for a high-profile men's tournament stretches even further back. Until the late 1990s, the Singapore Open attracted the likes of former world No. 1's Peter Nicol of Scotland and Pakistan's Jansher Khan.

But it fell off the international radar due to lack of financial support though it has shown signs of recovery through Wu's efforts. In 2014, he secured a five-year, $200,000 sponsorship from food company Old Chang Kee for it.

The Lion City Cup represents a much bigger coup for the prominent plastic surgeon, who took over the SSRA's top post in September 2013 and has been steadily reviving the ailing sport.

While organisers are still undecided about the size and the length of the tournament - a 16-man field will take four days while a 32-man field will require an additional day - Wu assured that top-level squash will be on show. He said: "We will definitely get the top-eight players at least as the prize money is good."

As part of his plans to help develop the game domestically, an outreach programme by the event to local schools during competition week is in the works.

Said Wu: "We have around 20 schools involved in our national competition and we will arrange for the players to visit them and maybe do some talks or clinics.

"This is not just about bringing a world-class squash event here but also ensuring that squash in Singapore benefits as well."

jonwong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 5, 2015.
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