RICHMOND, VA. – The Davenport North American Open, presented by Browns Jaguar, continues to grow in status as one of the world’s premier squash tournaments.
Known affectionately as the NAO, this year’s PSA World Series Gold event, which runs from February 19-25, has attracted the strongest draw in the competition’s history with nine out of the world’s top ten players in action at the Westwood Club.
Boosting the event’s profile even further, Davenport Investments have resumed their role as Title Sponsor and quality automobile brand Jaguar has been confirmed as the presenting sponsor courtesy of sponsorship from Browns Jaguar, based at Midlothian Spike, Richmond.
World champion Nick Matthew, from England, will be returning to Richmond intent on bagging a hat-trick of titles after beating Egyptian superstar Ramy Ashour in the two previous finals.
However, he will face his strongest challenge from compatriot James Willstrop, who was installed as the top seed after reaching the world number one position on January 1 following three consecutive World Series triumphs at the end of 2011.
Willstrop’s winning streak in Hong Kong, Kuwait and Delhi culminated in him overtaking Matthew at the top of the rankings.
The North American Open champion in 2008, Willstrop says he is looking forward to returning to Richmond because he says “the players get looked after better than anywhere else on the world tour” and he is keen to add another NAO title to his CV.
He says: “I have won there in the past, beating Gregory Gaultier of France in the 2008 final. That was the first year when the tournament became a major Super Series event. Whenever you have won a major event it resonates with you and makes it special.
“Coming back to the place where you have won, and where you get looked after so well, makes it extra special. As a player, you could not ask for more. Everything is done for us in Richmond. The Westwood Club has a players’ lounge, a physio on site, functions almost every night and great food every day.
“The Jefferson hotel is a wonderful place to stay, and the venue is outstanding. The players are really well looked after and we are always happy to go back. The NAO has a great community feel about it. You meet more people than at most other tournaments and everyone gets involved.
“Promoter Gus Cook has built a great team in Richmond and it is their hard work and passion for the game that shines through in every aspect of the tournament. Long may it continue.”
After winning in 2008, illness prevented Willstrop from returning 2009. The following year the event was won by stylish Egyptian Ashour, and in the past two seasons the title-holder has been Willstrop’s Yorkshire neighbour Matthew.
Willstrop and Matthew met in the final of the first squash “major” of 2012, the Tournament of Champions event staged inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal, where Matthew won 3-1 to regain the #1 slot in the February rankings.
Local star Patrick Chifunda has been handed the tournament wild card in Richmond and he faces former world champion Thierry Lincou of France, with the winner scheduled to meet top seed Willstrop in the second round.
Seven-times US champion Julian Illingworth has been drawn to play Finland’s Olli Tuominen, with world champion Matthew the likely opponent in the second round.
Willstrop is seeded to meet Gaultier in the semi-final, with #4 seed Ashour scheduled for a last-four clash with Matthew. Interestingly, Matthew has won the last 17 matches against Willstrop.
Tournament promoter Gus Cook said: “This is shaping up to be the best NAO ever. With nine of the world’s top ten playing it is certainly the strongest draw we have ever welcomed to Richmond, and puts it on a par with any other tournament in the world.
“We are pleased to announce a new Presenting Sponsor in Jaguar, which we are very excited about, and we are thrilled to be welcoming the Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, during the tournament to proclaim the day as Virginia Squash Day.
“We hope he will be as thrilled as we are to be bringing the world’s best squash players to Virginia.”
1 James Willstrop (England)
2 Nick Matthew (England)
3 Gregory Gaultier (France)
4 Ramy Ashour (Egypt)
5 Karim Darwish (Egypt)
6 Peter Barker (England)
7 Amr Shabana (Egypt)
8 Laurens Jan Anjema (Netherlands)
Further information from Gus Cook