As the world’s best posed for a photograph in front of the specially erected glass court at the Bombay Gymkhana, it was clear that the tussle for one of the biggest prizes in squash would be between Egypt and the rest of the world.
Despite world number one Karim Darwish pulling out of the $152,000 Punj Lloyd PSA Masters, Egypt boast of the most championship contenders led by four-time
World Open winner and defending champion Amr Shabana and former world champion Ramy Ashour.
In the absence of Darwish, Gregory Gaultier has been given the top billing and the Frenchman along with his English rivals will have the onus of stopping the Egyptian juggernaut.
England have the biggest contingent in the tournament with nine players and fourth seed Nick Mathews and sixth seed James Willstrop would be hoping to land the knockout punch for their country.
Former world junior champion Willstrop insisted that they were not too far behind the Egyptians and all they needed was to be consistent all the way through.
The tournament also signals the return of top-flight squash to Mumbai after a gap of 12 years and world number 32 Saurav Ghosal and wild card Ritwik Bhattacharya will shoulder the Indian challenge.
Though both are considered to be rank outsiders and are playing their maiden Masters, Indian supporters would be hoping that the duo manage to punch well above their weight in front of the home crowd.
Ghosal has been in good form this season and has managed to qualify for all the Super Series-level events. “I couldn’t clear the first round hurdle since I always bumped into a top ranked player. But I am hoping that it would change with the crowd support here,” added the 23-year-old, who faces 15th seed Cameron Pilley of Australia in the first round.
Bhattacharya opens his campaign against 10th seed Alister Walker of England after the organiser re-jigged the draw following Darwish’s withdrawal. World number 58 Mathieu Castagnet of France will replace the Egyptian in the tournament and he would face Shabana.