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All eyes on world champion

Newly-crowned World Open champion Ramy Ashour from Egypt will be cynosure of all eyes here in Doha as he kick starts his campaign at the $145,000 2008 Qatar Classic, which begins at the Khalifa Squash Complex today.

Ashour, who beat compatriot Amr Shabana, the titleholder in the semi-finals and then overcame another Egyptian, Karim Darwish to win the World crown last week, takes on compatriot Omar Mosaad in the first round today.

Eight days back, Ashour became the first player to emulate Jansher Khan, the great Pakistan player of the eighties and nineties, by winning both the world junior and world senior titles.
Ashour knows the huge expectations he is carrying on his shoulders.

“I feel I have heavy weight on my shoulders. I want to extend my winning run. My target is to reach the final (in Doha). I do not want to let down my fans, who are supporting me. I know to maintain consistency is a difficult task, but I am in a positive mood,” he said while talking to The Peninsula yesterday.

Reigning Qatar Classc champion Shabana, who still has a hold over the world number one rank in spite of his World Open loss, is the top seed in Doha and will face one of the eight qualifiers today.

World number two, Gregory Gautler of France, who lost to Shabana in last year’s final, starts his campaign by taking on countryman Renann Lavigne, in a tournament where most of the top-20 players will be seen in action.

Also in the race for the top prize is David Palmer of Australia, who takes on a qualifier.

Meanwhile, James Willstrop of England and Mohammed Azlan Iskandar of Malaysia, who were seeded for the Doha event, are two players to have pulled out on account of injuries.