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20 May 2024

Squash Legends & Leading Figureheads Honoured At Kuwait Gala Dinner

7 Nov 2009

Leading personalities from the world of squash, together with prominent figures from government and diplomatic circles in Kuwait, attended the Kuwait Men's World Open 2009 Official Championship Gala Dinner held in Kuwait City on Friday.

The Official Championship Gala Dinner, including a prestigious International Squash Awards ceremony - held on the rest day of the premier event on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Tour - was staged to honour the achievements of the sport's greatest players and contributors.

The event was hosted by Sheikha Fadyah Al-Sabah, Chairman of the Kuwait Men's World Open 2009 Higher Organising Committee. The championship is being held in the memory of His Highness Sheikh Saad Abdullah Al-Sabah The Patriarch Amir, in whose name the trophy will be presented.

The Gala Dinner, the off-court highpoint of the biggest ever event in squash history, was held on at the Al Hashemi II, the largest wooden dhow ever built. A prime landmark for visitors to Kuwait, the spectacular venue reflects the country's unique history.

Distinguished guests included IOC Member HRH Tunku Imran, Patron and former President of the World Squash Federation; Dato' Sani Karim, President of the Asian Squash Federation; Assem Khalifa, President of the Arab Squash Federation; Ziad Al-Turki, Chairman of the Professional Squash Association; Kuwait Member of Parliament Adnan Al Mutawa; the Ambassadors of Egypt, Malaysia and Yemen; representatives from the British, French and Saudi Arabian embassies; and Tariq Al Owaish, the record ten times Kuwaiti squash champion.

Special tributes were paid to four Squash Legends - Australians Geoff Hunt and Sarah Fitz-Gerald, New Zealander Susan Devoy, and Pakistan's Jahangir Khan, Vice-Chairman of the Higher Organising Committee.

Born in March 1947 in Melbourne, Geoff Hunt dominated the men's game for most of the 1970s, winning the first four World Open titles, between 1976 and 1980, and a then record eight British Open trophies, from 1969 to 1981. The formidable Australian, who topped the world rankings for five years until December 1980, went on to serve as Head Squash Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport from 1985-2003, where he helped develop a new generation of Australian squash stars.

"The World Open has always been a special event for me, so this is a great honour for me," said Hunt, who is now based in Doha, Qatar. "I enjoy being in this part of the world."

Susan Devoy, the most successful squash player to hail from New Zealand, dominated the women's game in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Born in Rotorua in January 1964, Devoy won four World Open titles, between 1985 and 1992, and became British Open champion eight times from 1984 to 1992. She topped the world rankings for a record 105 months between April 84 and February 93, and in 1998 was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, becoming the youngest New Zealander since Sir Edmund Hillary to receive a knighthood.

"I haven't travelled very far in the last few years having brought up four sons - so it's a pleasure to be here," said Dame Devoy. "Squash has been a great part of my life - I am so impressed with the calibre of players I have seen in these championships."

A dominant force in women's squash from the mid nineties through to the new millennium, Sarah Fitz-Gerald became World Junior Champion in 1987. After winning her maiden World Open title in 1996, she went on become the first to claim the title for a fifth time in 2002. Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1968, Sarah was world No1 for 40 months, from November 1996 to February 2003, and retired from the Women's World Tour in February 2003 unbeaten over the previous 18 months. In 2002, after winning the Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games in England, Sarah was voted 'Australian Female Athlete of the Year'. In January 2004, Sarah was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

"It's very humbling for me to be called a 'Legend', considering the other players on this stage," said Fitz-Gerald. "It's wonderful to be here - my first time in Kuwait."

Jahangir Khan, widely acknowledged to be the greatest player in the history of the sport, burst onto the international scene as a 15-year-old in 1979 when he became the youngest-ever winner of the World Amateur Individual Championship. In November 1981, he became the youngest World Open champion of all-time at 17 years of age - beating Australian favourite Geoff Hunt in the final - and went on to establish a remarkable 555-match unbeaten run over five and a half years, from April 81 until Nov 86, winning six World Opens and a record ten British Open titles.

A former Chairman of the Professional Squash Association, Jahangir retired from the sport in 1993 after helping Pakistan to win the World Team Championship in his home town Karachi. First elected Vice-President of the World Squash Federation in November 1998, Jahangir was President of the WSF from 2002-2008. One of the greatest sportsmen Pakistan has ever produced, Jahangir was nominated as 'Sportsman of the Millennium' by the Government of Pakistan.

"Thank you Sheikha Fadyah and all those who have supported me throughout my career," said Khan. "Squash is my passion - it is in my blood."

The Kuwait Men's World Open 2009 Official Gala Dinner incorporated the International Squash Awards, which honoured a number of figureheads from the world of squash.

The principal award was the Players' Player of the Year Award, voted for by the 64 players competing in the Kuwait Men's World Open. Jahangir Khan presented the award to Amr Shabana, the former world number one from Egypt who will bid to become only the fourth player to win a fourth World Open title in the Kuwait final.

"Thank you to all my fellow players - and thanks to Sheikha Fadyah for putting on such a fantastic show," said the popular Egyptian.

Nick Matthew received the Men's Player of the Year Award: The Englishman returned from a nine-month career-threatening injury to win the Forexx Dutch Open last year. He went on to win the Swedish Open, British Open, World Games and British National Championship in 2009 and reach the finals of the Tournament of Champions, Davenport North American Open and CIMB Malaysian Open. Earlier this week, he celebrated a career-high world No4 ranking.

"It's an honour to receive this award from Jahangir," said Matthew. "I am very thrilled to have won this."

The Women's Player of the Year Award went to Nicol David, the Malaysian who gained her fourth World Open title last month and this month celebrated her 40th successive month as world number one.

Egypt's Mohamed El Shorbagy was named as Young Male Player of the Year. The 18-year-old followed his second successive World Junior Championship win in August by celebrating a career-high world No14 ranking in October - when he became the youngest player in the PSA top 20.

Nour El Sherbini, also from Egypt, received the Young Female Player of the Year: Aged just 13, Nour won the Women's World Junior (U19) Championship title in August, becoming the sport's youngest world champion ever.

Alister Walker was voted Most Improved Men's Player of the Year: The Englishman leapt from No32 in January 2008 to a career-best No12 in September after wins over Gregory Gaultier and Amr Shabana.

"I would like to thank my coach David Pearson and Mark Campbell (my strength and conditioning specialist) - and also Nick Matthew, who in many respects I consider my mentor," said Walker.

The Most Improved Women's Player of the Year is Madeline Perry. The Irish player returned from a nine-month career-threatening injury to reach the British Open final in September and a world ranking of No7.

The Player Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Australia's David Palmer, who received a trophy provided by Horst Babinsky, founder and Managing Director of ASB Squash Courts.

The most successful Australian player since Geoff Hunt, 33-year-old David Palmer seems in no hurry to hang up his rackets after first joining the PSA in 1994. Winner of two World Open titles (2002 & 2006) and four British Open crowns (2001, 2003, 2004 & 2008), Palmer first became world number one (for four months) in September 2001, then reclaimed the top spot for a single month in February 2006. He reached two significant milestones in 2008, securing his 50th PSA Tour final appearance in September in Baltimore, USA, and three months later celebrating his 100th successive month in the world's top 10. Success in the Colombian Open in August 2009 took his PSA Tour title haul to 26 - more than any other player currently on the Tour. Married to Mel, and now the proud father of two daughters, Palmer relocated to Boston, USA, last year - but found time to return home to win the Australian Open for the first time.

"This is a great honour for me," said Palmer. "I am very fortunate to have had a great career in squash and am very proud of what I have achieved. It's very special to have my name on a trophy with Jahangir and Geoff."

The tables were turned when Palmer then presented the Gala Dinner's Master of Ceremonies Robert Edwards, who has been the event's Technical Director and Tournament Presenter, with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

"I've had 25 magical years in squash," said Edwards. "I soon knew I couldn't be a player, so I became the 'Voice of Squash'. I've had the privilege of walking in the same footsteps of great players like Jahangir, Geoff and Sarah - and it has made me very proud."

The Promoter of the Year Award was presented to Ziad Al-Turki, promoter of both the Saudi International and Super Series Finals.

A special Services to Squash Award was made to Kuwaiti twins Majed Juamaa & Khalid Juamaa, for their support to Sheikha Fadyah Al-Sabah and to Kuwait World Tour events over many years.

South African Mike Collins received the Referee of the Year Award.

Sheila Cooksley, who has been the Tour Executive of the PSA for many years, was recognised with the Administrator of the Year Award.

Richard Eaton received the Services to Squash Journalism Award: While also covering tennis, badminton and table tennis for a variety of international and British media, it is for squash that Eaton has been best-known over three decades. Described by presenter Robert Edwards as a "true professional", the widely-respected Englishman has been covering the Kuwait World Open for media including Agence France Presse (AFP), the Times and BBC World Service.

England's Judy Williams was also recognised with the Squash Volunteer of the Year Award.

In addition there were the following local awards:

Services to Women's Sport & Squash in Kuwait: Sheikha Naima Al-Sabah
Kuwait Lifetime Achievement Award: Tariq Al Owaish
Kuwait Player of the Year: Abdullah Almezayen

All award recipients received special crystal awards as well as personal gifts from Sheikha Fadyah.