Palmer hopes to emulate Jansher Khan

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, Nov 23 (Reuters) Australian David Palmer hopes to become the first man since the great Pakistan player Jansher Khan to retain the World Open squash title at the championships starting yesterday.

Palmer has already made squash history by winning both his World Open titles from match point down and hopes to defy the odds again at the age of 31 by emulating Jansher.

''I am coming to the end of my career but I have been lucky with injuries, feel I am very competitive, and would like to play for another year or two,'' Palmer told reporters. ''I feel I can still win tournaments.'' Palmer burst an appendix on his first visit to Bermuda several years ago but still fell in love with the island, making it his second home. This should give him the advantage of more crowd support than any other leading player when the World Open starts in a spectacular transparent beach side arena on Sunday.

Palmer's likely semi-final opponent is Amr Shabana, who has remained world number one for 20 successive months, won his last three tournaments and has become a discreet ambassador for Islam.

''I am not an extremist, I am a modern Muslim'', said the in-form Egyptian who is now also the clearest favourite for the title following the withdrawal of his friend and compatriot Ramy Ashour.

Ashour, the 20-year-old Super Series champion, had been within a single ranking point of toppling Shabana from the number one spot till he sustained a foot injury in Doha last month. His absence elevates Gregory Gaultier, the Frenchman to second seed.

That, though is not necessarily helpful for Shabana, whom Gaultier beat while reaching the last world final 14 months ago, a defeat which was by far the most painful of Shabana's career.

The World Open had been staged in front of the Giza pyramids, a breathtaking theatre for what was supposed to be Shabana's triumphant title defence, but before his home crowd he was unable to deliver.

Gaultier held five match points against Palmer at Giza in what was the most thrilling of all the 28 World Open finals and will to erase the possibility that his greatest chance was allowed to slip through his fingers.

The Frenchman became British Open champion two months ago, beating Shabana in the semis and feels he can go all the way in Bermuda also.

REUTERS SSC RN2255

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