Squash: Draw favours Nicol with chance to reach final

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PETER NICOL and Peter Marshall have both had to handle the pressure this season of being labelled future world No 1s. Neither may be ready to achieve that quite yet, but the British Open should show how close the best British hopes are to living up to such a burdensome billing, writes Richard Eaton.

Marshall, the British national champion, is seeded to reach the semi-finals, but Nicol, the Scottish champion, has the better chance of progressing further. This is because he has landed in the opposite half to the overwhelming favourite, Jansher Khan, and could therefore come through for a semi-final against Brett Martin, the world No 2 whom he has beaten twice in a row.

A great deal may hinge on Nicol's ability to dispatch earlier opponents swiftly. Both victories over Martin were followed by defeats which indicated the 20-year old's difficulty in handling several tough matches in succession. 'He has developed a boy's body into a man's body in the past year,' his manager, Neil Harvey, said. A man's stamina is still developing.

Nicol's possible sequence of opponents are a qualifier, Craig Rowland of Australia, today, and, when the tournament moves to Wembley on Friday, the England No 2 Chris Walker and the former world champion Rodney Martin. Nicol, wisely, will only want to think about them one by one, but a pundit's projection would give the quiet fellow from Inverurie a chance of making the biggest noise since Ireland's Jonah Barrington was the last Briton in the final more than 20 years ago.

However, should either of the Martins come through to the final it would increase speculation about the possibility of a piece of squash history. Younger sister Michelle Martin is favourite to retain the women's title, despite her defeat in Cardiff two months ago to her fellow Australian, Liz Irving.

No members of the same family have ever won both titles, and if one of the brothers were to strike a purple patch then a colourful entry into the record books would become very possible. Martin lost to Irving at the same time last year and went on to win the British Open without dropping a game.