Squash: England pair vie for final place

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The Independent Online

The England team-mates, Del Harris and Mark Chaloner, are on course for a semi-final showdown at the QM National Championship in Birmingham, which starts today.

The pair formed half of the squad that clinched England's first win in the World Team Championship last November in Cairo alongside Yorkshire's Simon Parke and Chris Walker of Essex.

But with Parke, who was seeded third, unfit because of appendicitis and Walker opting to pursue world ranking points in North America, it is left to Harris and Chaloner to challenge the Scottish top seed, Peter Nicol, for the title.

Harris, the 26-year-old former world junior champion who reached the World Open final in Cyprus in November, is seeded second while Lincoln's 23-year-old Chaloner is ranked fourth.

They are scheduled to meet in one semi-final while the top half of the men's field is dominated by Nicol, who returned to No 4 in the world rankings at the turn of the year on the strength of a fine win in the Mahindra Challenge in Bombay.

Success for Nicol would be a Scottish first in the British National Championship. Mark Maclean reached the 1986 final and Nicol himself reached the 1994 final, but no Scot has yet won the top domestic title.

Such cross-border footnotes are unlikely in the women's championship with four former British champions from England in contention for the semi-final places and the first recognised Scot, Senga Macfie, seeded only eighth.

Cassie Jackman, the 1993 British champion, is the top seed and is due to meet Suzanne Horner, the 1994 winner, in the final.

Their scheduled semi-final opponents are defending champion Fiona Geaves, of Gloucester, and Kent's Sue Wright, who took the title in 1992.

Only Linda Charman of Sussex, the surprise finalist of last year, or Northumbria's combative Jane Martin are likely to offer a serious challenge to the top seeds in the women's event.

The top men can have no such confidence, however. Nicol has England reserve Mark Cairns of Oxford, Lancashire's Nick Taylor - last year's losing finalist - and defending champion Stephen Meads of Berkshire in his half of the draw.

Harris has Kent's Paul Johnson scheduled for a quarter-final clash and Chaloner faces a wealth of experience from former champion Paul Carter, of Hertfordshire, Yorkshire's David Campion and Surrey's Danny Meddings.

Meads withdrew from the North American event which attracted Walker and the top Welshman, Andrew Evans, with hopes of becoming the first man ever to successfully defend the British title. But he may find Scottish ambitions make that historic task too difficult.

SEEDS FOR QM NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (Birmingham) Men: 1 P Nicol (Sco), 2 D Harris (Essex), 4 M Chaloner (Lincolnshire), 5 M Cairns (Oxfordshire), 6 P Johnson (Kent), 7 S Meads (Berkshire), 8 D Meddings (Surrey). (Third seed, Simon Parke, withdrew). Women: 1 C Jackman (Norfolk), 2 S Horner (Yorkshire), 3 F Geaves (Gloucestershire), 4 S Wright (Kent), 5 J Martin (Northumbria), 6 L Charman (Sussex), 7 R Macree (Essex), 8 S Macfie (Sco).