Squash: Opie's shock withdrawal

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ANOTHER of England's all-time greats may be close to the end of the line, following yesterday's last- minute surprise withdrawal of Lisa Opie, the 1991 British Open champion from the English National Championships in Manchester.

The 29-year-old second seed from Guernsey has a recurrence of the groin injury that kept her out for three months last season, has bothered her for the best part of two years, and has already made her consider retirement.

Only two days ago her lifelong rival, the former world champion, Martine Le Moignan, announced she would retire after the World Open in September and no longer wishes to play for England.

The absence of both Channel Islanders means the women's title is likely to be a battle between Sue Wright, the British national champion, and Cassie Jackman, the top seed who started yesterday by allowing only two points to the England No 23, Sarah Spacey.

Jackman, who hopes to become world No 1 this year, does not sound sympathetic to the boycott which has caused the absence of 17 leading players from the men's event. 'I think what some of them said about the prize money was a bit hard,' she said.

The other top seed, Phil Whitlock, the England captain who helped organised both the boycott and compromise, started by winning 9-3, 9-1, 9-1 against Middlesex's Peter Gunter.

Whitlock, the only top-10 man participating, said he remained pessimistic that the boycotters and the Squash Rackets Association can reach an agreement that will repeal the rule linking participation in the nationals to playing for England and allow the selection of a proper team for the World Championships. 'I know it's a silly rule, people on the SRA executive committee know it's a silly rule, and the England selectors know it's a silly rule,' Whitlock said. 'But under these circumstances I doubt whether the SRA will back down.'