Khan hopes international London Open tournament will raise the profile of squash

Zubair Khan, tournament director for the upcoming London Open squash tournament, which will be held

Zubair Khan, tournament director for the upcoming London Open squash tournament, which will be held at Cumberland. Pic: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Stars from the Professional Squash Association will be arriving in West Hampstead on Tuesday as the London Open gets under way – and tournament director Zubair Khan hopes the event will raise the profile of a sport which has lost its presence at the Olympics, writes Ben Grounds.

Khan is overseeing his 10th edition of the tournament at Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club on Alvanley Gardens, and the 44-year-old – whose son plays for Middlesex Under-15s – is keen to showcase the beauty of the game.

“It’s a PSA event and there are points at stake for the world tour,” the former world No8 told Ham&High Sport. “Players are coming from all corners of the globe to take part – Egypt, Australia and New Zealand.

“It’s an international event and these players are desperate for the points towards the overall championship. Winning the London Open is a big incentive.

“We’ve had lots of people calling in for tickets. It’s key for the sport – since it’s no longer at the Olympics I feel more needs to be done to generate publicity around the game. Squash is one of the most exciting sports out there and is a wonderful pastime to get into.

“The PSA is trying its best to help out but the demand isn’t quite where it needs to be at present. With more marketing, I’m sure the sport can go places.

“The quality on television now is much better – you can access it with greater ease – and watching it live is wonderful. Even if people at home aren’t entirely sure about the rules, they can be bowled over by the movement of the players.

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“I wouldn’t like to think the sport here is in decline but there’s more money in the Middle East. Players are wanting to move to Qatar and Doha as that’s where the money is.

“There needs to be a greater incentive to keep the best players playing here, but without better marketing I can’t see that changing.

“I want to make this tournament bigger each year by attracting more sponsors. My challenge is to make it bigger for this area and for Cumberland.

“It’s a beautiful club with cricket, hockey and tennis courts so people should come and check it out for themselves.”

The London Open – which is sponsored by Aspect Capital, Hellman & Friedman LLC and Heathcote & Ivory – runs from November 29 to December 4, with the first two days consisting of qualifiers which are free to the public.

The main draw starts next Thursday (December 1), and the top men’s seed and world No53 Charles Sharpes is expected to be involved in the latter stages.

He is one of five Englishmen who are seeded and automatically given a place in the tournament proper, and Tom Ford (World No70), Patrick Rooney (No133), Lyell Fuller (No135) and wildcard entry Anthony Rogal will also be aiming to make the most of home advantage.

Meanwhile, world No61 Nada Abbas will be aiming to justify her status as the top women’s seed, and English hopefuls Alison Thomson and Rachael Chadwick will be hoping to be heavily in contention.

Kace Bartley, Stephanie Walton and Julianne Courtice are among seven homegrown players who will be on show during the qualifying rounds.

Qualifying games run from 1pm-8pm on Tuesday November 29 and 5pm-8pm on Wednesday November 30, and admission is free.

The first round then gets under way on Thursday December 1 at 2pm, finishing at 10pm, with tickets being priced at £12.

Eight quarter-final matches will be on show between 2pm-10pm on Friday December 2, costing £16, and the semi-finals take place the following day (£20), while Sunday’s finals day also includes two exhibition matches (£24).