Qatar Classic 2021. Nicolas Müller advances to Round-2

Round-1 match recap from Squash Emcee Andy Taylor, Voice of the Qatar Classic.

Since 2017, Andy Taylor has been the voice of the Qatar Classic Squash Championship. With his individual style and delivery, Andy writes and narrates each player’s introduction; highlighting career accomplishments, providing context for fans before each match. As tournament emcee, Andy also interviews the winners and hosts the trophy ceremony at the conclusion of the championship.

In addition to his role with the Qatar Squash Federation, Taylor also hosts Doha’s professional tennis events, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and Qatar Total Open.

A voice acting veteran, Andy is best known as the Voice of the US Open in New York. There, he has spent the last 20-years shaping the sound of the tennis season’s final Grand Slam; enhancing the fan experience. Informing. Entertaining. Celebrating sport and its colorful cast of characters.

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First meeting. A near upset for Japan’s top talent in Qatar Classic debut
Squash Emcee Andy Taylor. 2021 Qatar Classic. Match 12. Round 1. Nicolas Müller def Ryosei Kobayashi. Head to Head
Müller vs Kobayashi | Match Context

Originally, the Swiss Rocket was scheduled to play one of the hottest talents on tour, Patrick Rooney of England. Müller and Rooney battled through an epic Premier League match 3-years-ago; where Nicolas earned the first game in an extended tiebreak 20-18, then ultimately won the match in three games.

However, instead of Rooney – Switzerland’s top talent faced the top player from Japan. Just five days before the start of the tournament, Doha favorite Abdulla Al Tamimi withdrew; still struggling with a calf injury sustained at the Egyptian Open. Patrick Rooney moved to Tamimi’s spot in the draw, while World #63 Ryosei Kobayashi received word he needed to book a flight to Qatar.

Nicolas Müller -34- (SUI) | Round-1 Emcee Introduction

Ten years ago on this court – as a skinny 22-year-old kid ranked World #30 – he upset 4-time World Champion and World #5 Amr Shabana of Egypt; and played-on to reach his first career Platinum Quarterfinal right here in Doha. Since then, he’s reached two additional Major Quarterfinals, collected 10 PSA Challenger titles, and climbed to a career-high ranking of World #17. Undeniably, the greatest Swiss talent in squash history – he is a 14-time Swiss National Champion and remains the only player from his country ever to crack the PSA’s top-20. Competing in his second event of the new 2021-22 season, he’s back in Doha for his 10th Qatar Q-Terminals Classic – in pursuit of his first main draw victory since that inspired Quarterfinal run ten years ago. From Switzerland, please welcome the Swiss Rocket, Nicolas Müller.

  • R1 — W — Ryosei Kobayashi -63- (JPN) | Score: 11-9, 8-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-7 (63m)
  • During the 2017-18 season, the Swiss Rocket broke back in to the PSA’s top-20 after an impressive run starting at the Tournament of Champions, where Müller reached his 3rd Platinum Quarterfinal. He then made a Semifinal run at the PSA Silver Motor City Open, and immediately backed it up with a run to the championship match of PSA Challenger 30 at the Indian Open. Even though Nicolas didn’t win a single Tour level match the remainder of the season, Round-1 appearances at two Gold and two Platinum events kept him inside the top-20
  • The 2018-19 season wasn’t as fruitful. Aside from Platinum Round of 16 runs in Hong Kong and El Gouna, the Swiss Rocket struggled to string together back to back match victories. By the end of the season, he dropped back to World #28
  • In the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, Müller started-off with a run to the Malaysian Open Final. But with only 345-points earned for a Finalist appearance at a PSA Challenger 30, the Swiss Rocket’s rankings didn’t budge. When the lockdowns hit in March of 2020, he’d dropped back to the mid-30’s
  • In his first event back from the pandemic pause, Müller hit a tremendous milestone, capturing his 14th consecutive Swiss National Championship. While he struggled at the patchwork of Majors pieced together while the world endured its second and third waves of COVID-19, Nicolas did reach back-to-back Finals at a pair of PSA Challenger 10’s. He defeated Dimitri Steinmann to capture his 10th Challenger title at the Liechtenstein Open; then fell to Steinmann in the championship match of the Sihltal Classic. With the victory, Steinmann became the first Swiss player to defeat Müller in 13-years
  • Since Sihltal, Nicolas hasn’t been able to get beyond Round-2 of the Platinums – including his first event of the new season, the US Open
Ryosei Kobayashi -63- (JPN) | Round-1 Emcee Introduction

Japan’s top-talent, this 27-year-old made his Doha debut 9-years-ago at the World Junior Championship, where he helped lift Japan to a 6th-place finish. Choosing college over the PSA World Tour, he graduated from the University of Rochester in 2017; then moved to France, where he lives and trains today. But in April of 2019, something changed. He decided to go all-in, circling the globe, entering PSA events the world over. Now, 2-and-a-half years later, he owns 6 PSA Challnger Tour titles; and over the Summer, became the first Japanese player in squash history to reach the 2nd-Round of the PSA World Championship. A week ago, he wasn’t even in the Qatar Q-Terminals Classic draw – but thanks to a late withdrawal, he is back in Doha with a career-high ranking of World #63. From Japan, please welcome Ryosei Kobayashi.

  • R1 — L — Nicolas Müller -34- (SUI) | Score: 9-11, 11-8, 11-7, 9-11, 7-11 (63m)
  • Ryosei Kobayashi lives in Aix-en-Provence, France and has a passion for making wine, beer and sake. In fact, if you pay attention to his Twitter description, he apparently intended to retire from squash over the Summer to focus on making wine
  • Japan’s top-talent first appeared on the sport’s radar as a Junior ten years ago. In fact, he helped lift Japan to a 6th place finish here in Doha at the 2012 World Junior Championship
  • But Ryosei never fully focused on squash full time. Over the years, he happily represented Japan at various tournaments, and regularly entered the Rochester Pro-Am while attending the University of Rochester in New York; but Kobayashi was never a regular at PSA events around the world
  • That is, until April of 2019. Now a college graduate living in France, he decided to jump-in full time
  • Two and half years later – he owns 6 PSA Challenger Tour titles; and back in July, became the first Japanese player in squash history to reach the second round of the PSA World Championship
  • Now the World #63, Kobayashi made his PSA Platinum debut last month in Giza at the Egyptian Open – and got the call to compete in Qatar just six days ago, when Doha favorite Abdulla Al Tamimi withdrew due to an ongoing calf injury

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Squash Emcee Andy Taylor. Qatar Classic 2020. Champions in Doha 1992 to Today

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For nearly three decades, the Qatar Squash Federation has hosted the sport’s elite at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex. Originally coined the Qatar International, Pakistan’s Jansher Khan captured the first five Doha titles from 1992 to 1996. Canada’s Jonathan Power then won back-to-back Doha titles over Scotland’s Peter Nichol; earning triumphs at the 1997 Qatar International and the 1998 World Championship.

Enter the Qatar Classic Squash Championship

After a two year absence, professional squash returned to Doha in 2001. Rebranded the Qatar Classic, Peter Nichol – now representing England – again reached back-to-back Doha Finals. This time, he captured the first two Qatar Classic titles over Australia’s David Palmer. England’s Lee Beachill and James Willstrop won the next two Qatar Classic titles, before Egypt began its outright Doha dominance.

In fact, since Ramy Ashour became the first Egyptian Doha champion at the 2006 Qatar Classic; the Arab nation has won 13 of the last 15 Doha titles, including three World Championships. Alexandria’s Mohamed Elshorbagy – the only 3-time Qatar Classic Champion – reached a record six consecutive finals on this court between 2012 and 2017. Most recently, Ali Farag won back-to-back Qatar Classic titles in 2018 and 2020. Unfortunately, the World #1 won’t be back in Doha this year to defend the title.

Professional Squash and COVID-19

Like every international sport, the recent global pandemic has created tremendous challenges for squash events worldwide. Due to COVID’s insidious spread, the 2019-20 season ended abruptly in March; immediately following Mohamed Elshorbagy’s victory at the 2020 Canary Wharf Classic.

Without fans, the sport launched its return six months later in Manchester – another Elshorbagy triumph. However, with global cases hitting a second surge, all events in the United Kingdom, United States and Asia were shuttered. The 2020-2021 season was in peril. At the time, as a U.S. resident, Andy Taylor made the difficult decision to suspend all international travel. Reluctantly, he stepped away from his role as emcee at the 2020 Qatar Classic.

Saviors. The Qatar Squash Federation and CIB’s CEO Hussein Abaza of Egypt

Over the next 10-months, Qatar and Egypt were the only two nations to host PSA Platinum events. Without the U.S. Open. Hong Kong Open. New York’s Tournament of Champions. The Windy City Open. And British Open — The sport needed bold and determined intervention.

Cautiously, the QSF moved forward with the Qatar Classic, providing a COVID safe bubble for players and crew. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Hussein Abaza went above and beyond. Remarkably, CIB’s CEO spearheaded two PSA World Tour Finals, the Egyptian Open, two Black Ball Opens and El Gouna International. From September to June, he funded six expensive, top-tier PSA events for both the men’s and women’s tours. Egypt became the hub of the sport – a safe place to compete while vaccinations took hold; while the world recovered.

Thankfully, since July, much of the globe has slowly opened back up. Chicago hosted the World Championships. Hull welcomed the sport’s elite for the British Open. Last month, it was only fitting that the 2021-22 season began in front of the pyramids at Giza. True to form, Egyptian rivals Ali Farag and Mohamed Elshorbagy headlined the event; delivering an exceptional 5-game Final, where Farag lifted his 9th Platinum trophy.

A Sport Back on Track, thanks to human compassion and ingenuity

After September’s Egyptian Open, the U.S. swing was also a tremendous success. From San Francisco to the US Open’s immaculate new Arlen Specter US Squash Center in Philadelphia; fans responsibly returned, recently tested or fully vaccinated. All starved to once again see the best in the world compete inside the glass.

Now, squash returns to the Arab Gulf for the 17th Qatar Classic Squash Championship.

Thankfully, as global vaccinations continue their ascent, the new squash season is beginning to follow a familiar path. While the past 19-months have been dark, spotlighting the reality of human fragility; it has also been an epoch defined by compassion, resilience and hope. Squash, as a sport and lifestyle, embodies these traits.

When we choose to quiet the noise, steel our determination, and commit to selflessly work together toward collective good; ultimately toward survival — the darkness is no match for our blinding ingenuity.

No, the fight isn’t over. But we’ve hit some astonishing nicks, and continue to edge closer toward “match ball.”