Qatar Classic 2021. Declan James 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. Declan James earns his debut victory of the new season
Squash Emcee Andy Taylor. 2021 Qatar Classic. Match 7. Round 1. Declan James def Syed Azlan Amjad. Head to Head
Declan James -28- (ENG) | Round-1 Emcee Introduction

At 28-years-old, he owns 13 PSA titles, is a 21-time Finalist on Tour, and has been ranked as high as World #15. A Quarterfinalist at the 2017 Hong Kong Open, he’s reached the Round of 16 at PSA Platinum events six times – including a run to Round-3 here in Doha at the 2018 Qatar Q-Terminals Classic. Finally back on Tour for the first time in nearly two months – over the Summer, he reached the Semifinals of the British National Championship and played in Manchester, before he was forced to withdraw from the British Open after close-contact with another talent who tested positive for COVID-19. Excited to see him back and healthy here in Doha – Making his 2021-22 season debut – please welcome England’s top-ranked talent, Declan James.

  • R1 — W — [WC] Syed Azlan Amjad -70- (QAT) | Score: 11-4, 11-5, 11-7 (35m)
  • In March of 2020, just before COVID slammed the brakes on all international competition, Declan James was steady – still ranked inside the top-25. For months, his only losses at the big tournaments came against top-10 talents. Paul Coll took him out at the Windy City Open; Declan’s sixth career Round of 16 appearance at a Platinum. Ali Farag ended his run in Round-2 of the Canary Wharf Classic
  • However, following the pandemic pause, while others surged with the sport’s return, James found himself exiting early. At the Egyptian Open, he fell to Youssef Ibrahim. Here in Doha, Eain Yow Ng defeated him in Round-2. With additional early losses at the Black Ball Open, El Gouna International and the World Championships – James was determined to right the ship at the British Open in August
  • However, when James Willstrop tested positive for COVID in Hull – Declan, Patrick Rooney and Lisa Aitken were all forced to withdraw because they were deemed “close contacts” with the former World #1
  • Declan hasn’t played a professional match since. This year’s Qatar Classic is his first event of the 2021-22 season
  • Just before flying to Doha, Declan was a baton-bearer for the Queen’s Baton Relay at Buckingham Palace – as it began its 90,000-mile journey before the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. In 2018, Declan earned Doubles Bronze alongside James Willstrop on Australia’s Gold Coast
[WC] Syed Azlan Amjad -70- (QAT) | Round-1 Emcee Introduction

Last year, he launched into the 2020-21 season with renewed determination – and in his debut event following the pandemic shutdown, captured his first PSA Tour title right here at the QSF No.3 Challenger, and cracked the PSA’s top-100 for the first time. Two months later, he won his second PSA Challenger Tour title at the QSF No.4 – and by April, leapt to a career-high ranking of World #68. And as they say – success breeds opportunity. Now a top-70 talent, over the Summer he competed in his first World Championship outside of Qatar; and last month, made his PSA Platinum debut in Egypt. Competing in his 6th Qatar Q-Terminals Classic – from Doha, please welcome Syed Azlan Amjad.

  • R1 — L — Declan James -28- (ENG) | Score: 4-11, 5-11, 7-11 (35m)

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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.”