There is widespread enthusiasm for the mixed format of the JSW SDAT WSF World Cup, the first world squash championship of the year which gets underway tomorrow at the Indian Squash Academy in Chennai.
Nine nations, led by top seeds Egypt and England and including the world-number-one led Malaysia and hosts India, will do battle in this World Squash Federation two-man-one-woman team event – the final rounds of which will be staged on an all-glass show court erected at the Express Avenue Mall, the largest shopping complex in southern India.
Nicol David, the women’s world number one who is back in India for the first time since winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Delhi in October, leads the attack for Malaysia – the country which hosted the inaugural World Cup in 1996.
“I remember that year well,” said the 27-year-old from Penang. “I was 12 and got the chance to see Michelle Martin for the first time.”
David, like most of the leading players competing in the World Cup, has played in numerous world team championships and Tour events – but never before in an international mixed event.
“It’s quite a fascinating format – something completely different, having mixed teams. My only experience of this is in national leagues. But this has the extra advantage that you’re playing for your country – and that’s always extra special. And it’s good to be back in India.
“There could be some very interesting results,” added David, who became the second longest-standing women’s world number one of all-time this month.
James Willstrop, the England number one, is also delighted to be back in Chennai: “You always remember with special affection places where you’ve done well – and this is where I won the world junior title in 2002 and helped England win the world team title in 2007. I have good memories of Chennai.”
Willstrop was also full of enthusiasm for the format: “The more we can get the two sexes playing together, the better.
“Mixed events are more interesting,” added the world No4. “One of the best things about the Commonwealth Games for me was playing the mixed doubles with Jenny (Duncalf).”
England, winners of the title in 1999, are the No2 seeds behind favourites Egypt, whose squad features two of the top three players in the world – Ramy Ashour, the 23-year-old world No2, and Cairo compatriot Karim Darwish, the world No3.
“It’s a great concept,” agreed new England national coach Chris Robertson, the former Australian international. “There’s a great dynamic when you have men and women together. I like the idea of the ‘two-men-and-one-woman’ format – though it’s quite challenging from a coaching perspective.”
This will be Robertson’s first appearance at a world championships as the England national coach after his appointment last December. “Hopefully we’re going to perform well. If everything goes according to plan, we should get to the final.
“And I think we’ve got a team who could win it,” concluded the former world No3.
Major Maniam, the event’s Tournament Director and Consultant Coach to the Squash Rackets Federation of India, was equally upbeat about the format: “It’s unique – it’s not like any other World Squash Federation event. You will get to see the best players of both genders gelling together.
“It’s a successful implementation of what’s happened before in tennis and badminton. And I look forward to the fact that this event will now be a regular fixture on the world calendar, following a commitment by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) to hold the biennial event in Chennai in 2011, 2013 and 2015.”
Tuesday’s 1st qualifying round fixtures:
Pool A:  EGYPT v  MALAYSIA;  FRANCE v  SRI LANKA;  MALAYSIA v  SRI LANKA;  EGYPT v  SOUTH AFRICA
Pool B:  ENGLAND v  INDIA;  AUSTRALIA v  MEXICO
Official website: www.wsfworldcup.com