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Canadian squash pro wants to leave on top

TORONTO (CP) — Graham Ryding wants to make his final appearance at the Pace Canadian Squash Classic a good one.

The 31-year-old is planning to retire at the end of the season, his 14th on the Pro Squash Association tour. He’s the No. 16 seed at the US$75,000 event, which begins today in his hometown.

“This is a big one,” Ryding said. “If there was a tournament that you want to have your results at — for me — it would be this one and the world championships.”

Ryding, who is ranked 23rd in the world, has drawn American qualifier Julian Illingworth for his opening match. The 32-man main draw features nine of the top 10 players in the world.

It was an unlucky draw for Toronto’s Shahier Razik, the world No. 26, who will play world No. 1 and defending champion Amr Shabana of Egypt in the first round.

Razik, 29, who defeated Jonathon Power of Montreal for his first national title last year, was born and raised in Cairo and knows Shabana’s game quite well.

“It should be fun, we’ve been playing each other since we were 12,” Razik said.

Two other Canadians will play in the main draw. Wild-card entry Matthew Giuffre of Edmonton will play No. 12 seed Mohd Azlan Iskandar of Malaysia, while qualifier Shawn Delierre of Brossard, Que., will face No. 8 seed Karim Darwish of Egypt.

This is the first year since the event’s debut in 2000 that Power won’t be in the field. He retired from PSA competition last year but will serve as player chairman at the event.

His on-court absence should shift some attention to Ryding, who has been juggling squash with commerce studies at the University of Toronto. He has been taking part-time classes since 2000 and is set to graduate this April, when the PSA season winds down.

“Exactly when I’m going to officially retire, I’m not sure,” Ryding said. “But this is my last season.”

Ryding has enjoyed a solid career so far with seven PSA tournament victories, three national titles and appearances for Canada at the Commonwealth and Pan-Am Games.

His best showing at this tournament came in 2004 when he lost in the semifinals to Thierry Lincou of France, the lone player from the top 10 who is not here this year.

Ryding has ramped up his training of late, spending up to six hours a day on court and in the gym. He hopes it pays off in front of the hometown crowd, where he says the atmosphere is unlike anywhere else on tour.

“It’s totally different,” Ryding said. “There’s obviously the added expectation. Everybody wants to see you do well but at the same time you’ve got that support which is nice.”

The all-glass showcourt sits on the stage at the John Bassett Theatre in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where capacity for squash is about 1,000.

“They’re pretty vocal,” Ryding said of the fans. “It’s a pretty educated squash crowd in Toronto, they know what they’re watching.”

Three local clubs will host first-round matches on Monday. The event shifts to the theatre for Tuesday’s second round and all matches leading up to Friday night’s final.

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