KUALA LUMPUR: It will take a while yet before the Malaysian Open is able to attract the big names as the squash tournament makes a return after a two-year absence on a smaller scale.
First held in 1975, the Malaysian Open has a long list of illustrious champions including Nicol David, a record eight-time winner of the women's title, Australians Michelle Martin, Liz Irving and Sarah-Fitz Gerald, and Egyptian Raneem El Weleily.
Legendary Pakistanis Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan each won the men's title twice in the 1980s with former national players Ong Beng Hee and Azlan Iskandar also featuring among the winners.
Without a title sponsor following the end of a nine-year association with CIMB in 2014, the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) opted not to hold the tournament until Ohana agreed to come on board this year.
The men's competition offers US$25,000 (RM105,000) while the women's event carries prize money of US$10,000 (RM42,000), significantly less than previous years.
It guarantees that new men's and women's champion will be crowned this year in the absence of defending champions Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy, the current men's World No 3, and El Weleily.
Though SRAM deputy president Nik Razeen Daud hopes the tournament will grow bigger, it is anyone's guess when the likes of former World No 1 Nicol will be back playing in the country's premier squash tournament.
"Our president Huang Ying How was determined that the Malaysian Open return as our signature event after an absence of two years, although somewhat modest in size," said Nik Razeen in Bukit Jalil on Thursday.
"The important thing is that the tournament has returned and the next step would be to grow it gradually. There is no timeline in how we are going to get it back to what it was in previous years.
"We will run the tournament according to our capability and as we go along we hope for more sponsors to come on board and keep it going for the next few years."
The tournament starts on Wednesday at the National Squash Centre with second seed Nafiizwan Adnan and fourth seed Ivan Yuen leading the Malaysian charge in the men's event where Scotland's Alan Clyne is the top pick.
Egyptian Zeina Mickawy is the women's top seed though Rachel Arnold and S. Sivasangari have designs on becoming the second Malaysian women's champion after Nicol.