TODAY at the Canary Wharf Classic
Thu 25th March, Semi-Finals
 Nick Matthew (Eng)
bt  James Willstrop (Eng)
11/7, 5/11, 18/20, 11/8, 10/8 rtd (127m)
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt  Peter Barker (Eng)
11/7, 11/5, 6/11, 11/7 (63m)
Alan Thatcher reports
Nick Matthew (Eng) bt  James Willstrop (Eng)
11/7, 5/11, 18/20, 11/8, 10/8 rtd (127m)
MATTHEW IN FINAL AFTER
WILLSTROP'S HORROR KO
By ALAN THATCHER
world No.2 Nick Matthew reached the final of the ISS Canary
Wharf Classic when his big rival James Willstrop retired injured
on match ball down after an astonishing marathon match.
Matthew meets French world No.2 Gregory Gaultier in tomorrow’s
final after a dramatic finish to the longest match in the
tournament’s seven-year history which included an astonishing
20-18 tiebreak finish to the third game.
Willstrop’s left leg cramped up after he crashed into the back
left corner of the glass court chasing a winning drive from
Matthew after the players had battled toe to toe for 127 minutes
of brutal squash.
Matthew punched the air with relief at winning the point after
one of many physically depleting rallies but his expression
turned to concern for his opponent as Willstrop was clearly in
Referee Dean Clayton rushed down to the court as two physios
treated Willstrop and informed the sell-out crowd that as the
injury was self-inflicted the 6ft 4in world No.4 would have to
concede the match unless he was unable to play on immediately.
However, fellow Yorkshireman Matthew refused to accept victory
in such conditions and offered Willstrop a three-minute break.
But Willstrop was unable to continue and had no alternative but
to concede the match.
two players hugged in the middle of the court, and now Matthew
will have to hope his body holds up in tomorrow’s final after
the longest match in the tournament’s seven-year history.
Matthew stayed in front throughout a demanding opening game that
lasted 25 minutes, maintaining the high-speed pressure squash
that saw off former world champion Thierry Lincou in the
However, Willstrop responded brilliantly in the second game,
reducing his error count and mixing up tight drives with
delicate touch shots at the front of the court.
Willstrop moved 7-4 up in the third as the match moved beyond
the hour mark but Matthew hit back to force the game to a
tiebreak at 10-10. Willstrop kept getting his nose in front but
conceded several penalty strokes as Matthew constantly fought
back. Willstrop finally clinched it 20-18 after 38 minutes of
pure drama as Matthew drove his shot into the tin.
Willstrop led 6-3 in the fourth game but was unable to sustain
the pressure as Matthew fought back to win 11-8.
In the fifth, Willstrop took a three-minute injury break after
receiving a knee in the back of the calf but he returned to the
court to again open up an early lead of 4-1.
Matthew continued to reel in the points, finally taking the lead
at 8-7. Then, at 9-8, he unleashed a stinging backhand drive
into the back corner. Willstrop, who had been forced to chase
the ball all over the court, fell in a heap as the ball raced
beyond his reach.
Matthew sportingly said: “Nobody wants to win a match like that.
We always have long battles but that was by far the
hardest-ever. It was a roller-coaster from start to finish, it
had everything. It was definitely the hardest match I've ever
played, I cramped up just after he did, and that's the first
time I've cramped in a match, ever. I just hope my body will
hold up in the final tomorrow, I think I'll need the physio
after they've finished with James!
“The crowd were absolutely brilliant all the way through,
cheering us both on and creating a fantastic atmosphere.
“This is one of the best tournaments in the world and I’m
delighted to get through to the final for the first time. If
anybody didn't enjoy that match I'll personally give them their
Ironically, Matthew lost in the first round of the event last
year after receiving a dead leg from Egypt’s world junior
champion Mohamed El Shorbagy.
 Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
bt  Peter Barker (Eng)
11/7, 11/5, 6/11, 11/7 (63m)
Gaultier guarantees new champion
Well, to be fair, we were guaranteed a new champion once James
Willstrop had lost, but you know what we mean ...
The final will be contested by the top seeds after Gregory
Gaultier overcame a determined challenge from local boy Peter
Barker, and while the match was always likely to be an
anticlimax after what preceded it, it was certainly an hour of
quality squash to send the Canary Wharf home happy.
It was a tight opening, the Frenchman easing away from 8/6 in
the first and looking in some measure of control as he took the
second. At 4/1 in the third a quick win looked likely, but
Barker dug in to take that game, and made the fourth tough too.
Again though it was Gaultier who finished the best, pulling away
from 7/6 to claim a place in the final.
tough to wait that long for your match, you go to the toilet 25
times, warm up six times, you wait and wait ...
"I was up in the third and maybe relaxed a bit too much, he
became more aggressive and took me by surprise, so in the fourth
I had to keep the pressure on when it was close in the middle of
the game and it worked out on the end.
"It will be a tough match tomorrow, Nick had a hard match but
sometimes that helps you. Yesterday I played five games and I
felt a bit slow at the start but once I got into my rhythm
having that match helped me. “Nick is a very strong guy and I am
sure he will have lots of energy left for the final.
"Everyone saw a great match in the first semi-final and I hope
they enjoyed this one too.
What a match ...
I know we have Alan's report, but when you've just been through
two hours of possibly the finest match you've ever witnessed,
how can you not write about it.
At the end Nick offered to personally refund any spectator who
didn't enjoy the match - he'd probably be on safe ground if he
extended the offer to anyone who thought they'd seen a better
It has to prey on James' mind that Nick had won nine of their
last ten meetings, especially since the last three have been
increasingly in Nick's favour in terms of scores and balance of
He showed no signs of that as the match started though, the
25-minute first game was of high quality and a very even affair.
James led 3/0, Nick came back to 7/4, James got as close as 8/7
before Nick pulled away to take the lead.
An enjoyable game, a high-class game, but in reality just a
taster for things to come. One thing that stood out was Nick's
ability to steadily increase the pressure, shot by shot,
eventually forcing James into a loose shot at the front of the
court which resulted in a stroke to Nick. This happened four
times in the first, and was to feature strongly in the third
Undeterred by the setback, James bounced back to take an
immediate lead in the second, extended it to 6/2, and although
Nick got as close as 6/4, James closed it out with Nick making
some uncharacteristic errors in the latter stages. A mere 15
minutes, that one.
The third was a classic. 37 minutes long, it would on its own
have graced many a major event final. Throughout, the quality of
the play was exceptional, both playing solid accurate shots with
remarkably few errors, both retrieving superbly too.
First one, then the other, would dominate the rally, forcing
their opponent into ever more desperate retrieving - the crowd
would start to oooh thinking a winner had been hit, then ahhhh
as it came back - until either the point was won or the position
had been salvaged and the battle for dominance started anew.
It was a game and a half that one - literally - as James saw
three game balls go begging at 10/7, and three more as the score
climbed to 13-all. You sensed that Nick would only need one
opportunity, but no, his volley drop to reach 14/13 was matched
by a similar shot from James to make it 14-all.
James was winning the advantage points, Nick would force an
error out of him to level - usually a stroke, James conceded
nine of those in this game alone.
Eventually, eventually, Nick tinned for James to take the lead
20/18. The crowd were breathless, heaven knows what the players
must have been like.
The fourth was a comparative tiddler, just 14 minutes as Nick
pulled back from 6/3 down to level matters 11/8. 99 minutes had
Just as he had in all the previous games, James led the decider.
At 1/0 there was a collision as Nick pushed through to the
sidewall and caught James' calf which needed a 3-minute break.
On the resumption the standard of play picked up again to rival
that of the third. They must have been tired, but somehow they
found the energy to punch those shots in and run down those
Sitting on the side near the backhand front corner, you really
see just how precise these pickups, counter-drops and lobs are.
Phenomenal accuracy, you should try sitting there one time.
Anyway, on we went, 5-all, 6-all, 7-all. Nick crunched a volley
drop to go 8/7, James' volley drop just clipped the tin to make
it 9/7, but a brave dropshot from deep pulled one back, 9/8.
Then we had the drama. Another punishing rally, Nick gets the
upper hand, punches a backhand volley down the line, James
lunges desperately after it and collapses in a heap in the
Nick punches the air, then realises James is hurt and goes to
see him in the corner where he's writhing in pain. Caroline the
physio and Malcolm the dad are immediately up off their front
row seats and into the court. Sylvan the physio follows, as does
Dean the referee.
The physios are manipulating James' thigh, wracked with cramp,
while the referee explains the situation to the crowd. "Ladies
and gentleman Mr Willstrop is suffering from cramp, which is not
an injury, he is not allowed time to recover and must play on
Well he can't, obviously. For another couple of minutes they try
to ease the pressure so that he can at least stand up. Meanwhile
Nick is making it clear he's allowing him time to see if he can
recover, no way is he going to insist on the letter of the law.
Before James manages to stand up Caroline has already shaken her
head at him a few times. "No, you can't play," she's saying.
James, in pain, distraught, looks up at Malcolm and gets the
same message. He stands, hobbles over to Nick, they exchange
handshakes and even smiles, they hug, it's over.
Such a sad ending to such a great match, but that won't detract
from the memory of it.
They'd both just played the longest match of their lives, and it
hadn't even finished, really, but they, and all the spectators
at Canary Wharf tonight, will surely remember it forever.
Well played lads, well played.