• ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic • 21st to 25th March 2011 • London •  






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TODAY at the Canary Wharf Classic

Thu 25th March, Semi-Finals

 [1] Nick Matthew (Eng) bt [3] James Willstrop (Eng)
       11/7, 5/11, 18/20, 11/8, 10/8 rtd (127m)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt [4] Peter Barker (Eng)
       11/7, 11/5, 6/11, 11/7 (63m)

Alan Thatcher reports       Steve's view

[1] Nick Matthew (Eng) bt [3] James Willstrop (Eng)
       11/7, 5/11, 18/20, 11/8, 10/8 rtd (127m)



England’s 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 agony.

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.

The 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 quarter-finals.

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.

But 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 money back.

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.

[2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) bt [4] 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.

"It's 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 ... Steve's view

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 one.

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 play.

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 too.

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 now passed.

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 seeming winners.

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 corner.

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 immediately."

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.

Day of the Challenge

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