Under the chandeliers at Grand Central, Willstrop exorcises painful record against long-term rival
By NATHAN CLARKE and HOWARD HARDING in New York
England’s James Willstrop ended a 10-year, 19-match losing streak against perennial domestic rival Nick Matthew to knock the 36-year-old from Sheffield out of the 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions with a 73-minute 11-6, 7-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-4 second round victory in New York today (Jan 15).
The pair met for the 34th time last month when Matthew scored an impressive straight-games win in the final of the British Grand Prix. But, under the chandeliers of Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, Willstrop turned recent history on its head, producing a free-flowing attacking performance that saw him pull out every tantalising trick in his repertoire and recover from going 1-2 down in games to complete the victory, his first over Matthew since the 2007 English Open Final.
“It’s taken me a long time to notch that win against him, so I’m pleased,” said Willstrop, 33. “Last month I didn’t play well against him and I was more disappointed with the performance than the result.
“I think the squash today was as good as it has ever been between us and we both played some very accurate stuff. I know what I’m capable of and I’ve been trying to work out the way to break him down for a long time. Today I did just enough to come through.
“And the best thing is I get to play here once again because I love being here at this event. To be out there and performing well in a good game of squash, it’s just brilliant.”
After the match Matthew said: “He deserved it – even when I was 2-1 up I didn’t feel like I was on top.
“He was the aggressor today and I felt like I was chasing it. He’s a class player and we’ve played some massive matches, so that win was coming some day. He’s too good a player to have a record like that.”
Willstrop will now face tournament surprise package Paul Coll for a place in the semi-finals after the 24-year-old qualifier from New Zealand scored an unexpected win over World No.7 and ex-Harvard student Ali Farag to reach the last eight of a PSA World Series tournament for the first time in his career.
The physical powerhouse, who competes in Crossfit games for pleasure when not in squash action, prevailed 3-1 to extend his unbeaten streak on the PSA World Tour to 10 consecutive matches.
Coll came through qualification to defy the odds and claim the PSA M100 Channel Vas Championship in December – a victory that saw him become the first Kiwi since 1995 to break the top 20 rankings – and continued to enjoy a purple patch as he nullified the supremely talented Farag 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7.
“I’m very happy – I’m was worried that I’d get knocked out in qualification here so to reach the quarter-finals is very pleasing,” said Coll.
“I know Ali from juniors and know he’s a quality player who’s very talented with the racket, so I told myself just to focus on countering what he does and take it from there.
“I’ve been training hard, like I always do, and it has started to pay off recently. I just try to play the way I like to play. I love the physical side of the game and I’m just embracing that and it’s working for me at the minute.
“Winning in December gave me a tonne of belief that I can compete with these guys up at the very top and to be backing that up again this week is a huge confidence boost.”
World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad won a five-game war of attrition with Australian Cameron Pilley, finally triumphing 11-9 in the fifth after 82 minutes of phenomenal squash, to keep his tournament alive and set up a meeting with Germany’s Simon Rösner.
In the women’s event 2016 runner-up and local New York crowd favourite Amanda Sobhy got her 2017 campaign off to an emphatic winning start by demolishing Australia’s Donna Urquhart 3-0 in just 24 minutes.
Sobhy put in a performance packed with typical aggressive shot making as she out-gunned and out-thought Urquhart to send out a strong signal to the opposition as she looks to improve on last year’s result.
“It’s great to be back here in New York at one of my favourite events – I love it here and just enjoy being out there in front of so many supporting fans,” said Sobhy.
“It fuels me that I got to the final here last year and I want to do better. I’ve also lost two World Series finals and they say three’s the charm, so hopefully that’ll be this week.
“It would be great to do well here. It’s a goal to win this event. I’ve been putting in the work and I know I’m fit enough to compete with the top players and have the confidence to be the best, so hopefully that can carry me through and help convert some of that into wins.”
England number one Laura Massaro not only had her opponent against her in the opening first round match of the day, but also the partisan crowd, who were giving their all to hometown girl Olivia Blatchford.
The 23-year-old New Yorker, who survived two tough battles against Egyptians to qualify for the main draw, was marking her fourth first round meeting with world No.5 Massaro in 12 months – and looking for her first win.
But Massaro was too strong and fought off a determined threat by her US opponent, winning 11-3, 11-6, 11-4 in 30 minutes.
“I was aware that I wasn’t just playing against an American, but a New Yorker too,” said Massaro afterwards. “I had to make sure my intensity was there from the beginning.”
Another stalwart of the international game also reserved her place in the second round. Egypt’s No.8 seed Omneya Abdel Kawy – who played in the first edition of the women’s event in 2002 – defeated fellow countrywoman Hania El Hammamy, a 16-year-old qualifier – 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 in 41 minutes.
Kawy, three times a quarter-finalist, now progresses to face Victoria Lust, the 16th seed from England who beat Belgian qualifier Nele Gilis 13-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9.
India’s Dipika Pallikal Karthik produced the first upset of the day in the women’s event when she ousted England’s No.14 seed Emily Whitlock 13-11, 11-6, 5-11, 11-3.
Pallikal, runner-up in 2012, now lines up against second seed Raneem El Welily, who defeated qualifier Hollie Naughton of Canada for a place in the quarter-finals.
In the most emotional match of the day, Joelle King defeated former world No. 2 Natalie Grinham, the wildcard entry. The 38-year-old mother of two had chosen to make the ToC her last event before retiring from professional squash.
Rachael Grinham, a former world no. 1, coached her sister during the match and husband Tommy Berden, a former touring pro who is now the Chief Commercial Officer of the PSA, watched from the stands, as did many of the women players.
“I love this game, but I have decided that I need to be able to be at home to take care of my two young sons,” an emotional Grinham said after the match. “I shall miss all the players on tour who are like sisters to me and I shall miss all of the wonderful fans.”
2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions
Results – Men’s Second Round (Bottom Half):
James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Nick Matthew (ENG) 3-2: 11-6, 7-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-4 (73m)
[Q] Paul Coll (NZL) bt  Ali Farag (EGY) 3-1: 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7 (60m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt [Q] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 11-6 (41m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Cameron Pilley (AUS) 3-2: 8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 8-11, 11-9 (82m)
Draw – Men’s Quarter-finals (To be played Jan 16)
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
Tarek Momen (EGY) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
Results – Women’s First Round (Bottom Half):
 Laura Massaro (ENG) bt [Q] Olivia Blatchford (USA) 3-0: 11-3, 11-6, 11-4 (30m)
 Joelle King (NZL) bt [WC] Natalie Grinham (NED) 3-0: 11-4, 11-9, 11-7 (27m)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) bt [Q] Nele Gilis (BEL) 3-1: 13-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9 (58m)
 Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) bt [Q] Hania El Hammamy (EGY) 3-0: 11-9, 11-8, 11-9 (41m)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) bt Donna Urquhart (AUS) 3-0: 11-3, 11-8, 11-3 (24m)
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt Mariam Metwally (EGY) 3-2: 11-6, 8-11, 12-10, 8-11, 11-8 (64m)
Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) bt  Emily Whitlock (ENG) 3-1: 13-11, 11-6, 5-11, 11-3 (39m)
 Raneem El Welily (EGY) bt [Q] Hollie Naughton (CAN) 3-0: 11-7, 11-3, 11-6 (23m)
Draw – Second Round
 Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v [Q] Salma Hany Ibrahim (EGY)
 Annie Au (HKG) v  Nicol David (MAS)
 Camille Serme (FRA) v  Joshna Chinappa (IND)
 Nour El Tayeb (EGY) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
 Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Joelle King (NZL)
 Victoria Lust (ENG) v  Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY)
 Amanda Sobhy (USA) v  Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
Dipika Pallikal Karthik (IND) v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA