‘One minute I’m planning my retirement and then I want to play for five more years’
By NATHAN CLARKE in Manchester
The 36-year-old Nick Matthew proved that there is still life in the old dog as he produced a masterclass performance to inflict an 19th consecutive defeat on perennial rival James Willstrop and win the final of the 2016 AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix, his first title win in 18 months.
In the latest instalment of a rivalry dating back to 2001, which has seen the pair clash almost 60 times, it was Matthew who proved his domestic supremacy once again with a spirited and tactically astute display that saw him break Willstrop down physically throughout the 51-minute 11-7, 12-10, 11-4 win.
The Sheffield-man, known on tour as the ‘Wolf’, started strongly to take the opening game and then showed the grit and determination that has epitomised his career as he snarled his teeth to withstand an onslaught from 33-year-old Willstrop and take the second game tie-break – setting up the platform to complete the victory and lift the 34th PSA World Tour title of his career.
“We’ve played an incredible number of matches – big tournament matches in semi-final or finals – against each other and today was another so I’m just delighted to have come out on top,” said Matthew.
“A lot has been said about our rivalry but there is a tremendous admiration for what both of us do on the court. Off the court as well in the way we prepare, we couldn’t be two more different people but that leads to some unbelievable matches.
“It wasn’t easy at any stage today and it could have been very different. In that second game he showed how good he was and I was lucky to get that game. I knew I had to just push through and I’m really pleased to back it up.”
The three-time World Champion’s career has at times stuttered since his last title success, at the 2015 Canary Wharf Classic, with injuries hampering his opportunity to win more silverware. And despite starting the 2016-17 season with a shock first round defeat at the NetSuite Open, he rekindled some of the finest form of his career on home soil in Manchester to end the year on a high.
“There’s been a lot of soul-searching and times when I wasn’t sure if I could cut it at the top any more, so there was a lot of emotion that came out at the end tonight,” he added.
PICTURES BY PATRICK LAUSON
“All that behind the scenes work, the work of the team that have been on that journey with me and the sacrifices that everyone makes as part of that melting pot are what comes out. I am happy to be playing but to know that I can still produce it and get over the line is an incredible feeling.
“One minute I’m planning my retirement party, the next minute I want to play for five more years, so the truth is probably somewhere in between.
“There were times where I thought this might be my last year but I definitely have plans to finish this season and take it from there. I would dearly, dearly love to play in one more Commonwealth Games and of course the Worlds in Manchester next year.”
On the final Willstrop said: “I just wish I could have given him more of a match. But I have to salute him. I gave everything there but he was too good, and too accurate – I couldn’t get him out of position. People talk about his age but he’s as good as he was six years ago when we were playing finals.”
PSA M70, 2016 AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix, National Squash Centre, Manchester, England.
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0: 11-7, 12-10, 11-4 (51m)
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON