Willstrop and Matthew continue rivalry in theatrical surroundings
By NATHAN CLARKE and ALAN THATCHER
Veteran English duo Nick Matthew and James Willstrop will write another chapter into their long-standing rivalry after coming through their opening match-ups at the 2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – taking place inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal – to set up a tantalising second round encounter.
Winners of the 2012 and 2010 iterations of the iconic PSA World Series tournament respectively, the 36 and 33-year-old Yorkshiremen have met 34 times previously on the professional circuit and both looked on form as they dispatched Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Scotland’s Alan Clyne to start their title-bids in impressive fashion.
Matthew admitted this week that he is looking to keep his body in shape until the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, after which he may well look to combine media work with his coaching academy at Hallamshire in Sheffield.
Willstrop, meanwhile, has theatrical ambitions and has appeared in several local productions on stage in Yorkshire in the past year.
Perhaps this latest encounter would be worthy of being staged on Broadway. The back story to the script is certainly a compelling story of contrasting characters shadowing each other throughout their careers, sharing the same ambitions and aiming for the same career targets.
For one glorious spell, Willstrop enjoyed several months as world number one while Matthew was world champion. If only squash had broken through the Olympic barrier, those two would have been have favourites for gold and silver during the 2012 Games in London.
For now, they are sharing centre stage in one of the sport’s most glamorous venues, the Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, off 42nd Street in New York.
Matthew was pleased to win through after losing the first game to Scottish number one Clyne. He said: “Alan played incredibly well today and in the early stages I struggled to match him physically and mentally.
“He really woke me up and shook off any cobwebs from the Christmas break so I’m happy to come through, but there’s plenty to work on for the next match against James.”
Elder statesman Matthew has dominated the head-to-head with Willstrop, winning their past 19 consecutive matches, including the final of last December’s British Grand Prix. But having watched Willstrop complete an impressive 3-0 win over former World No.4 Rodriguez he knows he will have to be on form to keep his streak alive in what is a rare early-tournament meeting between the duo.
“You have to focus on what you’re doing out there but it is great to see James back in form,” he added.
“We played in the final of the British Grand Prix before Christmas and we’re used to playing in semis and finals of big tournaments, so to meet in a second round match will be something new.
“There won’t be four of five matches in our legs and we both have a day off tomorrow, so we will be fresh. He’s playing well and he’s hungry for that win, so it’s going to be tough.”
World Champion Karim Abdel Gawad, the 25-year-old vying for his first Tournament of Champions crown, also came through his opening encounter but was made to work hard by compatriot Zahed Mohamed, who also took him to the brink during last year’s Qatar Classic.
Mohamed stunned the in-from Gawad in the opening game as he game from multiple game balls down to take it against the run of play but Gawad showed the traits that have seen him rocket up the rankings over the past six months as he came back to take the match 10-12, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7.
“We’ve played each other since we were kids and we’ve always had tough matches so I knew it wouldn’t be easy today,” said Gawad.
“I’ve been working very hard since May to move up the rankings. To be seeded number two brings a lot of tough mental challenges, and you have to be very consistent, but these are the things you have to deal with if you want to be number one.”
Gawad will face Australian number one Cameron Pilley in the second after the 34-year-old beat German Raphael Kandra 3-0.
2017 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions:
Results – First Round (Bottom Half):
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [Q] Alan Clyne (SCO) 3-1: 6-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 (58m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) 3-0: 12-10, 11-8, 12-10 (53m)
[Q] Paul Coll (NZL) bt Chris Simpson (ENG) 3-1: 4-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-6 (64m)
 Ali Farag (EGY) bt [Q] Tsz Fung Yip (HKG) 3-2: 11-13, 11-6, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6 (54m)
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt [Q] Nafiizwan Adnan (MAS) 3-2: 2-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-7 (76m)
[Q] Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Saurav Ghosal (IND) 3-0: 11-6, 11-8, 13-11 (47m)
Cameron Pilley (AUS) bt [Q] Raphael Kandra (GER) 3-0: 11-8, 11-6, 11-6 (55m)
 Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY) bt Zahed Mohamed (EGY) 3-1: 10-12, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7 (58m)
Draw – Second Round
 Mohamed ElShorbagy (EGY) v Ryan Cuskelly (AUS)
Stephen Coppinger (RSA) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Omar Mosaad (EGY) v Tarek Momen (EGY)
Fares Dessouky (EGY) v  Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) v James Willstrop (ENG)
[Q] Paul Coll (NZL) v  Ali Farag (EGY)
 Simon Rösner (GER) v [Q] Nicolas Mueller (SUI)
Cameron Pilley (AUS) v  Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA