Monday, December 4, 2023

Canary Wharf: Barker’s joy followed by Gaultier’s misery

Peter Barker has been following James Willstrop for years, looking for his first victory. It came tonight at Canary Wharf. Picture by Steve Cubbins (

East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London

(4) Peter Barker (England) beat (2) James Willstrop (England)  14-16, 11-1, 11-7, 11-8 (77 mins)

(1) Nick Matthew (England) beat (3) Gregory Gaultier (France) 8-11, 11-5 retired (31 mins)


World No.7 Peter Barker finally broke his long losing run against England team-mate James Willstrop to reach the final of the ISS Canary Wharf Classic against world champion Nick Matthew.

Top seed Matthew received a walk-over into the final when his opponent Gregory Gaultier quit through illness with the score at one game each.

Matthew admitted he felt deflated at winning in such an unfortunate fashion, but No.4 seed Barker was delighted to break his duck in front of a full-house crowd at the spectacular East Wintergarden venue.

The 27-year-old Londoner had lost to No.2 seed Willstrop on every occasion they had played throughout their junior and professional careers, so achieving a maiden victory in front of his home crowd tasted even sweeter.

Barker said: “I had a game plan tonight, but I have had a game plan against James since the age of ten and I’m very pleased that it finally paid off, 17 years later.”

As his mother cried tears of joy in the front row, Barker showed his respect for his opponent by saying: “I have played James for years, ever since our junior days, and never beaten him, so tonight is very special, especially as it’s here in London, and at such a wonderful venue with a sell-out crowd every night.

“James is not only a great squash player but a great guy and I knew it would require a massive effort to beat him.”

Barker revealed that he will now have to cancel plans to travel to France with his fiancee to celebrate his future mother-in-law’s 60th birthday.

He added: “It’s a shame to miss out on a lovely trip to Paris but I hope my girlfriend appreciates the fact that I have to go back to work tomorrow.”

Barker was apologetic after breaking his racket on his leg after a momentous tiebreak at the end of the first game. “That was a mixture of adrenalin and stupidity,” he said.

“I felt I should have won that first game and I had to quickly refocus for the second.”

Barker came out for the second with all guns blazing, and powered through 11-1 as Willstrop, a three-time Canary Wharf champion, began to look jaded.

The 6ft 4in Yorkshireman responded positively to lead 7-5 in the third game, but Barker hit back to win six points in a row to win it 11-7.

From 3-3 in the fourth game, Barker pushed ahead to 8-5. Again Willstrop fought back to level at 8-8, but the effort took its toll and Barker reeled off the final three points, with Willstrop conceding defeat with a weak shot down the middle of the court to concede a penalty point.

No.3 seed Gaultier was taken to hospital for a check-up after retiring against Matthew with a mystery virus.

Astonishingly, he had begun the match in superb style, moving ahead from 5-5 to win the opening game 11-5.

However, at 4-4 in the second game he seemed to be in obvious distress as Matthew took control and picked up a string of points in quick succession to win it 11-5.

Gaultier complained of feeling faint at courtside between games and, after being treated by a doctor and paramedics, he was taken to hospital for checks.

Matthew said: “Nobody likes to win a match like that. Apparently Greg was up all night feeling unwell so I find it amazing that he started the match playing such great squash. He made me look very average at times.

“At the moment I can’t begin to think about the final because my thoughts are with Greg. I just hope he’s OK.”

The unlucky Gaultier had only recently returned to the PSA World Tour after suffering a hamstring injury in the World Open in Saudi Arabia in December.

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