Saturday, June 22, 2024

Nick and James set up Thrillerdelphia shoot-out

One of the most celebrated rivalries in world squash will be re-enacted in Philadelphia where Englishmen James Willstrop and Nick Matthew go head on for a place in the final of theDelaware Investments U.S. Open at Drexel University.

The two PSA stalwarts and England team-mates, who live within 60 miles of each other in the English county of Yorkshire, will be marking their 31st Tour meeting since June 2001 – but their first for more than a year.

And Willstrop, the world No3 from Harrogate, will be looking for his first win over Matthew since beating the world No4 in his home city of Sheffield in December 2007.

Second seed Willstrop was in sparkling form against Simon Rosner – the world No12 from Germany against whom he boasted a 4/0 career head-to-head Tour record.

Willstrop (pictured above in US Open action with Rosner) went up 6-1 then 8-2 in the first, before taking it 11-5. From 4-2 in the second, the 30-year-old Englishman eased away again, taking seven points in a row for 11-2. The trend continued up to 6-2 in the third as the finishing post looked in sight.

But Rosner fought back to six-all, forcing the first errors from Willstrop’s racket and celebrating some long-awaited winners.

Much to the delight of the packed crowd, the unseeded 25-year-old from Paderborn took the game – his first against Willstrop in five matches!

But Willstrop restored order in the fourth to move 6-2 ahead. Rosner dug deep to get back to 6-9, then to nine-all as the crowd sensed an unlikely decider.

But it was not to be: two points later and Willstrop was in his fifth successive US Open semi-final after an 11-5, 11-2, 8-11, 11-9 victory in 59 minutes.

“It’s not easy to put three games of that quality together in a row,” admitted Willstrop. “If you can, it would be pretty magical, but I was pleased to be able to do it for the first two games.

“It’s tough, especially when you get blamed all the time,” said Willstrop, in reference to the several warnings he’d received from the central referee about clearing his shots better. “We’re both big guys and I certainly don’t think I was entirely to blame. I see it happening in other matches without them being warned, but maybe it is me, maybe I need to find a way to solve it.

“Anyway, I’m happy I managed to find a way to close out the win and it should be a good all-English match tomorrow, whoever I play.”

Third seed Matthew faced London left-hander Peter Barker, the sixth seed against whom he boasted a pre-match 20/2 record. But Matthew’s second loss was in the pair’s most recent encounter, at the Canary Wharf Classic in March in Barker’s home city.

Matthew (pictured above in US Open action with Barker) was in charge in the first two games, controlling the rallies with precise volleys, punching the ball deep into the corners.

Barker was more aggressive from the start of the third, however, firing in a couple of spectacular volley kills as he opened up a 5-1 lead. Matthew reduced the gap to 3-5 and 6-7, but the determined world No7 stayed ahead until Matthew levelled at eight-all.

Barker then saved two match-balls before converting his second game-ball to take the match into a fourth game.

2007 champion Matthew regrouped, took a quick 6-2 lead before closing out the match 11-5, 11-4, 12-14, 11-6 after 76 minutes to secure his fourth successive semi-final appearance in the event.

“I saw how the last match went, with James cruising at 6-2 in the third,” said Matthew. “So I was on my guard against that happening to me but he played really well at the start of the third and suddenly I was 5-1 down and he was becoming confident.

“It got a bit scrappy and bitty after that, a lot of lets and bumps, but I just had to tough it out and I’m pleased how I was able to do that.”

Quarter-finals (lower half of draw):
[3] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-5, 11-4, 12-14, 11-6 (76m)
[2] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Simon Rosner (GER) 11-5, 11-2, 8-11, 11-9 (59m)

Semi-final line-up:
[1] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [4] Karim Darwish (EGY)
[2] James Willstrop (ENG) v [3] Nick Matthew (ENG)

Official website:

US Open images courtesy of


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