Miguel Rodriguez and James Willstrop roll the back the years with a vintage classic to delight a packed East Wintergarden crowd
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Players from England and France filled 11 of the 16 slots in the first round of the GillenMarkets Canary Wharf Classic and each nation was rewarded with a phenomenal giant-killing performance, delivered by Nathan Lake and 2016 champion Mathieu Castagnet.
The two matches began and ended the evening session, with Castagnet (now ranked at 47) beating Malaysia’s world No.17 Eain Yow Ng in 66 minutes and Lake taking less than half that time to win in straight games against France’s world No.11 Gregoire Marche.
Castagnet had played only three PSA matches since losing on his 35th birthday to Spain’s Iker Pajares in the first round at Canary Wharf in November, and the length of the match illustrated Yow’s intent to wear down his opponent.
One brutally long rally in the middle of the third game had the crowd gasping, and you felt Castagnet must have been doing the same to pump some more oxygen into his lungs. However, the Frenchman stuck to his task to triumph 11-8, 3-11, 14-12 after a nailbiting tiebreak.
Left-hander Lake was making only his second main draw appearance on the glass court and looked totally at home as he fired in a succession of winners against Marche.
Both Castagnet and Lake enjoy a rest day today before meeting No.4 seed Diego Elias and No.2 seed Mostafa Asal tomorrow.
Afternoon session: Rodriguez dives through to second round
Miguel Rodriguez and four-times champion James Willstrop rolled back the years to entertain a packed East Wintergarden crowd who were left wanting more as the Colombian Cannonball squeezed through after two closely contested games.
Willstrop had the chances to win each one but a couple of tins at crucial moments in each game allowed Rodriguez to win 11-9, 12-10 in 33 minutes.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the obligatory Rodriguez dives and Willstrop tried his best to conjure up a few triple fakes in a contest that was far removed from a leisurely pace.
Willstrop was pleased that his body held up after withdrawing from the Optasia Championship last week and Rodriguez knows that he will need to be at his high-octane best in tomorrow’s second round tie against No.7 seed Fares Dessouky.
“It was fantastic, I enjoyed it a lot,” said Rodriguez. “I’m happy with my performance. He was playing very offensive.
“I was very tempted to go for shots but last week he was playing very well in the front so I had to keep him in the back. I had to dig deep in the first game and it was really big and I got more confident from there.
“I love to come to this tournament. I love the atmosphere and thank you all for coming.”
Before the tournament Willstrop said that “these are the moments you treasure”. And he echoed his opponent’s sentiments by adding: “I look around this venue and am amazed at the atmosphere here at Canary Wharf. Yes, some of the rallies were pretty brutal and we were both giving everything for ourselves and especially the fans.”
Super Sunday began with wild card Josh Masters threatening a shock result as he raced into a 6-0 lead against France’s Victor Crouin.
The US College Individual champion was making his first appearance at Canary Wharf and took a while to get into his stride. As he did so, Masters began to falter and from 8-2 up a flurry of tins allowed Crouin to draw level before taking the game 12-10.
The Harvard star maintained a solid lead throughout the second game and clinched it 11-2 to book a place in the second round against reigning champion Paul Coll, who is returning to Canary Wharf as the new world number one.
Crouin said: “At 6-0 down I just reminded myself that it was best of three and I need to wake up and start to produce some squash because he was out playing me in these first six points. I’m happy that I came back and won that first game, which was crucial.
“I felt at the end of the first game he started to rush to the front so I thought he was getting tired and I need to push through that first game and not worry about the result. To come out tough in the second game and winning the first was a bonus and just play my squash.
“It’s my first time here at Canary Wharf. It’s amazing to have the crowd so close to the court and today I felt that atmosphere. I’m really happy to play the World No.1 tomorrow, I’ve played him too many times recently. I haven’t been able to get a game off him yet but hopefully if I can get one I can get two or three more.”
Merseysider Patrick Rooney enjoyed his first experience of Canary Wharf, despite a nervous start against Egypt’s Mohamed El Sherbini, who was also making his East Wintergarden debut.
After a slow start Rooney settled into his rhythm and by using his trademark wingspan, took time away from the Egyptian and gained control of the T. He took the first game 11-8.
A confident start in the second game earned Rooney a 7-2 lead and he looked sure to storm through. But ElSherbini came back and with assistance from some Rooney errors, he got back to 10-9. But Rooney responded and forced an error from his opponent to book his place in the second round against Mazen Hesham.
Rooney said: “I was quite nervous. It’s the first time playing here, and it’s a tournament I’ve always watched. The crowd always looks good but those first four points I was shaking a lot, so once I got over that I started playing and once I did I played well. Glad that I could in the end!
“The backhand is one of my strong areas. Some go in and they’re winners and some go in the tin, which is usual for me. I had to really concentrate to get those up and this court takes a nice ball in short so that helped me today.
“Mazen is decent, isn’t he? I’ve never played him before and I like watching him. I’ll try and take the ball in before he does, to get in his head.”
When asked about his prospects in the World Doubles, Rooney added: “I‘ve been practising on a singles court for doubles. It’s good for developing skills, but I’m not the best at doubles really, but Camps (national coach David Campion) believes in me.”
In an all-England battle, Adrian Waller overcame George Parker 12-10, 11-9 in a fiercely contested encounter.
There was plenty of high-quality squash on display from both players and victory was all about the fine margins.
Waller, using his trademark hold to control the movement of his opponent, earned three game balls at 10-7. Parker managed to force a tiebreak but that wasn’t enough to deny Waller talking the game 12-10.
Another quality game followed as both players battled for the middle of the court. Parker, channelling his aggression into his shots, was testing the movement capabilities of his older opponent.
Waller managed to pull ahead at 10-9 and set himself up with a chance to take the match, which he took at the first time of asking to secure his place in the next round.
Waller revealed: “I know George well; we practice and train together. I knew what to expect. Neither of us really got more than two points ahead of each other at any stage. It became a match where neither of us let each other settle, best of three kind of does that to you as well. We don’t want to let the other player settle, and I just managed to find those important shots at the crucial times today.
“We were playing good squash, thinking each other out. It’s not always apparent with the subtleties. Both of us were asking each other a lot of questions. That made it more edgy, neither could really control the tactics, but it was a high-quality match overall.”
The original draw had Waller paired with Eain Yown Ng yet again! Waller said: “I played Yow here last time, and then Chicago in the summer, and again last week (at Wimbledon), and was supposed to be this week again. We had a laugh about it but it would have been nice to play him again to try and get the bragging rights.”
Looking ahead to the World Doubles and the Commonwealth Games, Waller added: “During the lockdown, we’ve been practising a lot of doubles preparing for the Commonwealths. We’ve been putting a lot of hours in with the England set-up and with our coaches. We’ve prepared the best we can, putting in more hours than even our singles because we get that time anyway with playing PSA still.
“We’re still putting in work now about combinations and tactics, and having good conversations about it as a team, there’s some good thinking going on there and we should be good to go in a few weeks up in Glasgow.”
Evening Session: Masotti accuses El Sirty of ‘making it an awful match’
There were two stunning seeding upsets in the evening session as late replacements Nathan Lake and Mathieu Castagnet overcame Gregoire Marche and Eain Yow Ng … and there was controversy after Baptiste Masotti won a physical encounter with Moustafa El Sirty.
World No.36 Lake put the finishing touches to an entertaining opening day by beating world No.11 Marche 11-9, 11-3 in 31 minutes, while Castagnet (ranked 47) survived a demanding challenge to beat world No.17 Yow 2-1 after 66 minutes.
Left-hander Lake built up a solid lead in the opening game and withstood a recovery from Marche to clinch it, and the second was far more one-sided as Lake attacked with purpose and panache with a succession of superb winners.
Lake said: “It’s great to play here. Tim (Garner) kindly gave me the wildcard here about five years ago and that’s really helped, just so I knew what to expect. I’m really pleased with that performance and especially the second game.”
He hit a succession of stunning winners from mid-court on the left hand side and Lake added: “The left-hand wall is a real advantage for me, with being a lefty. I really tried to keep it tight down there as much as I could and thankfully I did it well today.”
As for facing No.2 seed Mostafa Asal in the second round, Lake said: “He’s great for the game. Love him or hate him, people are talking about him so whatever your opinion I think he’s good for squash.
“I played Gregoire in January, I lost in a close 3-2. I think with these guys, I will have seen a lot more of them than they have of me so I try to go in with a blank canvas and think about what I was trying to do. I tried to stay as calm as I possibly could and I’m glad I could manage my head today.”
Castagnet, who meets No.4 seed Diego Elias on Tuesday, admitted he hadn’t looked too closely at the draw when he said: “I think I have a day off tomorrow. I will probably have an ice bath and stretch, and have a lot of protein, and try to relax and enjoy this win.
“The only thing I felt at the end, maybe the ref was stressed, he doesn’t want to give me a stroke.
“I was just thinking I am going to retire from the PSA World Tour soon and my biggest success has been here at the Canary Wharf Classic and my only thoughts were to keep going and play one more match because I will never be back playing here again.”
Nicolas Mueller continued the fine form he produced in the Optasia Championship at Wimbledon to beat Auguste Dussourd in three games, 11-1, 7-11, 11-3 in 31 minutes.
“I had a few very nice evenings at the office last week in Wimbledon. I played very well with some very good squash, the conditions this week are quite different, last week it was very cold and dead, here it’s pretty lively but I love the crowd here.
“Yeah it’s going to be interesting playing Marwan again, obviously in a different format in the best of three which changes things, but I’m ready to go.”
Asked about his lockdown in Switzerland, Mueller added: “It’s hard to say I liked the lockdown, but it was nice not travelling for a while. I took my road bike out and explored the Swiss Alps, which was painful at times but it certainly paid off for me.
“It was very uncertain for a long time and I was very keen when the doors opened again for international travel. I just love competing in front of a crowd it’s much more fun than competing in front of an empty stand.”
The atmosphere changed dramatically during a fiercely physical contest as Baptiste Masotti beat Moustafa El Sirty 14-12, 14-12 in 37 minutes of intense combat.
Sirty was twice warned by referee John Masarella for an over-physical approach and Masotti unleashed a verbal volley at his opponent after the match when he said: “I’m sorry guys, the match was awful, to be honest. He is playing well, but when he’s doing these kinds of things he will never be respected. You need to respect your opponent.
“I tried to play my best. I’m sorry for this awful match. I found a way to win, but I won’t have respect for him. He is a very good player but I can’t respect what he is doing on court.
“I am looking forward to playing Joel Makin in the second round because I know it won’t be a match like that.”
Masotti revealed a catalogue of upheaval since his debut appearance at Canary Wharf in November when he added: “I had an injury that put me out for six weeks in December. I’m struggling with my body at the moment. I had covid 10 days ago, I tried to get back in shape, and I changed my racket as well and some of my team.
“I’m very happy. My best friend and his wife are here, my coach and my new sponsor, so it’s great support for me. I still love playing in front of you guys – don’t drink too much.
“I was quite stressed on there, it’s difficult for me to be well on there and find my best game. I tried to push and focus, I have some moments in the game where my mind is gone so I try hard to maintain my focus. I’m sure on Tuesday my game will be a lot better.”
PSA $110,000 Men’s GillenMarkets Canary Wharf Classic, East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London,l England.
Victor Crouin (FRA) bt [WC] Joshua Masters (ENG) 2-0: 12-10, 11-2 (21m)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) bt Mohamed ElSherbini (EGY) 2-0: 11-8, 11-9 (29m)
Miguel Rodriguez (COL) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 2-0: 11-9, 12-10 (33m)
Adrian Waller (ENG) bt George Parker (ENG) 2-0: 12-10, 11-9 (35m)
Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 2-1: 11-8, 3-11, 14-12 (66m)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) bt Auguste Dussourd (FRA) 2-1: 11-1, 7-11, 11-3 (31m)
Baptiste Masotti (FRA) bt Moustafa El Sirty (EGY) 2-0: 14-12, 14-12 (37m)
Nathan Lake (ENG) bt Gregoire Marche (FRA) 2-0: 11-9, 11-3 (31m)
Round Two (Top Half, March 14):
 Paul Coll (NZL) v Victor Crouin (FRA)
Patrick Rooney (ENG) v  Mazen Hesham (EGY)
 Fares Dessouky (EGY) v Miguel Rodriguez (COL)
Adrian Waller (ENG) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
Round Two (Bottom Half, March 15):
 Diego Elias (PER) v Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
Nicolas Mueller (SUI) v  Marwan ElShorbagy (EGY)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Baptiste Masotti (FRA)
Nathan Lake (ENG) v  Mostafa Asal (EGY)
Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour, Steve Line (squashpics.com) and Patrick Lauson