Monday, December 4, 2023

English aces on collision course at Canary Wharf

Willstrop looks immaculate as he tames tired Selby
By JOEL DURSTON – Squash Mad Reporter at the East Wintergarden

Miguel Rodriguez is the only non-Englishman in the semi-finals
Miguel Rodriguez is the only non-Englishman in the semi-finals

English rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop are on course to resume their long-running and fractious rivalry.

They are now just one match away from meeting in the final of the Canary Wharf Classic following comfortable victories in the quarter-finals of this sell-out PSA International 50 event.

Both players won in straight games to set up semi-final clashes with Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Peter Barker, each of whom had to endure physically demanding encounters before a packed crowd at the East Wintergarden.

Matthew has won 16 straight PSA matches against Willstrop, including a Canary Wharf final in 2012 (3-0) and an epic semi-final in 2010, which lasted more than two hours.nickomar

Both players looked sharp last night. Neither has dropped a game this week, with Willstrop looking in imperious form while Matthew admitted being a little frustrated after surrendering a massive lead in the third game of his battle with giant Egyptian Omar Mosaad.

Matthew (right) survived a late fightback from the 6ft 4in Mosaad, who recovered from 8-2 down to draw level at 8-8, before the world champion from Sheffield closed out the match.

Matthew revealed: “He picked off one of my serves (at 8-2 in the third) and it wasn’t that bad a serve. He went for it and started flying it in, and when you play like that the margins are tight. But he tinned a couple at 8-8, and that’s what happens when you go for it.

“So I’m pleased to get through, but a little bit annoyed with myself because when you get to my age you should be better from 8-2. You shouldn’t allow that to happen. You’ve got to be hard on yourself and that’s something I need to improve on for tomorrow.”

Willstrop made light work of Daryl Selby, who was clearly far from 100 per cent, beating the world No.10 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 in just 30 minutes.

Selby has recorded only one PSA win against Willstrop, 3-2 in the Qatar Classic last year, and in truth the Essex man never looked like he was going to add to that tally here.

jamesAsked if Selby was feeling the effects of his prolonged encounter the previous day with Jonathan Kemp, Willstrop (left) said: “I would have thought so. Obviously his movement was slower and I know, and I’m sure he knows and the crowd knows, that that’s not Daryl at his best.

“It was tough on him last night. Jonathan played really well, made him move very fast. But I suppose that’s what squash tournaments are about; you have to keep backing up performances from day to day.

“But credit to him, he put a big effort in in the third here and that just shows what he’s like, and why he wins crucial matches. He’s one of England’s World Team champions and he’s a very, very tough competitor.”

Willstrop’s line-and-length game was almost flawless as he produced the kind of measured control that took him to the pinnacle of the world rankings two years ago.

Selby mounted some resistance in the third game, with a couple of impressive smash nicks and, at 5-2 to Willstrop, one backhand cross-court flick from the back of the court which landed in the nick and had even Willstop looking to him in astonishment.

But, from 7-5, Willstrop pulled away to clinch victory with a shot so tight that Selby could not scrape it off the side wall. It was a fitting snapshot of the match.

Lively Colombian Rodriguez overcame stiff resistance from his friend and training partner, Hong Kong qualifier Max Lee, to win 3-1 and set up a repeat of last year’s first round match with Matthew.

Rodriguez, nicknamed the ‘Superman of squash’ for his outrageous full-length dives, trailed 7-1 in the fourth game, but recovered to beat the player who sprang the upset of the tournament in removing former world number one Karim Darwish 3-0 in the first round.

“I want to congratulate Max for one of the greatest victories of his career,” Rodriguez said. “It was very tough for me today, mentally and physically”.

Not least because, as Rodriguez admitted, Lee knows all of his shots since they train together in Orlando with former world champion David Palmer.

Lee looked odds-on to take the match to five as he built a significant lead, but Rodriguez drew level and won the match by smashing the ball straight at Lee down the middle of the court and the Hong Kong man’s attempt to play a shot between his legs failed to come off.

World No.9 Barker will face England team-mate Willstrop after what, at times, seemed like two personal duels for him – one against Simon Rosner and the other against the officials.

Barker, on what is basically home turf for the Shenfield player, fought back from a game down to beat the German “Tree Chopper” 8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 13-11, but not before many calls and tense verbal exchanges with the referee, some involving world No.11 Rosner as well.

barkercw14At the moment of victory, Barker (left) celebrated with an emotional fist-pump against the front wall.

He claimed he did not get the rub of the green from the referees until the final few points, when a couple of “50-50” calls were given in his favour.

He said: “The refs don’t get paid enough and I certainly gave them a run for their money tonight.

“I lost to Simon last time we played and I probably didn’t pay him the respect he deserves. I sort of did today … believe it or not.

“It was a really, really tough match. I don’t think I played as well as I did yesterday, but hopefully I showed a few different qualities. It wasn’t a vintage performance today, but I’ll hopefully play a little better tomorrow.”

Judging by the form of Willstrop, who beat him in last year’s final, Barker will need to.

Canary Wharf Classic, East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London, England.

(1) Nick Matthew (Eng) bt (7) Omar Mosaad (Egy) 11-5, 11-9, 11-8 (46 min)
(8) Miguel Rodriguez (Col) bt (Q) Max Lee (HK) 11-9, 7-11, 11-6, 12-10 (68 min)
(3) Peter Barker (Eng) bt (6) Simon Rosner (Ger) 8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 13-11 (78 min)
(2) James Willstrop (Eng) bt (5) Daryl Selby (Eng) 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 (30 min)

Matthew v Rodriguez
Willstrop v Barker

Picture by Patrick Lauson and Steve Line (


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