Big rivals in top form ahead of another all-English showdown at the East Wintergarden
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Chief Editor at the East Wintergarden
Top seeds Nick Matthew and James Willstrop resume their intense rivalry in what promises to be an epic battle in the final of the Canary Wharf Classic.
Both swept aside their semi-final rivals in straight games, meaning that both players have reached the final without dropping a game all week.
Willstrop almost slipped up in the first game against England team-mate Peter Barker as his opponent drew level from 10-8 down, but the number two seed recovered to win 12-10.
The second game was actually longer, although the 11-2 scoreline reflected the number of errors from Barker as he attempted to bring massive rallies to a conclusion with ambitious shots that frequently clipped the edge of the tin.
Barker led 4-2 in the third and his fans in a sell-out crowd at the East Wintergarden were willing him to make an impact on the match, but Willstrop strung five points together with some devastating drop shots on both sides of the court to regain the ascendancy.
He lost in the final to Matthew two years ago and the two great Yorkshire rivals produced one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport when they contested a two-hour semi-final battle in 2010 that ended with Willstrop lying in a heap in the back left corner after an attack of cramp.
Last night Matthew was on and off court quickly as he saw off the challenge of acrobatic Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez, winning 11-4, 11-2, 11-3 in just 39 minutes.
The 33-year-old world champion knew he had to be mobile around the front of the court to combat the Colombian’s trickery, and his fast-paced attacking game prevented his opponent from building any momentum.
Rodriguez played several astonishing shots between his legs but Matthew was finding all the corners of the court as he dominated proceedings throughout the match.
He said: “It’s nice to know that people think I’m speeding up as I get older, so these days it can sometimes be a relief to lose early in a tournament so that you can give your body a rest and prepare for the next tournament.
“That happened when I lost in the quarter-finals in New York and then won the Swedish Open and the British Nationals. You don’t always have much time to prepare between events.
“I have felt good on court this week and I was pleased to contain Miguel to just the one dive tonight when I was on match ball.”
Willstrop said: “Naturally, another Canary Wharf final is such an exciting prospect. I love the big occasion – playing Nick in a big final is a good thing to look forward to.”
And asked on if he could make it his first win against Matthew since the 2007 English Open, he added: “I don’t know.
“In squash you get these little trends. Nick’s got a massive win ratio over me at the moment.
“These things just happen. A lot of people outside put a negative spin on it, but I’m certainly not negative about it. Nick’s in the form of the life, he’s the man to beat.
“So I’ll continue to do my best and keep believing that I can get back to number one and win titles.
“You shouldn’t have pressure on it. People can talk about it, but those trends happen in sport, so you have to keep going and hopefully put them to an end.”
It’s an almighty ask given the way Matthew is playing. After his victory, Matthew apologised to the crowd for not having all of his Colombian opponent’s exciting “flicks and tricks”.
But he is doing himself a big disservice, because he beat Rodriguez with some fast and furious squash, which kept the crowd entertained and, as he says, each player has to play his own game.
He said: “It went well for me up until 10-7 in the third. I seemed to be in control but you can never be in control for all of the match.
“I said to Neil (Guirey) after the second game he’s going to have a patch here, but fortunately it came at 10-6, and I think when you subdue him to one dive in the match, you’ve done pretty well.”
And, asked on his increasing speed, he joked: “well, it’s not difficult to get a bit faster when you’re as slow as I am!”
“But I pale in comparison to players like Miguel and Saurav (Ghosal), so I try to make the ball do the work.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOEL DURSTON
Canary Wharf Classic, East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London, England.
(1) Nick Matthew (Eng) bt (8) Miguel Rodriguez (Col) 11-4, 11-2, 11-9 (39 min)
(2) James Willstrop (Eng) bt (3) Peter Barker (Eng) 12-10, 11-2, 11-7 (50 min)
Picture by Patrick Lauson