Sunday, March 3, 2024

Squash rally goes viral as Kiwi Paul Coll dives around the court

Paul Coll does the splits against James Willstrop
Paul Coll does the splits against James Willstrop

New internet sensation after Kiwi Coll’s Canary Wharf dives
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor


New Zealand’s Paul Coll has become an internet sensation after an astonishing rally where he dived three times against former world number one James Willstrop in the Canary Wharf Classic.

Willstrop was so astonished by Coll’s retrievals that he ended up hitting the ball in the tin. The video clip, released by the PSA’s live streaming channel Squash TV, has been broadcast all over the world by several major TV networks and major sports websites, with an estimated 10 million hits in 48 hours.

Willstrop’s reaction to Coll’s diving was one of sheer disbelief. He points to the parts of the court where Coll dived to keep the ball in play and lets go of his racket as the crowd go mental.

This was pure theatre. In hindsight, Willstrop, a great lover of drama, will have appreciated the delicious, unscripted genius of his opponent. Coll certainly deserved the thunderous curtain call at the end of the match.

Willstrop, a four-times champion of the Canary Wharf Classic, was a very relieved man after withstanding a ferocious onslaught from Kiwi Coll. The 22-year-old, based in Amsterdam, is one of the fittest and fastest players the game has ever seen.

Willstrop, a giant of an athlete at 6ft 4in tall, weathered the storm to win 14-12, 12-10, 11-8 as both players served up spectacular entertainment in front of a sell-out crowd at the East Wintergarden venue.

Willstrop, the number five seed this year, repeatedly found his best shots coming back as Coll raced around the court, with the first game alone lasting 26 minutes.

The New Zealander, ranked 41 in the world, came desperately close in the first two games but the 33-year-old Englishman used his vast experience to contain his opponent and win the vital points when it mattered.

Willstrop had more of a cushion in the third thanks to tight and disciplined shot selection, and he joined the applause as the audience gave Coll a huge ovation at the end of the match.

He said: “I know it sounds like a tired cliché, but that match clearly illustrated that there are no easy matches in the first round of any tournament.

“You can play anyone inside the top 50 and it’s brutal squash – he pushed me very hard. I didn’t know how I was going to get the ball to slow down and even when I did he was still getting everything. He had some excellent retrieving and I think we will all be seeing more of him in future.

“He just doesn’t stop running. Squash wise, I thought I could move him around, but I tried to break him down and I just couldn’t – except at the very end.”

“When this sport is played at the highest level, and audiences like this are clearly enthralled by what they see on court, then you have to wonder why we are not on prime time TV or in the Olympics. I would really like to know the answers to those two questions.

“Paul is an amazing player and I am delighted to be off the court in three games and into the quarter-finals.”

Paul Coll at full stretch
Paul Coll at full stretch

Willstrop now faces another phenomenal athlete in Mathieu Castagnet. The French national champion became an internet sensation after an astonishing dive and retrieval against Willstrop’s England doubles partner, Daryl Selby, during last week’s Windy City Open in Chicago.

Castagnet overcame talented qualifier Joe Lee, the world No. 62 from Weybridge, and made similarly complimentary remarks to Willstrop’s about the depth of the talent pool in squash right now.

Number two seed Simon Rosner, from Germany, meets Australian Cameron Pilley after the two big hitters achieved a clean sweep of straight-games victories over qualifiers Charles Sharpes (England) and Mohamed Reda (Egypt).

Pilley, who is based in The Hague, is a regular training partner of Coll and lost to the Kiwi in the final of last year’s Australian Open.

He said: “The way he played against James was no surprise to me at all. He plays just like that in training every time we get on court. It’s full on, non-stop aggression at a ridiculous pace.”

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PSA M70 Canary Wharf Squash Classic, East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London.

First Round:
(6) Cameron Pilley (Aus) bt (Q) Mohamed Reda (Egy) 11-8, 11-6, 11-6 (51 mins)
(2) Simon Rosner (Ger) bt (Q) Charles Sharpes (Eng) 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 (32 mins)
(3) Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) bt (Q) Joe Lee (Eng) 11-5, 11-8, 11-5 (48 mins)
(5) James Willstrop (Eng) bt Paul Coll (NZ) 14-12, 12-10, 11-8 (58 mins)
(1) Omar Mosaad (Egy) v (7) Daryl Selby (Eng)
(8) Borja Golan (Spain) v Fares Dessouki (Egy)
(3) Mathieu Castagnet (Fra) v (5) James Willstrop (Eng)
(6) Cameron Pilley (Aus) v (2) Simon Rosner (Ger) 

Pictures by STEVE LINE ( and STEVE CUBBINS (


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