Sunday, April 14, 2024

Battling Borja buries Willstrop


BORJABORJA GOLAN showed shattered James Willstrop no mercy as he stormed into his first World Series final where he’ll face world champ Nick Matthew,  primed to return as World No.1 if he lifts the Hong Kong Open crown.

Spanish number one Golan pounced on the tired frame of Willstrop who was a shadow of the player who went toe to toe for for over two hours with Mohamed Elshorbagy less than 24 hours earlier.

The Englishman had clearly not recovered, failed to read Golan’s boasts and drops, and was never really at the races.  The Spaniard dominated the first two games and only in the third did Willstrop threaten to extend the match.

“James had a tough game yesterday,” said a delighted Borja, “he was on court for two hours where I had a much easier time, and I think that was probably the difference today.

“I think James’ game with Mohamed was one of the factors. James was struggling a bit with his movement and I knew that I had to play an attacking game to the front. I thought if I played to the back that I might lose that match so I had to be risky and go to the front and it worked so I am really happy with that.”

Matthew, meanwhile, came through another five-game epic to end the challenge of World number two Gregory Gaultier, who knew he’d take over top spot on January 1st if he made tomorrow’s final.

But Matthew’s confidence and fitness is is running high following his World Championship final victory over Gaultier in Manchester two months ago.

“It’s always as much a mental battle as physical,” admitted Matthew afterwards. “There’s a balance to find between being aggressive and accurate, and I was able to find the right level most of the time.

Predictably, it was a tough and tight opening game with rarely more than a point between them. Matthew had one chance at 10-9 but it was the Frenchman who battled hard to take the lead 13-11.

Gaultier was unable to maintain that intensity though, as Matthew dominate the next two games, taking them 11-4, 11-4 to take the lead. Gaultier’s mood wasn’t helped by frequent slips and the odd spill, increasing his frustration.


His intensity was back in the fourth though, as he surged ahead from four-all, winning a fantastic rally at 7-5 which saw him on the floor more than once but still determinedly winning the point, and going on to level the match 11-8.

It was all Matthew in the decider though, as Gaultier’s level seemed to flatten again. At 7-3 it was Matthew’s turn to perform retrieving miracles to win the point, and that spelled the end, Gaultier tamely tinning at match ball as Matthew advanced to the final, his first since 2004.

A delighted Yorkshireman added: “I’m feeling good, the physios really helped me recover from a tough match against Shabana last night with not much time to recover.

“I’m so excited to be playing here, it was moved due to the weather last year, and last time I was in the Hong Kong final it was still black and white TV!”

Semi-final Results:

[4] Nick Matthew (Eng) 3-2 [2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra) 11-13, 11-4, 11-4, 8-11, 11-3

[7] Borja Golan (Esp) 3-0 [3] James Willstrop (Eng) 11-6, 11-3, 11-9

For a comprehensive round-up of all the previous rounds at the Hong Kong Open, click here.

Pictures by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite)

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