Squash: World No1 James Willstrop books semi-final spot
British No1 James Willstrop is on course for the World Series title despite defeat by Azlan Iskander, reports Elise Chamberlain
Despite group stage victories leaving some as predetermined winners, the eight elite World Series Final players put on a show-stopping night of squash for spectators gathered at London’s Queens Club on Friday night.
Day three of the World Series Final began with world No1 James Willstrop taking on Azlan Iskander of Malaysia, who had nothing to lose after two defeats this week and came out firing as he brought Willstrop’s 17-match unbeaten run to an end.
Willstrop, the 6ft4in new champion of squash, started strongly, dominating the T and sending Iskander hurtling across the court in a bid to keep up. However, Willstrop later admitted that he took his foot off the gas and Iskander surged back to win the first set.
Despite Willstrop racing away with the second with ease, Iskander’s determination and killer volleys saw him bring an end to the 28-year-old’s unbeaten record with an 11-6, 6-11, 11-9 victory.
The British No1’s dramatic loss was followed by a real battle between Egypt’s Karim Darwish and Mohamed El Shorbagy.
Though slightly scrappy with a lot of let calls, the two Egyptians produced an entertaining display. El Shorbagy, a promising 20-year-old Egyptian who is already turning heads in the world of squash, allowed his temper to get the better of him as he lost and played too many rash shots leading to Darwish’s 11-9, 11-9 victory.
The sweat on-court and the excitement off-court continued to rise. England’s Peter Barker was next to feature at the finals as the 28-year-old faced Dutch golden boy LJ Anjema. And the two left-handers wowed the crowd with an exceedingly close and competitive match that could have gone either way.
Taking it in turns to control the T, Anjema was right on Barker’s toes in the first which he won 11/8, a pattern which was reversed in the second with Anjema winning 11/9.
Despite Barker’s later claims that he played some “poor squash” the London-based world No7, who had the backing of the local crowd at Queen’s club, went on to victory in the third beating Anjema 11-9.
The night came to an end with somewhat of an exhibition match between graceful Frenchman Greg Gaultier and Egypt’s Amr Shabana.
Both already through to Saturday’s semi final, they played a competitive game filled with trick-shots in the opening exchanges. Gaultier, who played magnificently, was in form and completely at ease on court, taking the first set 11-7 without breaking sweat.
The second which finished 11-4 to the Frenchman petered out somewhat disappointingly with Shabana resigned to Gaultier’s inevitable victory and both players appearing to turn their attentions to their respective last four ties.
A Willstrop-Gaultier final is widely predicted but with little to separate the remaining competitors, it remains to be seen who will go through to the tournament’s final and take the World Series title.