Canary Wharf Classic: Matthew secures third successive title

Nick Matthew beats world No1 James Willstrop 11-7, 11-8, 11-9 to win his third consecutive Canary Wharf Classic title

By Oliver Porritt

Double world champion Nick Matthew took his third consecutive Canary Wharf Classic title to extend his winning streak over arch rival and world number one James Willstrop on Friday night.

Top seed Matthew beat Willstrop 11-7, 11-8, 11-9 after 78 minutes of pulsating squash in London’s premier annual event to take his run of victories against fellow Yorkshiremen to 20, dating back to 2007.

Matthew, 31, only returned to action in January after a two-month lay-off, which saw him lose his world number one ranking to Willstrop, though he was back to his predatory best this week.

World number three Matthew was delighted with the win but mindful that both players were feeling the effects of some tough matches leading up to the final.

“We had both had more time on court in the build-up to the final than ideally we would have wanted so we were both a bit heavy-legged moving onto the ball but I thought it was a good match apart from that,” he said.

“We both wanted to play but we are two big guys trying to dominate a small space and I don’t think it was one of our classics so I apologise to the crowd for the number of lets and the stop-start nature of the game.”

The Sheffield player topped the world rankings for the whole of 2011 and knows he is approaching the twilight of his career in such a physically exacting sport but he still thrives on playing the big tournaments.

“I’m 32 this summer and I’ve got to accept now that I’m not going to be as hungry as others but I’ve no problem getting up for a final like that and these matches are a pleasure to play in front of such a crowd in such of a venue,” he added.

Willstrop, 28 and the second seed, went point for point with Matthew in the early stages of the first game, but could not respond after going 8-6 down after a brutal rally that proved a crucial turning point.

As he often does, Matthew sensed an opening and increased the pace to suffocate Willstrop’s attacking intentions before closing out the first game 11-7.

Now full of confidence, Matthew prevented Willstrop settling into a rhythm and raced out into a 5-1 lead before the world number one managed to slow the tempo down to reduce the arrears to 5-4.

Willstrop continued to keep in touch but, after another ferocious rally that saw both players retrieving what looked to be certain winners, Matthew went 9-6 up before clinching the second 11-8.

At 2-0 down it was going to require an exceptional effort from Willstrop to get back on terms and the two five-set matches he played earlier in the week were always going to take their toll.

The third game saw Willstrop, a three-time winner of this event, fight for everything to find himself serving at 9-9.

Excellent width from Matthew gave him a match ball which he took at the first opportunity with a stroke to claim his hat-trick of Canary Wharf crowns.

Willstrop may have failed to end his losing streak but he remained upbeat about his achievements this week.

“I remain very positive and think my game’s been great over the last few days here,” said Willstrop.

“People talk about the losing run and that’s natural but in all honesty I am just thinking about how I’m playing.

“The two of us are putting together some really intense, tough, tight accurate squash and as long as I’m playing to that level I just have to keep nagging away at Nick.

“All credit to him, he puts it together against me and makes it very difficult for me to win more games than he does.”

Despite losing here the Leeds player was glad to be told he will remain world number one in the April rankings.

“As long as on the last day of each month I can keep opening champagne and celebrating that’s good,” he added.

“When Nick took it off me in February after only having it for a month it was a real boost.

“So getting it back after winning the North American Open was like Christmas again and I want to keep enjoying staying at one.”

The two Yorkshiremen will resume their fight to top the world rankings at the El Gouna International, Egypt on March 5, but Willstrop’s points advantage could see him stay at number one for the next two or three months.


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