Canary Wharf Squash Classic: Matthew to face Willstrop in final

Nick Matthew and James Willstrop will renew their long-running rivalry in the Canary Wharf Squash Classic final

By Joel Durston at Canary Wharf
james willstrop
James Willstrop will face Nick Matthew in the final Photo: Marianne Bevis

Nick Matthew and James Willstrop will renew their long-running rivalry in the Canary Wharf final after they both made fairly light work of tricky semi-final opposition.

Matthew produced some solid squash to see off the extravagant Miguel Angel Rodriguez 11-4, 11-2, 11-9, and Willstrop fought off a strong early showing from Pete Barker to win 12-10, 11-2, 11-7.

The pair are both in fine form, neither having dropped on their route to the final, so tomorrow’s final promises some fireworks.

Matthew’s recent success has been well documented, having won the Hong Kong Open, Swedish Open and the World Championship in Manchester – all of which contributed to him being awarded, here on Tuesday, the PSA Player of the Year, voted for by the players themselves for the first time.

But Willstrop, as he said on Thursday, is pleased with how he is playing; just struggling to match the superlative levels of Matthew, Gregory Gaultier, Ramy Ashour and Mohamed Elshorbagy.

Willstrop will be out for revenge as Matthew has got the better of the pair’s rivalry of late, having won 16 straight PSA matches, including a Canary Wharf final and semi-final

He had the tougher semi-final of the two, against World No. 9 Peter Barker.

Willstrop took a 6-3 lead in the first on the back of rock-solid line and length game and, when Barker was stretched, squeezes and some of his trademark drops – but Barker pegged him back to 8-8.

The tension here showed in three long rallies which ended in three lets to Barker – the third a tight call which the Essex player reviewed but the video ref upheld.

I love the big occasion – playing Nick in a big final is a good thing to look forward

James Willstrop

The next rally, pivotal in the match in retrospect, was the match’s best. The momentum swung from player to player until Willstrop penned Barker into his backhand side (Barker is left-handed) and looked to have the shut-out to the opposite corner.

Willstrop’s was a good drive there but Barker raced to it and dug out a seemingly impossible boast. He couldn’t, however, retrieve Willstrop’s drop shot. Willstrop took the next point too and, though Barker saved two matchpoints, Willstrop took the game 12-10.

Perhaps fatigued by his efforts, Barker could not replicate his form in the second game and Willstrop gained the control of the rallies, dictating the pace as he so often does and winning it 11-2.

Barker put up a stronger show in the third but Willstrop was too strong, as he has been all tournament.

“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,” he said.

And asked on if he could make it his first PSA 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.”

He certainly did that here.

In the first game, Rodriguez’s lengths were not good enough to move Matthew out of his comfort zone of dominating the game from the T and looking to intercept with volley.

Despite impressing with a few between-the-legs shots, Rodriguez could not make much impact on the first game, losing 11-4.

It was a similar story in the second, as Matthew was able to trap Rodriguez in corners and execute drops and squeezes that even Rodriguez, with all his pace, could not dig up.

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