Final proves a step too far for battling Willstrop

Pontefract Squash Club's James Willstrop
Pontefract Squash Club's James Willstrop

WORLD number one James Willstrop was in a reflective mood after losing out to world champion Nick Matthew in the Springfield Solutions British Grand Prix final on Monday evening.

The Pontefract Squash Club ace was top seed at Manchester’s National Squash Centre but lost out 3-1 to Matthew, who was appearing in his 50th Professional Squash Association (PSA) final.

Fatigue may have been a factor for the 29 year-old after a gruelling two-hour 3-2 victory over world number three Gregory Gaultier, from France, in the semi-finals.

But Willstrop showed no signs of tiredness in the early stages of the final, forcing Matthew into errors and leading 5-1, 8-2 and 9-4 before taking the first game 11-4.

Matthew settled down and put his opponent under pressure to take the second game 11-6 and many expected him to push on from there.

But Willstrop wasn’t finished there and he started the third strongly to open up a 6-2 advantage.

However, the world champion hit back, reducing the deficit to 8-7 before edging the crucial game 11-9.

Matthew continued to pull away in the fourth and although one match ball was saved at 10-5, Willstrop finally succumbed on the next.

After the final, Willstrop said: “It was a good quality match, we were both hitting the areas, and even if it maybe wasn’t our sharpest it was still a good, enjoyable match.

“It was level, and very tough, he managed to get through the crucial end of the third game better and that helped him push on in the fourth where I couldn’t quite get it together. There’s some stuff I could have done better, but he made it very difficult for me, all credit to him.

“It was a good week, great atmosphere, I really enjoyed it here, you just have to move on, learn, and keep pushing.”

Matthew paid tribute to his opponent, saying: “He’s one of the best competitors there is, whether he plays one or four hours before, and he’s so mentally strong.”

The exertions of the semi-final 24 hours earlier didn’t help Willstrop’s cause, particularly as Matthew had spent less than half the time on court in his last-four 3-0 success against Peter Barker.

Gaultier edged out Willstrop in a hard-fought first game but the Pontefract star took control in the next two to lead 2-1.

The Frenchman saved two match balls to take the fourth 17-15 but, in a thrilling decider, Willstrop finally made his sixth match ball count to prevail 15-13 and book his place in the final.

Willstrop had defeated England international Daryl Selby 3-0 and world number nine Laurens Anjema, from the Netherlands, on his way to the final stages.

Willstrop’s attentions will now be fixed on the next event on the professional tour, the US Open in Philadelphia.

He is seeded number one and will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of clubmate and previous US Open champion Lee Beachill.

Indian number one and Pontefract clubmate Saurav Ghosal led England’s Adrian Grant 2-0 in the first round, before blisters sustained in the recent Malaysian Open became a problem.

Ghosal managed to serve for the match at 10-9 in the fourth but ended up losing 3-2.

Pontefract’s Yorkshire League Premier side, without any of its professional players, lost 4-1 to Phoenix in a match that could have gone either way.

Although George Wileman lost 3-0 to Austrian number one Aqeel Rehmann, Taminder Gata-Aura, Alex Hodgetts and Jack Cooper all lost 3-2.

Pontefract will be hoping for better fortunes this week when they host Hallamshire.

The second team defeated the thirds 5-0 with Kirsty McPhee coming closest to a win for the thirds, losing on a fifth-game tie-break to Stuart Hargreaves.

The Fourth team lost 3-2 to Barnsley seconds and they play at York this week, with the second team In Hull.

The finals of The Lesley Willstrop Memorial doubles, in aid of Jaiden Worrall, will be played on Saturday and stars from the world of rugby league will take on Pontefract’s leading women players.