PONTEFRACT Squash Club’s James Willstrop was pipped by holder Amr Shabana in the semi-finals of the ATCO World Series at Queen’s Club, London.
The tournament started 2013 in spectacular fashion, with the semi finals and finals televised live on Sky Sports.
The early start meant that the world’s top professionals - men and women - had very little respite over the holiday period.
The top eight players were in two groups of four and Willstrop began with an impressive 2-0 win over Karim Darwish (Egypt).
Although Willstrop then lost to Frenchman Gregory Gaultier after two closely contested games, he was impressive again in a 2-0 win against German number one Simon Rosner, which qualified him for the last four.
In the semi final, Willstrop faced squash legend Shabana, the Egyptian being well suited to the best of three format.
Shabana, who topped his group unbeaten, started strongly, eventually winning the first game 11-7 as Willstrop tried to engage him in more demanding rallies.
Gradually asserting himself, Willstrop won the second game and when he led 4-1 and 7-3 in the third, he seemed to be well on his way to the final.
However, Shabana managed to break Willstrop’s characteristic rhythm and recovering. Shabana finally edged home 2-1 to meet Engand’s Nick Matthew who beat Gaultier in the other semi final.
After losing the first set easily in the final, Shabana went on to to take the title quite comfortably 3-1, the decider being best of five games.
The event, inspired by Ziad al Turki, is by far the best produced and most spectacular tournament in the world and played to sold out crowds all week. Rugby league legend and squash enthusiast Ellery Hanley was there all week and Olympians Victoria Pendleton, Joanna Rowsell and Greg Searle were all in attendance and spoke in favour of squash’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, as has Jessica Ennis, who trains alongside Nick Matthew at the EIS in Sheffield.
Willstrop heads for New York this weekend for the Tournament of Champions played at Grand Central Station, a championship he won in 2011. He is seeded to meet Ramy Ashour in the semi-final. The pair have often met in New York and rarely failed to please the enthusiatic crowds.
Pontefract’s star of the future, nine-year-old Sam Todd, playing in his first British Junior Open, which attracts the best players from all over the world, won four of his six matches at under 13 level, finishing 24th in a 64 strong field. It was a remarkable achievement for Sam who was giving two to three years to his opponents. His next main targets are the British Under 13 Championship in London in March and the English Under 11 Championship in Manchester in June.
The National League and Yorkshire League fixtures resume this week and Pontefract host National League opponents Oxford.
Unfortunately, Willstrop, Saurav Ghosal and Siddarth Suchde will all be in New York and unavailable for Pontefract who are currently in a position to qualify for the play-offs.