PONTEFRACT Squash Club’s James Willstrop lifted another major title by winning the European Championship last weekend at Nottingham University’s splendid new squash centre with its permanent glass court.
Seeded number two behind world number one Gregory Gaultier (France), Willstrop had by no means an easy draw.
In the first round, he beat promising young Frenchman Sebastien Bonmalais 3-0 to set up a quarter final with Lucas Serme, brother of Camille Serme, world number three and winner of the Women’s Championship.
Another 3-0 win took Willstrop through to the semi finals where he met Borja Golan, Spain’s best ever player, who was the title holder.
Willstrop looked in control when he won the first game but the outcome of the second depended on a tiebreak, which he won 12-10.
Fortified by a 2-0 lead Willstrop won the third game comfortably to take his place in the final where Gaultier awaited having beaten Swiss number one Nicolas Mueller 3-0.
Gaultier and Willstrop have been major world players from the age of 13 when they met in the final of the British Junior Open and have played each other 42 times.
Gaultier’s outstanding form in 2016-17 had seen him regain the world number one ranking and he bgan the final with characteristic pace.
He led 5-1 but Willstrop recovered to cut the gap to 8-6 before Gaultier took a 1-0 lead.
Willstrop was settling well, coping with the pace as the match progressed at top world standard with several rallies which left the crowd gasping.
Willstrop levelled at 1-1 and, continuing to play with great control, he won a close fought third game which produced one rally that had the crowd on its feet.
Despite Willstrop now looking the more likely winner at 2-1, it was Gaultier who quickly established a 5-0 lead in the fourth game and he won the game 11-2 to take the match into a decider.
Willstrop re-established himself at the beginning of the fifth and holding his game together well he led 10-7 to serve for the championship.
Gaultier saved the first match ball but the second was enough for Willstrop and he was the European champion with a 7-11 ,11-8, 11-8, 2-11, 11-8 win.
The match was a fitting climax to the Championship and Nottingham’s excellent facility.
The presentation was made by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Nottingham.
Willstrop’s next major championship will be the Netsuite in San Francisco at the end of September, followed quickly by the US Open in Philadelphia, and he will be much encouraged by the quality of his play in Nottingham.
With the World Championships in Manchester in December, the World Team Championships in Marseille in November and the Commonwealth Games in March next year in the Gold Coast, Australia, there is much to look forward to.
Saurav Ghosal, the long time Pontefract player and India’s best ever player, won his national championship to cap a successful weekend for the Stuart Road club.