NICK Matthew came from behind to complete a remarkable comeback from injury to reclaim his position as world No 1 from fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop.
The 31-year-old, from Sheffield, returned to the PSA World Tour at the Tournament of Champions in New York knowing he had to better Willstrop’s performance at the event in order to regain the coveted top ranking spot which he held throughout 2011.
It didn’t start too promisingly for Matthew at Grand Central Terminal when Willstrop - who won the last three tournaments in 2011 to replace Matthew as No 1 in the world - took the opening game.
But Matthew hit back to run out an eventual 8-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-7 winner extending his triumphant run over Willstrop to 13 matches going back to December 2007.
It may have ended Willstrop’s all-too brief reign at the top of the rankings but it will only add intensity to the deep rivalry that exists between the two in the coming months.
Matthew had missed the last three tour events due to an adductor injury he picked up in the Kuwait Cup in November, one of the events - combined with the subsequent Punj Lloyd Masters in New Delhi - that enabled Willstrop to usurp him in the rankings.
But he once again proved his strong powers of recovery and it remains to be seen how quickly Willstrop can himself bounce back from what must be a rushing disappointment.
Next month’s British Nationals in Manchester are the next likely meeting point for the two, but with that not being a PSA ranking event, the 28-year-old from Leeds will have to wait for the American Open in Richmond to try and edge ahead of Matthew once again.
But he will come up against a determined Matthew keen to prove he can enjoy another long stretch at the top of the rankings after winning his 22nd PSA Tour title.
“This win is right up there alongside the Worlds and Commonwealth Games gold medals as one of my best victories,” said an ecstatic Matthew after finally clinching the ToC title at the fourth time of asking in a physical, 85-minute final.
“I knew I needed to be aggressive. But sometimes it was also the pent up emotion of the last couple of months. It was hard to lose the No1 ranking because of inactivity, and sometimes I could be a real pain to be around.”
Willstrop acknowledged that the crucial moment came at the end of the second game as he edged towards a 2-0 lead. While up 9-7, Willstrop was in control and looked to be heading to game-ball when he forced a loose shot from his opponent at the front of the court - but he hit the tin.
“The end of that second game was really the difference in the match,” he admitted. “I needed to put it away.”