THE ‘dream’ final for many people at the National Squash Championships has been realised once again in Manchester - it just remains to be seen whether there will be a different outcome this time around.
Three times Yorkshire’s great rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop have met in the final of the tournament. Three times Matthew has won.
Willstrop is no stranger to success in Manchester, having won the title himself twice already in 2007 and 2008, but he comes up against an fellow Yorkshireman determined to pick up his sixth Nationals crown and his third Nationals title in a row and his sixth overall.
Of the two, Willstrop had the slightly less taxing of the two semi-finals on Saturday at the National Squash Centre, certainly in terms of time spent on court with Matthew kept waiting for his last four victory for 84 minutes by 2011 champion Daryl Selby.
Willstrop was given a stern workout too though, as you would expect from Adrian Grant, a runner-up to Matthew in 2009, on the glass showcourt for just over an hour before emerging an 11-5, 11-9, 11-8 winner.
Matthew had to come from behind in an, at times, niggly semi-final - Matthew at one stage warned for shoving Selby into the side wall. But the world No 1 and defending champion exerted enough control over a dogged opponent to win out 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-9.
“Daryl’s always incredibly tough to play against - he soaks it up so well,” said Matthew afterwards.
“I felt like I had him under a lot of pressure and the ball just kept coming back and kept coming back.
Watch Nick Matthew’s post-match interview by clicking the PLAY button at the top of this page
“He played some really good squash and took the game to me at times and I could never really shake him off and there were a couple of physical bits.
“For me, I needed that hard match coming on the back of a great tournament in Sweden where I played really well. I had a relatively comfortable run to the semi-finals - it’s never easy, but I never got into a really really tough match so I think I needed that today and I think it benefitted me mentally and helped remind the body how hard it actually is.
“It was really tough to beat Daryl on that court and, hopefully, I’ll be as tough to beat here in the final as well.”
Willstrop always seemed to keep just enough ahead of Grant in the later semi-final, although the second seed acknowledged he had been severely tested.
“I had to plot my way through that one,” said Willstrop, “it was a good quality match, a bit of a chess game really trying to find the right areas to put the ball into.
“Adrian’s a great athlete and he plays well here, I knew all of that so that’s a very good win for me.
“You can’t fail to get yourself up for a match like tomorrow’s final against Nick. There’s no pressure on me, I’m about 800 to one down, but I may not have too many of these occasions left so I’ll try to enjoy it and make the most of it.”