JAMES Willstrop admitted he was beaten by the “better man” after losing out in a dramatic final at the Qatar Classic to Gregory Gaultier.
The 28-year-old fourth seed, from Leeds, went down 11-8, 11-7, 2-11, 11-8 after a gruelling 70 minutes in Doha.
It was Willstrop’s first appearance in a PSA Tour final since last December when he twice lost to fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew, in the World Open and the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters.
Last night, the world No 4 – who last won a Tour title back in January 2010 – admitted former world No 1 Gaultier played the better squash.
“My length and width were just not good enough to prevent him from attacking, which means that, at the end of the day, he played better,” said Willstrop. “He’s been going on all week about how good he felt, how good he played – and he proved it tonight.”
Despite being in both of the opening games it was Gaultier who played winning shots at the vital moments to establish a commanding lead.
Willstrop then got his act together to comfortably take the third and enjoyed leads of 4-1 and 7-4 in the fourth.
But Gaultier fought back to draw level at 8-8 and, after numerous lets in the closing stages, it was the Frenchman who eventually took the final three points to claim his first World Series title since March 2009.
“In the first two games Greg played down the backhand side and was much better than me, which is a bit frustrating as it’s normally considered my strength,” added Willstrop. “He played some super squash, his attacks were better than mine, his accuracy and length was just superior to mine.
“In the third, I put it together better, I used my brain plus the help of Chris (Robertson, the England national coach), as I knew something had to change.
“I had to find a way to stop him damaging me on that backhand side, as he was in a comfortable position to hurt me with his shots. Maybe I made a few too many errors there, but it was probably something to do with the way he was playing.”
Gaultier and Willstrop came through the ranks at a similar time and it was clear afterwards that the two retain a healthy respect for each other.
“We’ve been playing each other since we were that high, since we were juniors,” said a delighted Gaultier.
“We’ve had some memorable battles and it’s actually nice to see each other back in the final. He is just a gentleman on court, such a fair player - I have tremendous respect for him.”
Both players will now regroup in preparation for the Tour’s next big event, the World Open, which begins in Rotterdam on November 30.