JAMES Willstrop said he had “no regrets” despite seeing his British Open dream ended for another year in Hull on Saturday.
Three times a runner-up - the first back in 2005 - the 29-year-old world No 4 from Pontefract was only denied a third straight final appearance at the KC Stadium due to an, at times, mesmerising performance by top seed Ramy Ashour, the Egyptian winning 11-1, 11-9, 13-11.
It was a far closer game than the 3-0 scoreline suggests, the first game aside when world No 1 Ashour came out the traps flying against an opponent no doubt slightly drained from the previous night’s stunning comeback which saw him defeat Australian Cameron Pilley in just under two hours.
Less than 10 minutes in and Willstrop found himself 8-0 down, Ashour relentless in his attacking play and closing out the game shortly after.
In the second, Willstrop finally got a foothold, going toe-to-toe with Ashour with only one point separating the two players until Ashour struck the telling blow to take a 2-0 lead.
It was the same in the third, Willstrop at one point going 9-6 ahead and then two game ball opportunities at 10-8 and another at 11-10. But Ashour survived and took the match at the first time of asking, bringing an end to an absorbing encounter with the crowd having witnessed some superlative skill from both players.
And while it is Ashour who prepares for Sunday’s final against Gregory Gaultier - who ended the hopes of a fourth title for Sheffield’s Nick Matthew in the earlier semi-final - Willstrop was happy with his performance, if not necessarily the result.
“It’s obviously disappointing, you train hard and you work hard all year round to win these events,” said Willstrop. “All credit to him, but I haven’t got a bad feeling in my stomach at the moment, I feel good I gave everything I could.”
“He came out flying. He would have known that I’d had a long game on Friday night and he was taking the ball short, he was attacking a lot which was probably the tactic he wanted to use to get me going forward early on and it worked as I was just nowhere near in the first, I was all over the shop.
“But then you get the blood moving around the body, you get warmed up you get moving and I started to free my arm and just let go, just play and not think about points or winning - just play each rally and there were very pleasing results.
“I was happy with the way that I played in the end I don’t have any regrets, I did the best I could against a guy who has been unbeaten for a year, so it’s no easy task.”
As for who may replace fellow Matthew as champion - who has won the last two finals - Willstrop admitted he would have to lean towards Ashour, who stretched his unbeaten run to 40 games with his latest victory.
“You’ve got two guys in incredible form,” added Willstrop, “Both of them are just putting great squash together at the moment - they are the two in-form players.
“And if I had a £1000 to put down I’d put it on Ramy because he’s not lost, he’s unbeaten for a year, you just have to.
“But that doesn’t discount Greg one bit. He’s playing very, very well and he’s had a great run against Nick recently and has been winning a lot of matches so it’s a great final in prospect. But Ramy’s a definite favourite.”