AS expected, the ‘dream’ finale has been provided at the British National Championships after long-time rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop ensured they would contest Sunday’s final in Manchester.
The showdown will come less than two weeks after the Yorkshiremen clashed in the Tournament of Champions event in New York, where a win for Sheffield’s Matthew saw him reclaim his world No 1 status from 28-year-old Willstrop, who had taken over as the world’s leading player only a month earlier.
No ranking points are at stake in Manchester, but that will take nothing away from the fierce rivalry that has enveloped the two for most of their careers.
Willstrop was first to qualify for the final, taking a little under an hour to see off a strong challenge from fourth seed Adrian Grant in a 11-9, 11-6, 11-9 triumph.
Three-time winner Matthew came on court in the evening to face defending champion Daryl Selby - his conqueror in last year’s final - and was also made to work hard in order to progress before seeing off the third seed’s challenge 11-8, 11-3, 14-12 in a gruelling 67 minutes of squash.
“There’s been talk all week about the final between me and James,” said a relieved Matthew afterwards. “Now we’ve done all the work to set it up. I’m looking forward to it.
“Last year, Daryl deservedly won the title - and I took it on the chin. I bounced back strong immediately afterwards and doubled my determination to get back this year and win it back.”
Willstrop, top seed for the event, will go into Sunday’s final looking for his first victory over Matthew since December 2007 with last month’s victory at Grand Central Terminus extending the latter’s winning streak over his Leeds rival to 18.
“It means a lot to be in the final - it’s such a prestigious event,” said Willstrop, who won the event in 2007 and 2008 before losing to Matthew in the 2010 final. “All the players enjoy coming back here - it’s great to come and show people what it’s all about.
“It’s fantastic to be back in the final again after a couple of years. I’m playing well and feeling good.”
In the women’s draw, defending champion Laura Massaro will face 2010 winner Alison Waters in the final.
In the first semi-final, world No 3 Massaro saw off Irish rival Madeline Perry 11-4, 11-9, 11-3, before Waters romped to an 11-4, 11-2, 11-6 victory over Lauren Briggs.