The rivalry between Yorkshire’s Nick Matthew and James Willstrop has been long and fierce – at times plain ugly.
Nowadays there seems to be a healthy respect between the two players – they are England team-mates after all. But, try as he might, Pontefract’s Willstrop still cannot find a way to get the better of his Sheffield-born opponent when it matters most – particularly when it comes to the final of the National Squash Championships.
Four times the pair have met in the grand finale of the event, with Matthew prevailing each time.
Last night’s victory in front of a sell-out crowd at the National Squash Centre was the third triumph in four years for 33-year-old Matthew and his sixth overall.
Willstrop is no stranger to success in the tournament, winning in 2007 and 2008. But he has also finished runner-up on four occasions – each time coming second because of Matthew.
Willstrop got off to the better start last night, taking the first game 11-5 and giving hope to his supporters that this might be the moment he lifted a prestigious title at the hands of his long-time rival.
But Matthew once again showed the fighting qualities which will see him return to the world No 1 spot on his own at the beginning of next month when he stormed back – seeing off a late fightback in the fourth game – to seal another memorable triumph.
He defeated Willstrop 5-11 12-10 11-4 11-8 after a gruelling 78 minutes on court.
“That’s got to be up there with one of my best ever wins against James,” said a relieved Matthew. “Some of his backhand drives were ridiculously tight. He was in such great form that at the moment it’s relief more than delight.
“I won’t be playing for much longer. You’re a long time retired which is why it means a lot to me, having all my family here and my support staff.
“I know I haven’t got many more times left on this stage so I really do appreciate everyone’s support.”
Matthew had been given a stiff workout at the semi-final stage 24 hours earlier, dropping his first game of the tournament before seeing off Essex’s Daryl Selby 8-11 11-8 11-6 11-9. Willstrop himself was on court for nearly an hour before beating Adrian Grant 11-5 11-9 11-8.
In the women’s draw there was disappointment for Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf, seeing her bid for a third Nationals title ended at the semi-final stage on Saturday, bowing out to eventual winner Alison Waters 5-11 11-6 11-2 12-10 after an entertaining hour.
Duncalf, hampered in the early part of this year by niggling injuries, admitted afterwards she was happy to have played three matches in as many days and will now switch her attention to the Windy City Open in Chicago next week.
“I feel a lot better physically than I did a week ago,” said Duncalf. “I’ve had a couple of little niggles so I was slightly concerned about playing.
“My preparation hasn’t been ideal for this event, but at least I’m playing and I’ve played three matches on the trot.
“I started well and felt good, but I wasn’t able to continue that unfortunately. Alison’s a great player and I knew I was going to have to play at my best to beat her.”
Waters went on to win her fourth title by beating Madeleine Perry 11-3 11-6 11-6 in yesterday’s final.
In the men’s over-35s draw, Yorkshire’s Simon Parke beat Marc Woolhead 11-3 11-6 11-4.