Matthew and Willstrop set for another day of final reckoning

FIERCE Yorkshire rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop are set for an epic showdown to determine who will become the first-ever Englishman to scoop the World Open title.

After beating France's Thierry Lincou in the quarter-finals, world No 2 Matthew, from Sheffield, saw off the challenge of defending champion Amr Shabana from Egypt to book his place in Friday's final in Al-Khobar.

A short while later, Leeds's Willstrop took just under 90 minutes to defeat fellow Englishman Peter Barker, losing the first game before eventually triumphing 8-11 14-12 11-4 11-8.

Although winning against four-time champion Shabana in straight games, 30-year-old Matthew still took an hour to win 11-6 12-10 12-10.

"I got off to a very good start in the first game," said a delighted top seed Matthew, who was a beaten quarter-finalist last year.

"He was just so tight down the forehand side, he was killing me there. I just got the belief from being one up, then two up - I just kept pushing and pushing and there was absolutely nothing in it.

"I'm so proud to have two English boys in the final ... but the job's not done yet."

With world No 1 Ramy Ashour out of the bottom half of the draw, 27-year-old Willstrop admitted he he had a better chance to make it through to the final.

But he was forced to get there the hard way by eighth seed Barker, who forced Willstrop to come from behind to secure his showdown with Matthew.

"I knew I had an opening in the draw with Ramy going out, but seeing it and taking it are two different things," said sixth seed Willstrop.

"If I had gone two games down to someone like Pete, I would have been in big trouble. So I just had to take it point by point and them move on to the next one."

And in a spot of pre-final mind games, Willstrop added: "The pressure's all on Nick tomorrow, I'll just try to do the best I can."

Friday's eaglerly-anticipated finale, will give squash fans a chance to enjoy one of the sport's fiercest rivalries with Willstrop and Matthew having gone toe-to-toe on a regular basis over the last five years.

On a head-to-head basis, it's Matthew who holds the upper-hand, winning the last eight clashes between the two.

The most memorable of those meetings came in Manchester last year in the final of the British Open when Matthew edged out Willstrop over five games in an energy-sapping two-hours plus of squash in what was an often bad-tempered match.

Matthew has also enjoyed three high-profile wins over his rival this year, beginning in the final of the Swedish Open when Willstrop had to retire injured when 2-0 and 6-2 down in the third. Victories followed for Matthew in the semi-finals of the North American Open and the Canary Wharf Classic.

There was also the small matter of Commonwealth Games gold, which was placed around Matthew's neck when he defeated Willstrop in the men's singles in Delhi in September.

Willstrop's assertion that Matthew will start favourite is no doubt true but for the 'underdog' is more than capable of springing a surprise.


Semi-finals>(1] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt (3] Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-6 12-10 12-10

(6] James Willstrop (ENG) bt (8] Peter Barker (ENG) 8-11 14-12 11-4 11-8

Quarter-finals(1] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt (7] Thierry Lincou (FRA) 11-3, 11-5, 11-2 (38m)

(3] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt (5] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 6-11, 13-11, 4-0 ret. (57m)

(8] Peter Barker (ENG) bt (4] Karim Darwish (EGY) 11-7, 6-11, 6-7 ret. (45m)

(6] James Willstrop (ENG) bt (13] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) 11-9, 11-8, 11-8 (50m)