JAMES WILLSTROP has faced Nick Matthew in the final of the British National Championships five times in the last seven years – but he insists a sixth such encounter is far from a foregone conclusion.
The long-time Yorkshire rivals enter tomorrow’s first round at Manchester’s National Squash Centre as the top two seeds.
In each of the previous Nationals finals Matthew has prevailed, an outcome which happened 19 times in all between the two until Willstrop finally ended a losing streak stretching back to 2007 against his Sheffield-born rival at last month’s Tournament of Champions in New York.
Matthew heads across the Pennines hoping to clinch a remarkable ninth title in 12 years. Willstrop looks to add a third triumph to the ones he enjoyed in 2007 and 2008.
While the favourable draw for each points to another grand showdown, Harrogate-based Willstrop said there are plenty of tricky hurdles for both to overcome in the coming days.
“There’s a group of younger players that are really interesting this year,” said 33-year-old Willstrop. “Players like Patrick Rooney, Mark Fuller and Declan James – it’s a group that has the potential to really step up.
“Then there’s (two-time winner) Daryl Selby – no one has really given him a mention, but he’s going to be an enormous contender.”
In the women’s draw, Harrogate-based Jenny Duncalf will be aiming for her third title having won the event in 2007 and 2009. Last year saw her denied at the semi-final stages in a five-game, hour-long epic with Alison Waters.