James Willstrop won his fourth Canary Wharf title under the lights at East Wintergarden, beating Peter Barker 11-8, 5-11, 11-3, 11-4.
Before a packed crowd, Willstrop – who has played in each of the tournament’s ten years – put in a faultless display to overcome no.4 seed Barker, playing some of the best squash of his career at the tournament having beaten no.1 seed Nick Matthew 3-1 in last night’s semi-final.
Willstrop said: “I am very happy. Winning titles at this level is just getting harder all the time.
“The work all of us put in as we try to win is immense – especially here in London, one of the great venues and such a wonderful event.”
Willstrop should know, having been at the top of the game for over a decade, and faced many a battle with Peter Barker, with the head-to-head in PSA tournaments now standing at 18-1 in the tall Yorkshireman’s favour.
But facing Barker on such a run would seem a tougher challenge than usual, the Essex player having dispatched world no.27 Alan Clyne fairly comfortably in three in the first round, world no.12 Tom Richards in four in the next, then Matthew last night.
And so it proved, right from the off – Barker taking the first four points of the match, with two being awarded as strokes as Barker forced Willstrop out of position.
But Willstrop forced his way back to 6-6 – the pair fighting out several long rallies with neither giving an inch for their opponent to jump in on the attack and volley.
Of the next five rallies, one long rally went to Willstrop, three were called as lets and one as a stroke to Barker (in general, the match was much cleaner than Barker’s semi-final against Matthew, though).
Yet Willstrop kept his nerve after these tense exchanges, at 7-7, to go on to take the game 11-8 on the back of a cleverly improvised smash down the line, a great cross-court length and a couple of tight drop shots.
Barker fought back in the second, racing to a 6-2, then 10-3 lead, while showcasing his much-improved front-court play on display this tournament, which he remarked on afterwards – as a watching coach said, “if you can out-drop Willstrop, you deserve to win”.
Here, Willstrop got two back with some smart drives – but, after what must be said was a soft let in favour, Barker took the game thanks to Willstrop hitting the ball back on himself
Barker also took the first point of the third, with a great delayed boast which wrong-footed Willstrop, but lost the second due to some stern refereeing in, first, calling the no let when Barker was a little wrong-footed and running awkwardly, and then not allowing Barker to review after he had waited to see the replay on the big screen.
From here, Willstrop started to build a commanding lead, starting to pull the strings with smart drop shots after Barker, despite some great retrieval, could only loop or boast (side wall to front wall) some of Willstrop’s perfectly-executed lobs.
Willstrop’s control continued in the fourth, winning the first six in the game, meaning he had won ten straight points.
Barker mounted a small comeback, increasingly trying to beat Willstrop at the front court, but the Pontefract player – moving, as noted by many fans, as well as he has ever done – handled nearly everything Barker threw at him, and usually replied with even more – winning the match with a drive after Barker was the first to leave the ball even an inch loose in a drop/counter-drop exchange.
“Willstrop’s four in the world and I don’t think he’s happy with that – he wants to be back at the top of the game again,” Barker said. “He’s played well all week and he deserves it.”
“Last night, I was really trying to puff it up and put in another performance today. Not quite there, but a pretty good week for me.”
…A bit of an understatement, in truth, from Barker – if a typically humble one – considering he came in to the tournament a major injury doubt after the Kuwait Cup. And that now the 575 ranking points he will receive may well take him above Amr Shabana, up to no.7 in the world rankings.
Indeed, it was a great week for nearly everyone involved in the tournament – thoughts echoed by John Garwood, the Group Company Secretary of tournament sponsors Canary Wharf Group plc.
He said: “Every night this week, we have seen about a dozen reasons why squash should be an Olympic sport and golf shouldn’t.”
Amen to that.