joeldurston

Matthew and Willstrop set to lock horns at Canary Wharf

In Sport on March 12, 2013 at 9:22 PM

Fierce rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop will lock horns again from next Monday at the Canary Wharf Squash Classic, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

The two Yorkshiremen – who have been sharing the spoils at the top of squash for about a decade, and not always entirely harmoniously – go into this PSA International 50 event at the East Wintergarden venue with three titles apiece.

Top seed and World No. 2 Matthew – who reached the final of the North American Open just over a week ago – will be looking for his fourth title on the trot, having beaten Willstrop 11-7, 11-8, 11-9 in last year’s final.

He faces a tough tie in the first round in the form of Miguel Angel Rodriguez – the 27-year-old Colombian renowned for his amazing court coverage and spectacular full-length dives, and who took Matthew to a marathon five games in the first round of last year’s North American Open.

If he can overcome Rodriguez’s lightning speed, Matthew, 32, will face South African Steve Coppinger or Alister Walker, who decided a couple of years ago to represent his country of birth, Botswana, after a fallout with England Squash in late 2010.

Then fourth seed Peter Barker lies in wait in Thursday’s semi final – if, that is, the ties go as the seeding forecasts and Barker beats a qualifier and then World No. 12 Tom Richards, also playing a qualifier in the first round.

On the other side of the 16-man draw, James Willstrop, 29, begins his tournament against wildcard Englishman Charles Sharpes – and, presuming he prevails, faces the winner of what promises to be a close encounter between world numbers 15 and 16, Harlow-born Daryl Selby and German Simon Rosner.

Aiming to upset the home favourites will be rising star Mohamed El Shorbagy, the 22-year-old Egyptian now resident in Bristol, having earned a scholarship to train under the tutelage of squash great Jonah Barrington at the prestigious Millfield School, and then a scholarship at UWE – where he studies business.

In the first round, El Shorbagy faces a qualifier from this weekend’s Qualifying at the Wimbledon Racquets and Fitness Club, and then the winner of the opening game of the tournament – another qualifier against Adrian Grant, the World No. 17 making the short hop over the river from his Greenwich home.

If El Shorbagy and Willstrop continue their impressive form, they will then face each other on Thursday in a mouth-watering repeat of both last year’s semi-final – which Willstrop won 3-1 – and December’s semi-final at the World Championship in Qatar – in which El Shorbagy triumphed 11-8 in the fifth after a gruelling 112 minutes. (Consider that rough equivalent to 7-5 in the fifth set of a five-hour tennis match.)

This encounter would, given Matthew’s probable progression, set up one of two enthralling prospects for Friday night’s final; the reigning master against the pretender to the throne – Matthew v El Shorbagy – or the Real/Barca, Federer/Nadal, Frazier/Ali of squash – Matthew v Willstrop.

Whatever the outcome, one thing’s (pretty much) for certain; the spectacular arched glass East Wintergarden venue on the banks of the Thames will provide a fittingly spectacular showcase for some world-class squash.

And hopefully the tournament will give a much-deserved boost to squash’s profile, as it strives for inclusion into the Olympic family from 2020 (having recently gained endorsement from a certain Mr Federer, no less)…

Joel Durston

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