11:51 am
21 Feb 2019

Massive Comeback Keeps Champion Willstrop's Title Hopes Alive

26 Mar 2009

England's reigning champion James Willstrop staged a massive comeback to beat Spanish outsider Borja Golan to reach the semi-finals of the ISS Canary Wharf Classic, the $52,500 5-star PSA Tour squash event at East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf, London.

After losing a close first game, the England number one was overpowered in the second and was facing a quick exit from a tournament he has dominated in recent years. However, Willstrop turned the tables to win the next two games against the battling Spaniard - then completely dominated the fifth to win 10-12, 2-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-2 in 91 minutes of brutal combat on the glass court in front of a sell-out crowd at the East Wintergarden venue.

"My legs just wouldn't move in the second game and I couldn't get to the front of the court," said the three-time champion from Leeds. "I don't know why, because I felt fresh on Monday and enjoyed a rest day yesterday.

"I knew I had to change things and some words from my father and coach Malcolm helped to me focus on what I had to achieve. It was a very hard game but I am pleased that good squash won it for me at the end of the day. Borja is improving rapidly and the gap is closing between the players lower down the rankings and the guys at the top."

Willstrop faces a tough semi-final against three times world champion Amr Shabana, who enjoyed a trouble-free encounter with fellow Egyptian Mohamed El Shorbagy, the world junior champion.

The 18-year-old Shorbagy, a student at Millfield School in Somerset, showed several flashes of brilliance but never looked in danger of repeating his shock victory over England's Nick Matthew, the world No5, in the first round.

Shorbagy produced his best squash near the end of the final game as he battled desperately to stay in the match. And he earned prolonged applause from the full-house crowd at the London Docklands venue as he matched top seed Shabana shot for shot before the inevitable conclusion.

No2 seed Gregory Gaultier matched Shabana in both skill and confidence, easing past England's Peter Barker in straight games.

French ace Gaultier, who won last week's ATCO Super Series Finals at Queen's Club, triumphed 11-9, 11-8, 11-3 in 50 minutes of high-quality squash.

Barker said: "I played as well as I could but Greg is definitely the best player in the world at the moment."

Gaultier claimed his improved form is down to building a solid support team of coaches, a nutritionist, psychologist and osteopath. "They keep my mind and body in good shape and I think that is why I am playing so well.

"I am really enjoying my squash and not worrying about winning or losing. I had a disaster here at Canary Wharf last year and so I want to put that right this week.

"This is a fantastic venue and everything about this tournament shows that squash deserves to be in the Olympic Games."

Gaultier faces Australia's 32-year-old No4 seed David Palmer, who beat Egypt's Wael El Hindi 12-10, 4-11, 11-7, 11-4 in 63 minutes of physical, precision squash.

El Hindi said: "David is so good at working his way back into a match. I should have closed out the first game after leading 9-5 but they are the situations where David shows his experience."

Palmer, whose victory extended his winning Tour run against the Egyptian to 12 matches since September 2001, added: "Wael is one of the best players around the game at the moment and is a great character. Finally the sport is waking up and using guys like these to promote the Olympic bid.

"I am happy with the way I am playing and looking forward to playing Gaultier. He is the man in form at the moment so I know I need to have everything working properly," added the US-based Aussie.

"We are certain to have two outstanding semi-finals and I am sure the crowds will be entertained again."

Quarter-finals:
[1] Amr Shabana (EGY) bt [Q] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) 11-5, 11-6, 11-9 (35m)
[3] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 10-12, 2-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-2 (91m)
[4] David Palmer (AUS) bt [6] Wael El Hindi (EGY) 12-10, 4-11, 11-7, 11-4 (63m)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt [8] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-9, 11-8, 11-3 (50m)