12:35 pm
21 Feb 2019

Comeback Kings Willstrop & Palmer To Meet In Canary Wharf Final

27 Mar 2009

Third seed James Willstrop and No4 seed David Palmer staged dramatic comebacks in the semi-finals of the ISS Canary Wharf Classic to set up an Anglo/Australian final of the $52,500 5-star PSA Tour squash event at East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf, London.

England's James Willstrop thanked his physio, former Simply Red musician Sylvan Richardson, after reaching his first Tour final for ten months.

The Yorkshireman, who has been battling illness and injury for much of the year and faces an ankle operation next week, produced another magnificent fightback to beat top seed Amr Shabana, the former world number one from Egypt.

Willstrop, the 25-year-old reigning champion from Leeds, conjured up one of the most outstanding performances of his career to win 11-7, 12-14, 7-11, 11-5, 11-3 in 77 minutes of magnificent, attacking squash.

He said: "Sylvan gave me some valuable treatment last night and I've booked another long session tonight. It certainly helps me to keep playing big matches day after day in major tournaments like this. I just hope the body holds up for one more day."

Willstrop's victory followed another spectacular recovery in the quarter-finals when he beat Spaniard Borja Golan after trailing by two games.

The world number seven started strongly against Shabana and edged home in the opening game before the Egyptian showman fought back to win the second 14-12 on the tiebreak.

Shabana, a three times world champion, appeared to be taking the initiative as he won the third game with a dazzling array of winners.

However, Willstrop responded in emphatic style to take the fourth 11-5. By now Shabana was beginning to look tired and at one stage the 29-year-old left hander leaned against the back wall, clearly breathing heavily.

Willstrop maintained the pace and precision throughout the fifth game, controlling the court with superb length and tight, clinging drop shots.

The 6ft 5in former world junior champion added: "I felt it was match of outstanding quality. There were hardly any interruptions and we were both attacking all the way through.

"Amr had a dominant spell in the middle of the match and I knew I just had to try to stay with him. I wasn't playing badly but he was playing some exceptional squash. Fortunately I was able to maintain that standard through to the end of the match and turn it round."

Willstrop, now in his 18th Tour final, has a score to settle in the final when he faces Aussie veteran Palmer. The 32-year-old, now based in Boston, USA, clinched his fourth British Open title by beating Willstrop in the final in Liverpool last May.

Palmer also staged an incredible turnaround after trailing by two games to the in-form Gregory Gaultier. His recovery was even more surprising after losing the second game 11-1.

Palmer said: "That was so embarrassing. I could hardly move in the second game. I was hanging too far back in the court and that's not my game at all. I managed to step up the court in the third and start attacking more but basically it was just a big hack to get myself out of trouble.

"Maybe Greg relaxed a bit after winning that second game so easily and let me back in. I haven't beaten him for a long time so it felt good to end that losing run against him.

"James and I always have good games and for two big guys we move around each other well, so it should be a great final.

"It was nice to hear the crowd encouraging me to get back into the match but I am sure they just wanted whoever won to be tired for the final against James," concluded Palmer, now celebrating the 52nd PSA Tour final of his career.

Gaultier, who won the ATCO Super Series Finals in London last week, admitted: "No excuses from me. I can't blame the referee or anything because it was my own fault for not closing the deal in three games.

"That is something I must learn and try to stop it happening again in the future. David is still a very strong player and played very good squash."

[3] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [1] Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-7, 12-14, 7-11, 11-5, 11-3 (77m)
[4] David Palmer (AUS) bt [2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 11-13, 1-11, 11-7, 11-3, 11-8 (80m)