3:42 am
26 May 2017

Former National Champion Willstrop Bows Out

11 Feb 2017

Two-time champion James Willstrop was forced to retire from the Blowers Jewellers British National Championship after falling to illness in the quarter-finals at the National Squash Centre in Manchester.

The former world No.1, seeded to reach the final, fought valiantly to take Surrey's Joe Lee to a fifth game but came back on court only to shake the 5/8 seed's hand and announce he would play no further part in his 19th successive appearance in the championships.

Lee, the 27-year-old world No.45, raced into the lead in the first game, eventually winning 11-7. Willstrop, champion in 2007 and 2008, then took the next two games before retiring at 11-7, 6-11, 9-11, 11-7.

Lee advances to his first Nationals semi-final where he will meet his friend and former junior rival Adrian Waller, a fellow 5/8 seed from Middlesex.

Lee was delighted to reach the last four but gave credit to Willstrop. "I noticed he wasn't quite right from the word go because I went a few points up early on," said Lee. "Normally James has a massive emphasis on starting well. Understandably, when you're a bit under the weather it doesn't happen like that and he got into it as the match went on. I could see he was taking longer between points - there had been some punishing rallies."

Willstrop said he had been suffering from flu all week but had recovered enough to step on court on Wednesday and progress through his first round tie against Mark Fuller on Thursday.

The other semi-final will be played out between eight-time champion Nick Matthew, the top seed, and 5/8 seed Declan James. Both had straight forward routes through the semi-finals. Yorkshireman Matthew, who is pursuing a record ninth title at the championships, beat unseeded Jaymie Haycocks 11-7, 11-2, 11-6 in 34 minutes.

Earlier, James celebrated his maiden appearance in the semis after opponent Tom Richards, a 3/4 seed, was also forced to concede his match after sustaining an injury in the second game and going down 11-7, 11-6.

Women's favourite Laura Massaro survived an early scare against Fiona Moverley before beating the 5/8 seed 9-11, 11-7, 11-1, 11-3 after 32 minutes. The world No.5 faces fellow English player Emily Whitlock, a 3/4 seed ranked 15 in the world, in the first women's semi-final.

"She came out firing and I thought 'Wow', I just had to dig in and start getting the ball back as best I could," said Massaro after her victory.

Sarah-Jane Perry is set to play four-time champion Alison Waters in the other semi. Both survived five-game matches against - 3/4 seed Perry against Victoria Lust and second seed Waters over Welsh number one Tesni Evans.

Perry, the world No.8, defeated Lust 13-11, 6-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-8 in 54 minutes, while Waters needed 75 minutes to knock out Welsh star Evans 12-10, 9-11, 13-11, 5-11, 11-9 in a pulsating afternoon of women's squash which takes Londoner Waters one win away from a record 10th appearance in the Nationals' final.