11:13 am
16 Apr 2024

Willstrop Survives Second Marathon In Bermuda

29 Nov 2007

For the second time in successive rounds, England's James Willstrop came back from the dead in the Endurance World Open in Bermuda to overcome his opponent in a five-game marathon in the flagship $175,000 PSA Tour squash event at the island's Fairmont Southampton Resort.

The fourth seed battled to a 93-minute win over Dutchman Laurens Jan Anjema in the first round - then again recovered from two games down in yesterday's second round to beat Egypt's 12th seed Mohammed Abbas 3-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 in 91 minutes.

"It was almost a carbon copy of my last match," said Willstrop, the 24-year-old England number one from Yorkshire now in his third World Open quarter-final. "I started rusty and he was really on his game."

Abbas, the 12th seed from Cairo, started strongly, keeping Willstrop on the move, hitting a better length and killing the ball at every opportunity. Willstrop was struggling to get into the groove, but halfway through this first game he showed true sportsmanship when awarded a let by the referee to the surprise of Abbas. Willstrop came off court to explain that he was asking if Abbas's ball was down, not for a let. The ball was judged good, and the let was cancelled. The spectators cheered his honesty.

The Englishman began to show his class in the third game as he edged ahead and began to increase in confidence. At 10-5 game ball he lost four consecutive points - but finished it off in style after a crowd-pleasing rally.
The outcome still remained close through the fourth although it was clear that Willstrop was 'slowly but surely' taking charge of the match. He cruised through the decider to earn his popular win - dampened only by the fact that the glass floor was a constant problem in Bermuda's humid conditions.

"I'm thrilled that I'm through and to be playing tomorrow. The floor though was a real problem. We both sweat a lot and at times it was almost unplayable," said Willstrop.

His next opponent is England team-mate and fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew, the No7 seed who also beat an Egyptian, qualifier Omar Mosaad 11-6, 11-9, 11-7 in the first match of the session on the spectacular all-glass court housed in a massive marquee with seating for 1,400 spectators.

"These were tough conditions," said Matthew, from Sheffield, afterwards. "In that humidity, it was hard to even hold your racquet, never mind your footing. The floor is playing true; it's just the sweat. You need to make sure you're stepping up at the right time. I could have done a little bit more to stretch him and get a better lead. That's what you have to do against the better players. Tomorrow night it really fires up and, hopefully, I can play at the next level."

The other quarter-final decided by the last two second round matches will pitch France's second seed Gregory Gaultier, runner-up last year, against Scotland's John White, the sixth seed who was the beaten finalist in 2002.

White twice had to come from behind to oust Malaysia's 13th seed Mohd Azlan Iskandar 7-11, 11-5, 7-11, 11-10 (3-1), 11-6 in 76 minutes.

"If Willstrop v Abbas was a nail-biter, this was as close and exciting as it gets," said event spokesman Roger Sherratt. "White had great support from a highly partisan crowd because of his long association with Bermuda. He was never in contention in the first game, but gave his supporters something to cheer as he came back to win the second."

Their joy was short-lived when Iskandar took game three, and raced to an early 3-0 lead in the fourth. It was all even at 8-8 but, after taking the next point, Iskandar sent White to all corners of the court in a vain attempt to save match point. 10-8 for Iskandar and one point needed to proceed to the quarters. This was a crucial time in the match and a highlight of the whole evening as both players threw themselves around the increasingly slippery floor. A series of brilliant rallies saw White save two match balls despite going down full length as he tripped over an outstretched Iskandar for a let call. At 10-all, Iskandar inextricably hit two consecutive tins to concede the game.

White played at his best in the decider and never looked to be in trouble as he claimed his popular victory.

"I had it under control - from the last point!" joked White later. "Physically, I felt okay. It was just the change of pace. I hadn't played at that pace for some time. He's quick, he takes the ball early and he was on his game volleying everything. Once I slowed it down he started hitting tins, like at match ball for him he hit two easy tins. In the fifth I got some rallies going and let him make the mistakes. I think it was the change of pace that did it for me."

In the final match of the day, Gaultier cruised to an 11-4, 11-8, 11-4 win in just 26 minutes over unseeded Egyptian Hisham Mohd Ashour.

"If I want to be fresh in the later rounds, I don't want to waste time," said Gaultier, succinctly. "I really wanted to finish it off as quickly as possible. I feel fine, very fresh. I stay focused. Tomorrow is another match," added the 24-year-old world number three from Aix-en-Provence.

2nd round (bottom half of draw):
[7] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [Q] Omar Mosaad (EGY) 11-6, 11-9, 11-7 (46m)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [12] Mohammed Abbas (EGY) 3-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 (91m)
[6] John White (SCO) bt [13] Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) 7-11, 11-5, 7-11, 11-10 (3-1), 11-6 (76m)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt Hisham Mohd Ashour (EGY) 11-4, 11-8, 11-4 (26m)

Quarter-final line-up
[1] Amr Shabana (EGY) v [5] Thierry Lincou (FRA)
[3] David Palmer (AUS) v Alex Gough (WAL)
[4] James Willstrop (ENG) v [7] Nick Matthew (ENG)
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v [6] John White (SCO)