11:11 am
21 Apr 2024

Walker Beats School Pal Stait To Earn Maiden Semi In Manchester

15 Feb 2008

In a surprise clash between two Gloucestershire school friends in today's quarter-finals of the British National Championships, it was the younger Alister Walker that prevailed to reach his maiden semi-final on the all-glass court at the National Squash Centre in Manchester.

"I'm dead chuffed," was the 25-year-old number eight seed's comment immediately after his 11-8, 11-7, 11-2 victory over Alex Stait, the 15th seed who reached the last eight after a shock win over third-seeded England international Peter Barker.

"We met at Wycliffe College in Gloucester when I was 14 and Alex was about two years older - he used to give me a few lessons!

"We're very good friends - but when I heard that he'd won his earlier match, and that we'd be meeting in the quarters, I suddenly felt under a lot of pressure.

"It's a good job I had the day off yesterday to refocus myself - it would have been very easy for us to have chatted about the match. But I had to be professional and get the job done," explained the world No32, a full-time professional who is now based in Leeds.

One of the highest-ranked English players who does not play the international Tour, Manchester-based Stait is highly regarded by his peers.

"His front court game is really exceptional - I had to keep the pace high," said Walker.

Walker will now meet defending champion James Willstrop in the semi-finals. The 24-year-old top seed from Leeds put in a devastating performance to beat Jonathan Kemp, the sixth seed from Shropshire, 11-4, 11-4, 11-2 in 24 minutes.

"I was fully aware of Kemp's ability - I played him in Qatar (last November) and had to be really focussed," said the England number one, ranked six in the world. "If you let him attack, he can cause problems.

"I think I played well, but I've got to keep it up. I desperately want to click tomorrow - and I'll need to if I'm going to win this title again.

"I feel I know this court as well as anyone," continued Willstrop. "I feel very comfortable here, and I like being comfortable.

"I'm in love with what I'm doing."

In the women's quarter-finals, Yorkshire's defending champion Jenny Duncalf, the No2 seed, recovered from a game down to beat Irish champion Madeline Perry, the fifth seed, 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8 to set up a semi-final against Alison Waters - a repeat of last year's final.

Waters, the No4 seed from London, overwhelmed Essex's first-time quarter-finalist Lauren Briggs 11-3, 11-4, 11-2.

"I feel I'm into the tournament now," said Duncalf after the win over Perry which reduces the Irish star's head-to-head lead over her to 4-3. "She was putting me under a lot of pressure - and I lost my concentration at the end of the first game - so it's nice to come out with a win."

Like all competitors in the women's event, Duncalf is coming to terms with the new 'point-a-rally' scoring system (to 11 points per game) which is being trialled at the British Nationals at the request of WISPA, the Women's International Squash Players' Association.

"You really realise how big the points are - it makes it really intense. You don't really know what it's like until you've played it," explained the world No8 from Harrogate.

"I was 9-0 up in the third game and thought I was concentrating quite well - and suddenly the score was 9-5! There's no safety net in this new scoring."

Alison Waters needed just 21 minutes to overcome Lauren Briggs and claim her fourth successive berth in the semi-finals.

"I thought I played quite well - the ball was quite bouncy at first, but if you get it into the corners, it dies," explained the 23-year-old world No11.

"I think she was a bit edgy - it was possibly her first time on the glass court, whereas I am quite used to it now."

RESULTS: British National Squash Championships, National Squash Centre, Manchester

Men's quarter-finals (top half of draw):
[1] James Willstrop (Yorks) bt [6] Jonathan Kemp (Shropshire) 11-4, 11-4, 11-2 (24m)
[8] Alister Walker (Glos) bt [15] Alex Stait (Glos) 11-8, 11-7, 11-2 (32m)

Women's quarter-finals (bottom half of draw):
[4] Alison Waters (Middx) bt [7] Lauren Briggs (Essex) 11-3, 11-4, 11-2 (21m)
[2] Jenny Duncalf (Yorks) bt [5] Madeline Perry (Ireland) 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8 (45m)