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21 Apr 2024

Beachill In Seventh Heaven In British Nationals In Manchester

16 Feb 2008

Just six weeks after undergoing hernia surgery, Yorkshireman Lee Beachill survived a marathon encounter against England team-mate Adrian Grant in today's semi-finals of the British National Championships in Manchester to become the first player in history to reach the men's final seven times.

Second seed Beachill, a three-time winner of the title, will play top seed and defending champion James Willstrop - his England team and Pontefract club-mate - in Sunday's men's final at the National Squash Centre at Sportcity.

The surprise women's final will produce a new champion when Lancashire's Laura Lengthorn-Massaro takes on Londoner Alison Waters after the pair achieved semi-final upsets over the first and second seeds, respectively.

"To win, I thought I'd have to do it in three games," said 30-year-old Beachill, who was appearing in his first UK tournament since the operation.

But after dropping the third game, he saved five game balls in the fourth, then clinched his fourth match-ball to win 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-10 (9-7) in 91 minutes to make the seventh final in his last eight appearances in the event.

"I knew I was hitting the ball well - but once the game went over 30 or 40 minutes, I started to break down. After the third game was gone, I thought I'd be up against it - but he didn't push away," explained Beachill, from Pontefract.

"But, even though I was tired in the fourth, the adrenaline took over and I began to move more freely. I'm delighted to be in the final - but more delighted to be playing that well!"

On his historic seventh final appearance, Beachill admitted that he was "thrilled".

"But I amaze myself when I look back at the history and see what I achieved - including things like beating Peter Nicol when he was world number one. It's a huge tournament to win.

"I was desperate to win tonight's match - but the fact that he seemed more desperate gave me a bit of a lift."

In what he described as "a very strange game", Willstrop beat Gloucestershire's Alister Walker, the eighth seed appearing in his maiden semi-final, 11-5, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5.

Willstrop, the England number one who boasts a 3-0 head-to-head record over Walker, led 7-3 in the third game - but Walker, playing inspired squash, fought back to draw level at eight-all.

In the fourth, Willstrop romped to an 8-1 lead before closing out the match after 60 minutes.

"I don't normally have trouble getting round players, but I did tonight," conceded the 24-year-old world No6. "And there were so many lets - I can't think anyone wanted to see those! It just wasn't a very satisfactory match.

"But I don't think I've played against him when he's played so well - he was so relaxed and he grew in confidence when he got the lead."

When asked if he can recover from his disappointing performance for the final - especially against his close friend and Pontefract training partner Lee Beachill - Willstrop said: "I very often play poor matches in tournaments and go on to win.

"It teaches me that you can go from a match like yesterday, when I played brilliant and fluent squash, to a day like today - yet still put in a good performance 24 hours later."

Walker was understandably downcast afterwards: "But if anybody had told me a week ago that I would end up in the semi-finals, I would have been delighted.

"The most important thing for me was to show that I can make some inroads against people like James," added the 25-year-old world No32 from Leeds.

Third seed Laura Lengthorn-Massaro claimed a place in the women's final for the first time after favourite Tania Bailey, from Lincolnshire, retired injured after two games. Former champion Bailey arrived in Manchester having not been on court for two weeks after sustaining a ham-string injury in New York.

The Lancashire lass from Preston took the first game convincingly against her higher-ranked England team-mate, and came back from 4-6 down in the second to secure the second.

"I was feeling good and really up for the third when Tania decided to stop," said the 24-year-old world No12. "But it's fantastic to be in the final."

The pair's previous meeting took place last October in the World Open in Madrid where Bailey, despite suffering with breathing difficulties, beat her English rival in four games.

"I'm not expected to beat Tania, yet when we played in Madrid suddenly everybody assumed I'd win - and I felt really tense on court and threw the match away," explained Lengthorn-Massaro. "I was determined not to let that happen again."

Tania Bailey was distraught at not being able to complete the match: "I felt it a bit in the first game - then a couple of lunges in the second made me realise that there was a problem," explained the world No5 from Stamford.

"Even though I could have played through the pain, it's the worry of what that might do to me long-term which was of greater concern. It's really disappointing, I hate stopping in the middle of a match.

"I wouldn't necessarily have been able to beat Laura, but I'd just like to have given her a game."

Later, Londoner Alison Waters avenged her defeat in last year's final by dethroning Yorkshire's reigning champion Jenny Duncalf 10-11 (0-2), 11-8, 11-10 (2-0), 11-5 in 48 minutes.

Duncalf, the second seed from Harrogate, romped to a 7-0 lead in the opening game before her opponent, the fourth seed, replied - moving ahead to claim the first game-ball at 10-9. However, Duncalf came back to clinch the game.

Waters won the two close games that followed - and it was one-way traffic for the lower-ranked player as Waters went on to take the match and earn a place in the final for the third time in four years.

"A final in the Nationals? It can't get much better than that!" said the 23-year-old world No11 who squandered a two-love lead to lose to Duncalf in a 74-minute marathon final last year.

"In the first game it was 7-0 before I knew it! But I like to attack so I like the new scoring.

"At the beginning of the second game, I said to myself 'don't give her a 7-0 start again'."

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

Men's semi-finals:
[1] James Willstrop (Yorks) bt [8] Alister Walker (Glos) 11-5, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5 (60m)
[2] Lee Beachill (Yorks) bt [4] Adrian Grant (Kent) 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-10 (9-7) (91m)

Women's semi-finals:
[3] Laura Lengthorn-Massaro (Lancs) bt [1] Tania Bailey (Lincs) 11-6, 11-9 ret. (29m)
[4] Alison Waters (Middx) bt [2] Jenny Duncalf (Yorks) 10-11 (0-2), 11-8, 11-10 (2-0), 11-5 (48m)