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14 Apr 2024

James Willstrop Sets Up Historic All-English British Open Final

14 Sep 2009

Yorkshireman James Willstrop crushed Egypt's three-time world champion Amr Shabana in the second semi-final of the internationalSPORTgroup British Open at the National Squash Centre to set up the first all-English final of the world's oldest and most prestigious squash championship for 70 years.

After a historic day in which three Englishmen competed in the semi-finals for the first time in living memory, Willstrop will face fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew. The world number four from Sheffield scored a resounding straight games win over his England team-mate Peter Barker to reach the final for the second time in four years.

Madeline Perry became the first ever Irish player to reach the women's final after beating Londoner Alison Waters. The world No8 from Belfast, who produced the event's biggest shock when she ousted firm favourite Nicol David, the world number one and defending champion from Malaysia, will now face three-time champion Rachael Grinham, of Australia.

Since reaching last year's final, where he lost in a dramatic fifth game tie-break, world No9 James Willstrop has undergone ankle surgery and is battling to fight back to the career-best world number two ranking he achieved in December 2005.

But the 26-year-old from Leeds put in a near-perfect performance to overcome Amr Shabana, a world number one for 33 months, 11-5, 11-6, 11-1 to set up the historic all-Yorkshire final.

"I've not made it a secret that I am a big fan of Amr's - he is a legend of the game," Willstrop told the packed crowd at Sportcity after his sensational win. "He is a very difficult player - and to beat him here in Manchester in the British Open is very special.

"I was very consistent from the start - I started well and this set the tone," added the two-time national champion who lost to Shabana in straight games only eight days ago in the US Open in Chicago.

"Last week he trounced me - I was half a yard off the pace and he was sublime. But tonight was one of those performances when I kept consistently tight."

Lifelong coach Malcolm Willstrop was delighted with his son's performance. "He played extraordinarily well - but you have to play well to beat the best player in the world on current form."

England number one Nick Matthew had not dropped a game en-route to the last four - and was in devastating form as he despatched Peter Barker, the world number eight, 11-6, 11-5, 11-6 in 48 minutes.

"Even though it was 3/0, I couldn't relax for a moment," said the 26-year-old from Sheffield later. "The game went according to plan - and it's not often that happens. It very rarely happens that you win all your matches 3/0 - so I've given myself a real chance for tomorrow."

Barker, the left-handed Londoner who upset Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, ranked two in the world, in the previous round, was full of praise for his close friend: "That's the best he's ever played against me. And when you get beaten by a better player, it's somewhat easier to take.

"I did everything to win, but it wasn't good enough. I can't argue with the result."

Fifth seed Madeline Perry produced the game of her life to beat Nicol David in the women's quarter-finals - and maintained her run in the semis, recovering from a game down to defeat third seed Waters 10-12, 11-8, 11-7, 11-9 in 63 minutes.

"I wanted to play well after beating Nicol yesterday - it would have been disappointing to then lose in the semi-finals," said the 32-year-old world No8 from Banbridge, near Belfast.

"I was aware that Alison would come out fast and furious and I had to be up for it and work hard.

"Obviously beating the world number one boosts your confidence," added Perry. "I've beaten a few good players, but not a lot of world number ones!

"I am very proud of where I come from - so reaching the final of the British Open should put me up there with the best Northern Irish squash players."

In the other women's semi, Yorkshire's Jenny Duncalf failed to reach the final for the second year in a row. The world number six from Harrogate went down 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-6 to Rachael Grinham, the second-seeded Australian who is looking for her fourth title.

"I'm happy to be in a major final - and the fact that it's the British Open makes it even better," stated the 32-year-old from Queensland who won the title in 2003, 2004 and 2007. "I felt better about the way I played today - the further I get through the draw, the better I feel. My accuracy was a lot better. I can definitely enter the court tomorrow feeling a lot more relaxed."

Duncalf was devastated by the loss: "It was a wasted opportunity - with Nicol out, it opened up the draw. I was edgy the whole time, I just wasn't timing it right and miss-hit everything.

"I'm disappointed that I just didn't play well - but she played a good game."

RESULTS: internationalSPORTgroup British Open Squash Championships, Manchester

Men's semi-final:
[10] James Willstrop (ENG) bt [3] Amr Shabana (EGY) 11-5, 11-6, 11-1 (32m)
[4] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [6] Peter Barker (ENG) 11-6, 11-5, 11-6 (48m)

Women's semi-final:
[5] Madeline Perry (IRL) bt [3] Alison Waters (ENG) 10-12, 11-8, 11-7, 11-9 (63m)
[2] Rachael Grinham (AUS) bt [4] Jenny Duncalf (ENG) 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-6 (48m)