10:29 pm
13 Jun 2024

Willstrop Survives Opening Encounter In Manchester British Nationals

9 Feb 2010

Just two days after a shoulder injury forced his retirement in the final of the Swedish Open, Yorkshireman James Willstrop came through tonight's men's first round match in the British National Squash Championships in Manchester unscathed when he beat Irish champion John Rooney in straight games at the National Squash Centre at Sportcity.

After a nervous start, the two-time champion from Leeds began to impose himself on the game against Rooney, and went on to defeat the unseeded Irishman 11-9, 11-6, 11-5 in 38 minutes.

"It was great, under the circumstances - at first I was very tentative but I came through it OK," said the 26-year-old third seed. "I've done everything I can since Sunday - mostly intense work with my physio Alison in Leeds, trying to get things in my body back in place!

"But these things happen in squash - and there's no reason why you can't turn things round. Now I can forget about it and get on with it - it's good to erase some of the doubts."

Willstrop was being supported between games by England High Performance Coach David Campion. "It was good to have my brother with me - he's been through it as well. He knows the psychology of injury!"

Willstrop will now face Welshman Nic Birt, the only unseeded player to make it through to the last 16. The 28-year-old from Newport was heading back to Cardiff last night to resume his coaching duties after losing in the qualifying finals when he received a call from the organisers offering him a place in the first round as a 'lucky loser'.

Birt's luck continued today when he beat qualifying winner Phil Rushworth, also a coach, from Yorkshire, 11-9, 11-2, 10-12, 15-13 in a 73-minute marathon.

Earlier in the day top-seeded Yorkshireman Nick Matthew, the world number two, successfully began the defence of his title when he beat Shropshire qualifier Andrew Birks in straight games.

The 29-year-old from Sheffield took just 29 minutes to defeat Birks, a 22-year-old from Telford making his maiden appearance in the event, 11-3, 11-7, 11-4 as he bids to win his third title since 2006.

"Ever since I first played in the Nationals, it has been a priority event for me - in the early days, a good opportunity to get the scalp of a top player, just like my opponent today was trying to do," explained the England number one.

"It's a big thing to be the National Champion!

"It shows the standard of the event that I'll probably face Tom Richards tomorrow in the second round - a player who's pushing to get into the world's top 30. I'll have to up my level."

Matthew arrived in Manchester fresh from winning the Swedish Open for the second year in a row, beating England team-mate James Willstrop in the ill-fated final.

"It's good to get the cobwebs out of the system after a day of travelling. Andrew impressed me - he worked hard throughout the game, with no cheap shots," Matthew continued.

"After a tough period at the end of last year, I needed some time off over Christmas - so when I played in New York, I felt I was lacking a bit. But I felt a lot better in Sweden - and got better each day, even though the final was a bit of an anti-climax. So hopefully I have benefitted from the time off."

Matthew revealed that he has two major goals after defending his National crown: "My two targets this year are to do well in the Commonwealth Games and to reach number one in the world."

Two England 'veterans', both of whom made their debut in the 1987 championships, enjoyed differing fortunes at the National Squash Centre today.

Stephen Meads, the 1995 champion from Berkshire, was celebrating his 22nd appearance in the event - having only missed one year, 1993, since his debut. But the 39-year-old from Wokingham only lasted half a game against rising star Tom Richards - the ninth seed who was just one year old when Meads began his Nationals' run - when he suffered a back spasm after 10 minutes with the score standing at just 5-3.

On an adjacent court, 37-year-old Simon Parke was two points away from celebrating a stunning upset in his 50th match in the championships. The Yorkshireman, three times a finalist and winner of the trophy in 1998, fought back from 6-10 down to win the first game against seventh seed Jonathan Kemp - then secured the second before being poised at nine-all in the third.

But Shropshire lad Kemp's superior fitness eventually came into play as the Halifax-based 28-year-old summoned up a 10-12, 8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-5 victory after 62 minutes.

"It's always good to play Parkey - I enjoyed the whole match," said Kemp immediately afterwards. "I was in control in the first game and 10-6 up when he just decided to go for it. And even when I was ahead in the fifth, he never gave up.

"I was impressed - I didn't think he'd be able to play like that. That was his big match."

When reminded that his opponent first competed in the event in 1987, Kemp retorted: "I was six then - it's clear he's got more experience than I have!

"It's the first serious match I've played since December as I decided to concentrate on training over the past couple of months. Hopefully, now I've played a match, I'll remember how to play squash properly," concluded the world No21.

Parke was delighted with his performance: "I nearly got him! I've been playing quite well recently - but that was probably the best I've played for about a year. I definitely had the chance to take him - but just didn't have enough in the end."

Rueing the fact that he leaves the event empty-handed, as prize money starts with second round losers, Parke continued: "It's the only time I've had to pay £22.50, and my petrol money, for the honour of competing in the Nationals - so I needed to get my money's worth!

"I was disappointed not to be one of the top 16 seeds - and thought long and hard before deciding to play.

"And then I almost took out a top eight seed - so I think I proved myself!"

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

Men's 1st round:
[1] Nick Matthew (Yorks) bt [Q] Andrew Birks (Shropshire) 11-3, 11-7, 11-4 (29m)
[9] Tom Richards (Surrey) bt Stephen Meads (Berks) 5-3 ret. (10m)
[5] Alister Walker (Glos) bt [Q] Dominic Hamilton (Oxon) 11-7, 11-6, 11-9 (32m)
[13] Alan Clyne (Scotland) bt [Q] Jamie MacAulay (Scotland) 11-5, 11-2, 11-6 (26m)
[4] Adrian Grant (Kent) bt [Q] Stephen Siveter (Merseyside) 11-4, 4-11, 11-1, 11-4 (36m)
[11] Chris Simpson (Hants) bt James Snell (Devon) 11-7, 11-6, 12-10 (42m)
[7] Jonathan Kemp (Shropshire) bt Simon Parke (Yorks) 10-12, 8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-5 (62m)
[15] Laurence Delasaux (Yorks) bt [Q] Peter Billson (Lancs) 11-5, 12-14, 11-8, 6-3 ret. (44m)
[16] Joe Lee (Surrey) bt Andrew Whipp (Cheshire) 11-3, 11-6, 6-11, 2-11, 11-5 (57m)
[8] Joey Barrington (Somerset) bt [Q] Anthony Graham (Glos) 11-5, 12-10, 12-10 (60m)
Nic Birt (Wales) bt [Q] Phil Rushworth (Yorks) 11-9, 11-2, 10-12, 15-13 (73m)
[3] James Willstrop (Yorks) bt John Rooney (Ireland) 11-9, 11-6, 11-5 (38m)
[14] Adrian Waller (Herts) bt [Q] Chris Hall (Surrey) 11-4, 11-5, 11-1 (27m)
[6] Daryl Selby (Essex) bt Eddie Charlton (Notts) 5-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-6 (47m)
[10] Chris Ryder (Herts) bt Stuart Crawford (Scotland) 11-5, 11-6, 11-2 (28m)
[2] Peter Barker (Essex) bt Joel Hinds (Derbyshire) 11-4, 11-4, 11-8 (32m)

Women's Qualifying finals:
Sarah-Jane Perry (Warwicks) bt Leonie Holt (Warwicks) 11-7, 11-6, 11-9 (27m)
Carrie Ramsey (Yorks) bt Lauren Selby (Essex) 11-5, 2-11, 11-13, 11-9, 21-19 (74m)
Millie Tomlinson (Derbyshire) bt Emily Whitlock (Cheshire) 11-7, 11-6, 11-4 (31m)
Deon Saffery (Wales) bt Annabelle Collins-Ballands (Kent) 11-3, 11-5, 11-4 (17m)