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16 Jul 2024

Former Champions Matthew & Willstrop Set Up Historic R2 ToC Clash

14 Jan 2017

English rivals Nick Matthew and James Willstrop - champions in 2012 and 2010, respectively - will line up in an historic second round JP Morgan Tournament of Champions clash after coming through testing first round encounters in the first PSA World Series of the event of the year today at Grand Central Terminal in New York.

It will be the first time since December 2009 that the two former world number ones - who contested last month's British Grand Prix final - have faced each other as early as in a second round match on the PSA World Tour.

Fourth seed Matthew - bidding to reach the ToC final for a third successive year, and for the seventh time since 2006 - had to fight back from a game down to overcome top-ranked Scot Alan Clyne. The 6-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 victory in 58 minutes saw the Yorkshireman extend his career head-to-head record over Clyne to 10-0 over ten years.

"He played incredibly well - that's what a first round should be," said Matthew. "He's a tough opponent and never let go. He really stepped up his game in the first game, physically and mentally - that really woke me up.

"It's always tough after a break - particularly when you won the last tournament you played, and you come away floating around, feeling like a million dollars," explained the 36-year-old world No.4 from Sheffield.

"This match was a reminder of how tough it is - you just can't take things for granted."

When asked to comment on the recently-announced 'strategic alliance' initiative between the World Squash Federation (WSF) and Professional Squash Association (PSA), and the significance of squash being on the Olympic Games programme, Matthew said: "PSA and WSF need to work together. We're not big enough to have infighting.

"It's probably the only regret in my career that I can't call myself an Olympian."

For the second year in a row, former champion Willstrop began his ToC campaign unseeded. The current world No.11 faced tough opponent Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the Colombian who is ranked just three places lower and is the highest-ranked South American of all time.

As expected, it was a sparkling encounter which thoroughly absorbed the Vanderbilt Hall crowd surrounding the all-glass court.

Willstrop recovered from game-balls down in the opener to record a 12-10, 11-8, 12-10 win in 53 minutes - one which extended his unbeaten record over the Colombian to seven matches.

"That was one tough first round match - especially after a few weeks' break," said Willstrop. "He's a quality player so I'm happy to come away with a win."

Like Matthew, Willstrop is competing in his 14th ToC - and, over a 19-year career on the professional squash circuit, has topped the world rankings and won 19 titles from 41 final appearances. Does the 33-year-old still have any goals in the sport?

"I've never been a massive goal-setter - but I love playing on the big stage and I love being competitive. If I can play and compete well, that's my goal."

The second round match will mark Matthew and Willstrop's 35th clash on the PSA World Tour - and their 57th in all competitions. "It's great to see James back in form - to play a second round match with him will be totally new," said Matthew. "It's going to be incredibly tough."

Paul Coll became the first qualifier to earn a place in the second round after securing his first ever win over Englishman Chris Simpson. The in-form New Zealander scored a sensational and unexpected title triumph at last month's PSA M100 Channel VAS St George's Hill Classic in England - success which propelled him to a career-high world No.20 ranking this month.

Simpson, currently ranked 25 in the world, took the opening game - but Coll came back to claim a 4-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-6 victory after 64 minutes to progress in his maiden appearance in the event's main draw.

"I knew I hadn't beaten him before - but that gave me a bit of an angle, a bit of an edge," explained Coll later. "I was really keen to get the win.

"I've relocated to Hoofdorp in the Netherlands and am working with a new coach Tommy Berden. It's been a good decision to move there - a good game-changer."

Playing in his first tournament since undergoing hernia surgery in November, Ali Farag edged out Hong Kong qualifier Yip Tsz Fung 11-13, 11-6, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6 in 54 minutes to claim a first appearance in the event's second round.

"Yip is a great player - he's got all the shots in the book," said the 24-year-old Harvard graduate from Egypt.

When asked about the recovery from his recent surgery, Farag said: "My body is OK - it's more in my head!"

Simon Rösner had to come back after losing the first two games to qualifier Nafiizwan Adnan to earn his passage into the ToC second round. After letting Adnan dictate the play early on, the German turned the match around by turning up the intensity. The accelerated pace of play disrupted Adnan's rhythm sufficiently so that Rösner was able to secure the victory.

The No.8 seed's next opponent will be his good friend Nicolas Mueller, who dispatched Saurav Ghosal of India in three games. The Swiss number one was the aggressor from start to finish, but kept this error total low to advance to the second round.

Also, winning in three games was Australian Cameron Pilley over Germany's Raphael Kandra.

The match that most invigorated the ToC crowd was the contest between second seed Karim Abdel Gawad and his fellow Alexandrian Zahed Mohamed. The two Egyptians went toe-to-toe in the first game with a multitude of rapid fire exchanges that delighted the ToC crowd. Mohamed drew first blood, winning the opening game 12-10. But the newly-confident Gawad was undeterred and won the text three to stay alive at the ToC.