Matthew and Massaro take British National titles

A week after it all started we were down to the finals at the National Squash Centre, seventeen National titles to be won, some wonderful matches in prospect, and finals day didn’t disappoint the packed crowd at the National Squash Centre.

It all kicked off at 11 with the EDSA (English Deaf Squash Association) Final, the Masters starting at the same time, concluding with the much-anticipated women’s and men’s finals.

Women’s Final:
[2] Laura Massaro bt [8] Alison Waters   11/2, 11/9, 8/11, 11/4 (53m)

Men’s Final:
[2] Nick Matthew bt  [1]James Willstrop 11/8, 11/3, 8/11, 14/12 (81m)

Laura Still the Champion

One of the questions that many were asking in the buildup to the 2012 Nationals Women’s final was ‘how close can Alison Waters be to her best, this soon after a long injury layoff’.

The two-time champion had certainly looked good in the previous rounds, but now she would be up against the current world number four, WISPA player of the year and of course the defending champion.

In the first game the answer had to be ‘not very close’, as Massaro romped through to take the lead 11/2, aided ad abetted by some unforced errors from Waters.

For the next two games though the answer was ‘pretty much there’ as the pair contested two games that could have gone either way, scarcely a point between them and no shortage of qualify shotmaking and retrieving. Massaro took the second 11/9, Waters the third 11/8.

An early lead from the defending champion in the fourth proved to be decisive though, as in typically determined fashion she pressed home her advantage, 4/1,  6/2, 6/3 and assuming complete control now took five in a row to retain the title.

No great celebrations, just a little skip, but a very satisfied and a very worthy repeat champion.

“The national title is huge for all British players – there are some big names on that trophy. To be able to win it last year was special, so do it again is fantastic, I was disappointed not to defend my title last month in Cleveland, so it is good to defend this one

“Ali was such a good player before she got that terrible injury.  To get back to this level, after what she’s been through last year, is incredible.

“It’s great to think I’ll be on the poster again for next year, but this time  I want to be the big one at the front !”

Laura Massaro

“I’ve got mixed feelings – I’d like to have won, of course,  I haven’t played a match like that for so long.  I didn’t think I played badly at all, but she’s improved so much since I’ve been away.

“On the other hand, if you’d told me at the start of the week that I’d be in the final, I would have bitten your leg off …”

Alison Waters

Matthew the master again

He went into the match as the world champion, the world number one and the three-time champion, but Nick Matthew was only the second seed for the men’s final. James Willstrop, himself a two-time champion who usurped Matthew’s number one spot at the end of last year, was top seed. Until Matthew had wrested it back of course, in last month’s ToC final in New York.

But Matthew had a  31-9 winning record to bolster him, including wins in the World, British, Commonwealth and National finals, and had won their last 18 encounters, which has to give you a bit of a head start, you’d feel.

It certainly seemed to in the first two games. The first was tough, as you’d expect, but from 3-all Matthew always had the slight edge, finishing it off 11/8 as Willstrop attempted a repeat of the sublime volley drop that had saved one game ball, only to find the tin this time to finish the 14-minute game.

In the second Matthew exerted the sort of control that he can and does so often, working his opponent around the court, making it harder and harder and harder for his opponent until finally a loose return arrives, the ball is just too tight, or the opponent just can’t get there any more. Turning the screw, it’s called, and Matthew was turning it relentlessly from 4/0 to 7/2, hit  two consecutive dead nicks at the back of the court for 9/3 and 10/3, and in just 11 minutes was two-nil up, 11/3.

It was looking ominous for James – even his manager thought so – but from mid-point of the third game the screwdriver seemed to change hands. The rallies were still relentlessly tough, for both of them, but slowly, and surely, it was Matthew who was being put under more and more pressure, Willstrop who was beginning to control proceedings.

From 5-all he took four points in a row, and to the delight of the Popntefract faction in the crowd pulled a game back 11/6 after 15 minutes.

The fourth was a monster. Thirty-five minutes long, the momentum swayed one way then the other, the tension racking up after every point, but the players still managed to keep up a brilliant level of squash, any one of a number of rallies could have been a standalone advert for the professional game.

At the start of it Willstrop still seemed to have the slight edge, but two drops that clipped the tin helped Matthew to lead 4/2. Back Willstrop came though to 5-all. Then came probably the longest rally of the year so far – ending in a let, of course. And byu now they each had their own screwdriver, first one then the other would exert marginal control, and that’s how it stayed until the end, which was still some way off.

6-all, 7-all, Willstrop goes up 9-7, a stroke pulls it back to 9-8 but a superb midcourt drop gives Willstrop two game balls at 10/8.

Another stroke as Willstrop struggled to clear his own dropshot, then a counterdrop from Matthew and it was 10-all.

A tin from Willstrop and it’s a first match ball for Matthew. Huge rally, Matthew’s sure he’s won it on a stroke. Let. A dropshot for the title, tin, 11-all.

Willstrop goes sprawling as he attempts to reach a dropshot in the front forehand corner, 12-11 match ball.

A patient rally, a floated length that died in the back corner and a huge Pontefract cheer for 12-all.

A floated drive under no pressure goes just out of court, 13/12 match ball again.

Another long rally, Nick slowly, slowly builds the pressure and eventually, eventually, he drives it deep with James too far out of position to recover. He turns, arms raised to celebrate his record-equalling fourth title.

81 minutes have gone. Some match, some players.

“I played the best squash of my career for the first two and a half games, but for all his racket skills James is also one of the most determined opponents I’ve ever played, it was just brutal.  We may be great rivals but we have a good deal of respect for each other.

“It was one of the biggest disappointments of my career – losing the title last year, so it means a lot to me to win it for a record-equalling fourth time.”

Nick Matthew

“I’m not worried about what happened score-wise – it’s more about what’s happening in the match and making sure that I’m in it.

“People keep mentioning the run – and that’s great –  but the key thing is my squash maintains a high standard and I give it my best.

“I was disappointed not to win, but not disappointed in my performance.”

James Willstrop

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