The two most successful clubs in the 29-year history of the Premier Squash League - with seven titles between them – go head to head for the 2013 title on Tuesday 7th May in Nottingham in the final of the world’s most prestigious squash league, supported by Dunlop.
Croydon club Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets, the defending champions who are marking a record fourth successive appearance in the final, face Benz-Bavarian Duffield, the Derbyshire club celebrating a sixth final appearance since 1995.
Duffield, champions in 1998, 2006 and 2007, are looking for a record-equalling fourth title – while Surrey Health, winners of the trophy in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, will be aiming to become the first club to win a fifth title.
Both teams will be at full strength: Duffield will be led by England’s two world number twos, Yorkshireman Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro from Preston – while the Surrey Health attack will feature British champion Alison Waters [update: Waters withdraws with illness, replaced by Nada Elkalaawy], the world No4, and Peter Barker, the world No7, both from London.
Benz-Bavarian Duffield v Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets
Nick Matthew v Peter Barker H2H: 25-2
Karim Ali Fathi v Adrian Grant H2H: 0-0
Joel Hinds v Karim Abdel Gawad H2H: 0-0
Andy Whipp v Adrian Waller H2H: 1-0 (’08)
Laura Massaro v Nada Elkalaawy H2H: 1-0
Crystal Ball: looking at these lineups it’s certainly not going to be a quick, or easy, victory for either side. We’re plumping for a 3-2 win for defending champions Surrey, despite their longer journey, but anything from 4-1 to 1-4 looks eminently possible …
Matthew, in his tenth season for Duffield, boasts a record 33 match unbeaten PSL run since October 2007 – and will be marking his 28th career clash with England team-mate Barker since 2006.
“I always love playing for Duffield,” said Matthew of the eve of his 67th appearance for the club. “But it’s been a while since we have been in the final! We have been the dominant northern team in the past few years but been unable to break the southern stranglehold!
“Surrey & St. George’s have both come to fortress Duffield in the past two semi-finals – and won – so it would be nice to put an end to the southern dominance this year. We have strengthened this year with the addition of Laura – and her match with Alison should be a great one, and being first on could really set the tone for the night.
“Obviously with the final being in Nottingham we are lucky to have a sort of home advantage so if it did come down to mine and Pete’s match I’m sure our supporters will raise the roof!”
Duffield team manager Felix Frixou added: “The importance of winning this game has never been such a strong passion, not just for me as manager, but I feel we are ready to bring back the title to Derbyshire.
“This season the support, not just from Duffield but throughout our county, has been phenomenal. I can honestly say there won’t be another club like ours that share their passion with so many supporters.
“I won’t say that I fancy my chances, but this game has the making of possibly being one of the greatest finals ever, especially as all my top players know it’s tough at the top – and I know how tough my top players are!
“I am convinced players that are expected to lose their rubber will come out like the true Spartan heritage I have installed into them all, and most of all they are capable.
“The entertainment value of this event could go down in history, especially as we have East Midlands TV covering the whole evening, and what a great opportunity to raise the awareness of our sport and more importantly with emphasis to the Olympic bid.”
The Surrey Health team manager Pete Smith is clearly also proud of his squad: “To win the title for the fourth year running and five times overall would be an incredible achievement by my team. They are an excellent group of Individuals that have come together as a strong and spirited team and to reach the final again is fantastic for them, for the Club and all our supporters.
“We take on a very strong Duffield team on Tuesday and it will be a very strong and tight match contested to the limit. They too have had a great season and I know will be determined to win, so I’m expecting a fantastic contest.
“The matches look tight and Waller v Whipp will be a crucial match,” added Smith. “Also two outstanding matches at 1 with Nick v Pete, and at 5 with Alison against Laura, could prove crucial. Matches at 2 and 3 for Grant and Gawad again will be tight so will be crucial to the match result.
“I’m looking forward to a great spectacle of squash that will be played in good spirit – and may the best team win.”
Barker, the only member of the Surrey Health team to have played in all four winning line-ups, concluded: “It’s been a privilege to play for Integrity Surrey Health for many years and to have the opportunity to win our fifth PSL title is a testament to both Pete Smith and Virgin Active – Croydon.
“I think the final this year is between the two strongest teams in the country and every match on Tuesday is expected to be close. I hope my team will seal the tie before I step on court, as they have all season, but if not, I’ll be ready to give it everything to bring the title back to its rightful home!”