TODAY at the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic
Thu 26th March, Semi-Finals:


En Bref #3

Alan Thatcher's CW Blog

[3] James Willstrop (Eng) bt [1] Amr Shabana (Egy)
      11/7, 12/14, 7/11, 11/5, 11/3 (77m)
[4] David Palmer (Aus) bt [2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
       11/13, 1/11, 11/7, 11/3, 11/8 (80m)

LIVE text updates ... 

Comeback kings in CW final

Defending CW champion  James Willstrop, who has been battling illness and injury for much of the year and faces an ankle operation next week, produced another magnificent fightback to beat top seed Amr Shabana to reach the final, where he meets Australian David Palmer, who also had to fight back from the brink of defeat to remove Gregory Gaultier of France.

Willstrop’s victory followed another spectacular recovery in the quarter-finals when he beat Spaniard Borja Golan after trailing by two games. Palmer also staged an incredible turnaround after trailing by two games to the in-form Gregory Gaultier. His recovery was even more surprising after losing the second game 11-1.

Finals Night:  "Interactive Exhibition" at 18.00, final at 19.30

Malcolm on the Semis

Professional squash was seen at its very best in semi finals night at the Canary Wharf Classic when four of the Men’s best, Amr Shabana, David Palmer, Gregory Gaultier, and James Willstrop, provided regal entertainment.

Prior to the matches, I suspect most observers would have gone for a Shabana/Gaultier final, that judgment based on Shabana’s resurgence at Super Series and Gaultier’s success there [the poll on the Live Text page for Willstrop/Palmer was just 8%]. But that was reckoning without Palmer’s professional pride and obduracy and Willstrop's determination to win a fourth Canary Wharf Final.

Willstrop began well against Shabana, playing much better than he had against Borja Golan. His striking was better, as was his precision. He won the first, but when Shabana won the second, with something in hand, the expectation perhaps was that the previous night’s match might begin to tell against Willstrop. Shabana took a 2/1 lead, but was still having to battle, though looking the likeliest winner.

Willstrop was having none of it though, and playing with a steely determination, he levelled the match, as there were clear signs that Shabana was feeling the pace. Sensing that, Willstrop pressed on relentlessly, was never headed in the fifth and won it and the match impressively and to the delight of the London crowd.

They were not entitled to another match of the same quality and drama, surely, but one was still to come!!!

When Gaultier won the second game very easily to lead 2/0, one loss from that position sprung readily to mind. That loss was to Palmer in the World Open final in Cairo 2006.

Perhaps the Aussie subconsciously recalled it, since from that moment, he yielded not an inch.

Aided by several unforced errors from Gaultier, he won the third, pressed on to level the match and with the impetus gained, was not going to lose the match now. He played big points as well, if not better than anyone, and he ran out a deserved 3/2 winner.

What these two embattled warriors will be able to summon for the final, Heaven only knows. One thing for sure, they will give everything they can. What a night for the splendid crowds. Anyone there will surely come back for more.

[3] James Willstrop (Eng) bt [1] Amr Shabana (Egy)
      11/7, 12/14, 7/11, 11/5, 11/3

JAMES SUPERBLY STUBBORN…
Framboise reports

The more I know the Boy, the happier I am to have nicknamed him Dig In James. Tonight again, he surprised us by overcoming his mental and physical doubts to come back from 2/1 down against a Shabana at the top of his game.

Yes, we know that PSA President had a few scares with his knee, and that he is still not 100% fit, although he doesn’t feel pain as such. It’s a question of not feeling over secured on the leg, and also of not having doing the physical work. But the same could be said for James, not 100%, and not fit enough on paper. It was anybody’s match.

Two very hard first games, the first one going to James, but with the two players at the top of their game, not going for silly shots, just doing the hard work, patient, accurate, tight, just a few tins for the Prince of Egypt at the end of the game.

The same goes for the second, even closer between the two this time, with a James much more dangerous, taking more control of his space, as tight and accurate than his opponent. 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 6/6, 7/7, 8/8, 9/9, 10/10, 11/11, 12/12. It will take 4 game balls, but Shabana finally equalised in what we thought to be the turning of the match.

One thing to know about the young Englishman. He looks so pale when he tired he looks from afar as a bit anaemic – don’t you start Fram, I’m perfectly fine, and I don’t need iron, he would say – and he can appear to be very tired and close to sudden death, whereas in fact, he is just having a bit of a drop in energy. And I do believe that Shaabz got fooled when James’ wheels seemed to go completely off in the third.

In the fourth, I guess Shabana thought he was coming back for the kill, bless him, and in no time, finds himself down 4/1. Patiently, he comes back to 4/5. Crucial point. Four lets, then a no let. 6/4 James. Ball goes out of court. 7/4. A stunning backhand crosscourt millimetres from the tin, 5/7.

And there comes the turning point of the match. A massive, but massive from Massiveland, a rally only just won by James, but that’s when the Egyptian mentally let go, and never resurfaced. He never got another point in that game, and just couldn’t refocus in the 5th.

This was a superb performance by James, especially as I could see that Shabana didn’t come here to go through the motions. He was hungry, and playing superbly, both mentally and physically. James just outplayed him mentally in the end…



I so love the atmosphere here, I enjoy the tournament immensely, it’s such a treat for a squash player to turn round and see such a great and passionate crowd…

The fact I know that my ankle is going to be sorted have given me a real boost like I said yesterday, it’s like I’m saying to myself come on, you are alright, you can play, let’s see what you can do it… That’s been my mental outlet in the past ten days…

Sylvan the physio did an awful lot of work on me last night, and there is loads for him to do still tonight! That’s such a great help to have him around, because of bodies are just wrecked, and it’s extremely important for the players to have him around…

There was a strong period of play in the middle section where he was playing great squash, even controlling me, and having me on the rack, but I thought, if I can only hang in there, the quality of his squash was such, it was going to be difficult for him to maintain it…

You learn from each match, and last week in Queen's, I think my shots were only ¾ of the court, and anything that was loose he would punish me. Today, the court was a bit different, and my accuracy better, that is one of the reasons I was able to put a reasonable pressure on him, but at the end of the day, we were two players on completely different days…

Oh I don’t know how I did it, it was a real tussle all the way. The physical work was enormous for both of us at the end of the 3rd, and I just managed to keep my nose in front in the 4th to take a great start in the 5th…

This is such a massive win, I’m so happy to get through…

I had a bit of a drop in energy and in concentration in the middle of the 4th, it’s a good lesson for me to learn, I think I underestimated him a bit with his injury, he was moving fine…

What made the difference tonight was his concentration throughout the match…

This is a great tournament to be playing in, and I hope there will be another tournament next year, hopefully bigger and better next year…

Tomorrow I’m going back to Cairo, where I have another tournament that starts, and I’ll have to refocus for that one, having learned a thing or two on the way…

It’s my fault, I lost concentration at 5/3 in the 3rd, I was winning too easy, and I relaxed. I took it too easy, it’s my fault, nobody else, it can’t be blame on the refs decisions or anything, it’s just me! I should have closed the deal in 3, and not give him 1% of chance and believe he could come back into the match.

But that is actually a great lesson, next time I’m up 2/0 against him or anybody, I’ll just have to make sure that I’ll close it 3/0, that’s it. But all credit to him, it shows the great player he is, and the great athlete he is!

I’m still happy I was able to play here, I didn’t think I was going to be able to, so, I’m happy with my week. And although I’m disappointed, it’s not a tournament with too many points, so, in the big picture, it’s not toooo bad. Still…

Anyway, let’s be positive, I’m going to go and get the next one, and I’m going to be able to leave for Cairo one day earlier than planned, and probably have two whole days there before the tournament…

[4] David Palmer (Aus) bt [2] Gregory Gaultier (Fra)
       11/13, 1/11, 11/7, 11/3, 11/8 (80m)

NOTHING LEFT IN THE TANK,
AND YET…


This match won’t stay in the memory as the best start ever for David, that’s for sure. Normally, the Australian is pretty strong from the start, but in this instance, he was wobbly for sure! Straight drives about a metre away from the glass, constantly on the back foot, mis-hitting the ball on a regular basis or finding the tin, he went down 6/2 in the first.

The only thing that was working, his reading of the game. Before Greg had even hit the shot – check it on the video – David had already moved and was waiting to volley it, and kill it or drop it. Flying all over the court, he got himself two game points but after a few discussions with the refs that didn’t help him to focus, it’s Greg who pockets the game, 13/11.

In the second, David was just completely gone. No legs, he was breathing like a fish out of water, and it was pretty obvious he was dying out there. 8/0, come on!!! When was the last time you saw David going down 8/0 before taking his first point on a tin from his opponent! I had personally never seen David looking so tired and playing so poorly. The match was finished and done with in my mind, which is not that important, but it was finished in Greg’s mind too…

The third game saw the two of them getting frustrated. They took it out on the refs, of course, but in fact, they were both angry at themselves. David for having played so poorly, and trying and finding the mental strength to fight back. And the only way he knows how to do that is by getting angry at someone. The refs will do fine.

And the more the game was advancing, the more Greg was getting frustrated with himself for nothing killing David off as he should have, a David who was now getting stronger and stronger. And Greg more and more impatient. In squash, that’s never good…

In the fourth, Greg just didn’t show up.

We were back at level. And the incredible happened in the fifth. Although David’s energy had run dry since the end of the first – and there was not much to start with – his game grew stronger, and more accurate, and more inspired as he could feel he had been able to get into the Frenchman’s mind.

Greg still fought beautifully. 1/1. 2/2. 3/3. 4/4. 5/5. And if David took a few points' lead, Greg again caught up at 8/8. But Stroke. Stroke. Tin. The Marine took it home.

Tonight, he was simply that much hungrier for victory than Greg for whom it was just one match too many…



Obviously, when you lose 4, 5 times in a row against somebody, you try and keep changing things, you try and do your homework, and with the way he’s been playing at the moment, I guess it had to take a match like this to beat him…

In the first game, I didn’t play too badly, but again, I seem to set up a ball game, and not being able to close it. I kept on attacking, because one of the reasons I wouldn’t win against him recently was because I wasn’t attacking enough….

But in the second, I felt very slow, pretty sluggish, I kept on banging on the backwall. My feet seemed planted in the floor, and I felt so heavy. I had Cameron in my corner, and we knew that my feet position was all wrong, that I was too far back, which is not my game.

And this was the last tournament of the season for me, after that, nothing for three of four months, and I kept on telling myself that I wouldn’t lose it 3/0.

Somehow, I managed to come back in the match, it wasn’t pretty, certainly not my best squash, but in the end, I kept on attacking and attacking, hoping that I would apply enough pressure for him to hit the tin…

I think he probably relaxed a bit, thinking he got me again. And at 8/8 in the 5th, it was nice to finally get it, because making all that hard work to lose in five would have been pretty frustrating…

At the moment, I guess my level is around 5/6 in the world, not top 4, but if I could finish the season with a good win, I would consolidate my position in the top 6, then a bit of a summer break, training, and back for the next season…

I rather proud of what I’ve been able to achieve this week, tomorrow should be a great match with James, in front of his home crowd, and I have nothing to lose…