Commonwealth Games: Willstrop’s forced to settle for silver again

James Willstrop
James Willstrop
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Pontefract squash star James Willstrop suffered final agony for the second Commonwealth Games in succession as he lost out to arch-rival Nick Matthew in the men’s singles final.

Willstrop, who also had to settle for silver in 2010 battled with Sheffield’s Matthew over a torrid and exciting one hour and 40 minutes before his opponent secured an 11-9 8-11 11-5 6-11 11-5 to retain his title.

The Yorkshire Eveining Post columnist collapsed in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion after Matthew finally wrapped up victory, paid a noble tribute to a fellow Yorkshireman with whom he freely acknowledges he will never be the best of friends.

“There is a mutual respect despite being disparate characters,” said Willstrop. “He was very humble and sincere as he always is after matches. But it’s sometimes easy to be sincere when he beats me all the time.”

World number two Matthew said his natural stubbornness made the crucial difference only five weeks after undergoing a knee operation which threatened his participation in the Games,.

“It wasn’t the prettiest squash I’ve ever played but I’m a Yorkshireman, an only child and a Leo so if you put that together you’ve got one hell of a stubborn so-and-so,” said Matthew. “Having my back to the wall brings out the best in me.”

Matthew and Willstrop make no excuses over their dislike for one another – although as Willstrop stated, “It’s not as if we go round hitting each other with cricket bats” – and he resident must be sick of the sight of his conqueror, who has now won 42 of their 53 career meetings.

Willstrop at least managed to push three-time world champion Matthew to the limit, in a marked contrast to their final four years ago in Delhi, which was won in straight games by Matthew.

The roots of their rivalry goes back to a sledging incident, instigated by Matthew, during the 2009 British Open final in Manchester.

The pair have barely been on speaking terms since, with Matthew admitting in his 2013 autobiography, ‘Sweating Blood’, that “four years on, they [Willstrop’s team] are still seething”.

Injury problems provided an intriguing subtext, with Willstrop also hampered by a recent hip problem so severe he was told by doctors six weeks ago it threatened his future in the sport.

The simmering rivalry was evident from the start of a sweaty and snarly final, although the first interruption in play was down to an incident as innocent as Matthew’s need to replace a contact lens.

The brief breakout of entente cordiale was never likely to last for long, and a handful of long points later Matthew flung back open the court door to remonstrate with the referee over the award of a stroke penalty in favour of his opponent. Matthew, despite his insistence that he “never had one bit of control in the whole match”, commanded the first game, but the momentum swung the other way in the second as Willstrop refused to relinquish an early-won points advantage.

Again Matthew seemed to make a break for it in the third, only to be reeled back in by a determined Willstrop, forcing the deciding game yearned for by a capacity crowd relishing every moment of a high-quality showdown.

England had to settle for silver in the badminton team competition as defending champions Malaysia came from behind to win a tight final 3-1.

Leeds’ Gabby Adcock and her husband Chris were part of the England team, along with Andrew Ellis.

Harrogate teenager Sophie Taylor claimed England’s second swimming gold of Monday night in the 100m breaststroke.

The 18-year-old broke her own British record as she came home in 1:06.35, virtually a full second ahead of Australian Lorna Tonks.

Taylor is a former member of the City of Leeds club and said: “The 18-year-old said: “After, in my eyes, a disappointing week, I just went for it and hoped that I could get a medal, even if it was a bronze or silver, I just wanted to win a medal.

“So I saw the end of sight and I said to myself that I would give it my all and I found a sudden burst of energy.

“It meant everything after just missing out on a medal in the 50 and not even making the final in the 200, I knew that I had to make a comeback and to get my mind refocused and positive again and so to come off with a gold and a British record means a lot to me.”

Leeds has hopes of another gold today as England gymnast Nile Wilson and his team-mates topped the team medal standings.

Wilson, Olympic silver medallist Lewis Smith, Max Whitlock, Kristian Thomas and Sam Oldham sat top of the pile with a score of 133.806 for the floor, pommel horse and rings, with the parallel bars, high bar and vault to come.

James Willstrop, lefvt, in action against Mohamed ElShorbagy in Dubai. Picture courtesy of PSA

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