Squash: Pushed to the limit in semi thriller - Willstrop

BATTLING IT OUT: Three of the Manchester semi-finalists, from the left: Peter Barker, Nick Matthew and James Willstrop.

BATTLING IT OUT: Three of the Manchester semi-finalists, from the left: Peter Barker, Nick Matthew and James Willstrop.

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Pontefract’s world number one James Willstrop gives the inside track on the competitive world of sport.

At the time of going to press I am reclining in my hotel room in Manchester, recovering from the exertions in the semi-finals of the British Grand Prix, my first PSA event after the summer training period.

After beating England team-mate Daryl Selby on Friday and Laurens Jan Anjema from the Netherlands on Saturday evening, I faced long-time French rival Greg Gaultier yesterday.

quite audible from the squash arena, just over the way at the City of Manchester stadium, within the grounds of the Sportcity complex built in 2002 for the Manchester Commonwealth Games, were the 50,000 fans cheering Manchester City in their 1-1 stalemate with Arsenal.

Gaultier and myself were embarking on our own stalemate of sorts in the tense atmosphere of the National Squash Centre.

The fourth and fifth sets both went to tiebreakers, the former in his favour 17-15 – the time for which took more than the second and third games put together – and the fifth in mine 15-13 to give me a 7-11, 11-6, 11-4, 15-17, 15-13 victory.

The crowd were enthusiastic and supportive, and typically for an English crowd knowledgeable and fair to both players.

As would be expected being the Englishman, I enjoyed most of the support but only just: Greg, wherever he goes, lures fans with his exuberant, demonstrative gallic utterances, involving referees and audiences and a few French fans popped up in Manchester.

The game was fair and well contested and we both enjoyed a standing ovation at the end after an intense match.

It’s days like this that make playing squash professionally so rich and rewarding a lifestyle. Yes we play to win, but the loser of such a match should always be proud to show the world game off in such a good light.

Writing this article is sending me off nicely into a sleep I look forward to and should savour: Monday’s final reunites me with my Yorkshire rival and world number two Nick Matthew, who won his semi-final against Peter Barker from Essex.

It will be our first meeting in a PSA event since March when we played the final of the Canary Wharf Classic in London. Another big final awaits and I am greatly looking forward to playing in front of the Manchester crowd again.