Pontefract’s world number four James Willstrop gives the inside track on the competitive world of squash.
England’s senior teams took the titles at the European Team Championships in Espoo in Finland on Saturday and every one of the decisive matches involved either Yorkshire or Yorkshire-based men or women.
The women’s team were seeded three after their loss at the hands of Holland in last year’s semi-finals and like last time were missing Laura Massaro and Alison Waters, ranked seven and five in the world respectively.
This time around, however, they firmly dispelled any doubts when Halifax-based Sarah Kippax produced the performance of her career to astutely defuse the challenge of Holland’s Natalie Grinham, the former world number two, in a tense five-set encounter which was rich in quality.
It was arguably the highlight of the day and Kippax deservedly enjoyed the unofficial award of man/woman of the match from her team.
World number two Jenny Duncalf, from Harrogate, followed up in positive fashion to beat Dutch Leeds Carnegie student Vanessa Atkinson, whose last professional season it is, in three games.
After a major disappointment in losing to the Dutch last year this was a brilliant and decisive reversal and has reinstated England’s dominance in this event.
The men haven’t lost the title since 1993 and our team registered its most comprehensive win, certainly in my time as an England player, making short work of France in the final.
The French notably lacked the strength of their number two stalwart Thierry Lincou, who has had troublesome injury worries of late.
Jonathan Kemp made his England senior debut in Finland and won the first rubber of the final in style to lay solid foundations.
Sheffield’s Nick Matthew then capitalised, beating world number six Greg Gaultier to leave Peter Barker with the task of cleaning up for the title, winning the one required game in his number two string match.
Ireland took the bronze medal in the women’s event after going close in recent years. Madeleine Perry showed guts despite a recent injury, winning several crucial rubbers at number one string during the week.
The event, as it always does, shows how different and very necessary team squash is.
There were some incredibly tense moments, none more so than during the Scotland men’s team’s attempts to avoid relegation to the second division, where they required a 3-0 winning margin in every one of their four matches against the Czech Republic.
They did it by a whisker and the cheers at the end could have been heard in Sweden.
This was only one of many fierce contests played out last week; team squash is notorious for finding players out and with the increased levels of passion, atmosphere and support, long may events such as this continue.