Wed 24 Mar, Day TWO:
vs WHITE :
[Well, not quite ... Ed]
People, that’s it, call back the dogs, the race is over, I am in love and
I’m probably going to get arrested for it. James Willstrop is THE man.
When the match started, with a bit of delay of course, due to the 'leak'
technical hitch, I sat near Malcolm, James’ father and coach. Then, out of
nowhere, appears Ellery Hanley the Rugby player who coaches John. So, here
I am, James’ coach on my left, John’s coach on my right. Talk about the
devil and the deep blue sea ...
Oh well, it’s a tough job, but somebody has got to do it.
And God Hanley has got shoulders, I’m telling you. I saw him with John
White at the Nationals, where he came to support him. He coaches the Scot
on the mental preparation angle.
So, of course, we HAD TO talk about rugby and Saturday’s match….
Back to the game.
You know, it’s much easier when you don’t know the players, or when you
don’t particularly like them. But there arrives a point where you don’t
know who to support. This match was one of those points. John or James,
James or John? So you just look, and enjoy the battle of the Giants. 6’4"
for James Willstrop, 6’4" for White. Or is it the reverse? Not sure, and
who cares? Boy o boy do I feel small.
I didn’t say skinny. I said small.
Two attackers. Two performers. Two brilliant personalities. Two ball
hitters (John White just established the new unofficial Squash Speed World
Record at 172m/hour. Andy Roddick, with his 150 m/hour, can go home and
cry….). And Two wonderful big hearted men.
In the 1st set, Willstrop was leading the rallies, playing perfect length
cross courts and attack drives, forcing White to hit some loose shots and
to put the ball in the tin. That game was pretty much James’, who won 9/7
in 9 minutes.
By the way, when you are trying to report on a match, and both players
have the same initials (JW), that make one’s life very difficult!
Honestly, somebody should think about those things, and rename the players
In the second, James served us with some pretty good deception shots,
played one reflex cross court from behind his back, and retrieved shots I
didn’t think had been invented yet. But John gradually speeded up the pace
(if that’s possible) and took the 2nd 9/6 in 8 minutes.
Retrieving was the name of the 3rd game. I saw some pretty good retrieving
from Peter Nicol and Thierry Lincou over the years, but what Willstrop and
White saved today was pretty miraculous, if you ask me. John landed on his
tummy, James threw himself against the walls, o they had a lovely time out
there. And they call that fun?
9/7 for Willstrop. So 2/1 for him.
4th game. 4/0 for John. 4/5 for James. 5/5. 6/5. 6/6. 7/6. There was a
rally at 7/6, that you will never ever see again. Amazing. Breathtaking.
Incredible. John retrieved drop shots, drives, court courts, run left,
right, back and down, and left and right, succeeded to take the advantage,
and won the point to get to 7/7. James takes it back 8/7.
And you know what made the difference? The serve. James served a lob serve
that John had so much problem to return, that gave him the perfect
position to end up the match 9/7.
During an interval, James told his dad that the pace was “brutal”. Yop,
you can say that again.
John was as witty as ever. “Are you going to give me a let?” he cheekily
asked the ref with his soft voice. “Yes”, he replied. “Are you going to
give me a stroke?” “No”, retorted the ref.
Oh yes, the tension was high, arguments, shouting… NOT. The game was
fluid, friendly, well behaved, and yet fierce. No complaisance, no
“exhibition mode”, believe me.
One of those game you don’t want to end with a loser.
God I love Squash!
PETER: WHO’S BOSS?
It’s you, Great Promoter/Player. Jeez, 29 minutes later, he was back
wearing his promoter’s cap. And during the 2nd game interval, I saw him
ask Linda Davie (Tournament Referee) what time it was. And I’m pretty sure
it was the promoter thinking, “Good, we are not going to finish late,
Well, he is so good, he is so above the rest of us, poor mortals that we
are. In the 1st game for example, he is just under pressure from Nick
Matthew who is attacking beautifully, and hitting the ball well and with
great precision at 7/5 for Nick. So Nicol just runs slightly quicker,
extends a bit more, and 3 rallies later, he wins the game 9/7. It would
have taken him a whole 9½ minutes.
The second will take 8 minutes, and the last 7minutes. Need I say more?
Oh, all right then. Just 2 lines.
As Nick was asking for a let, a smiling Peter asks the ref:
“Are you going to ask me if there was contact? Are you going to ask me if
there was contact? “Was there contact?” asked the Referee? “Yes there
was!” laughed away Peter. And the crowd loved it.
As Peter was telling the ref that, in his opinion, one of Nick drop shots
went in the tin:
“Even he [Nick] said the ball is not up!” “I never said that”, replied
Matthew o so quickly, “I said I wasn’t sure”! And the crowd laughed with
Matthew gave us some beautiful rallies, but Nicol was just too much in
command for any misgiving….
I SLEPT WELL, THANK YOU
After his marathon evening of last night (you must have heard, or you just
came back from the Moon, that David Palmer, former World Champion,
actually played 9 sets yesterday, 4 against John White in London, and 5
against Gregory Gaultier in Birmingham, and Gaultier also took trains and
buses to arrive from France especially for the match – so many rules have
been bent to allow David Palmer to play his late match that there are not
many left standing…)
So honestly, I thought that Palmer would suffer today. He suffered
nothing! If it took 29 minutes for Peter to finish his game, Palmer needed
only 27 to squash his opponent Lee Beachill away.
Lee Beachill, like I mentioned it yesterday, is normally very good at
imposing his game of length and patience. But last night, he was the one
taking all the risks, dropping and volleying the shots, and unfortunately,
Palmer was the master of the rallies, hitting the ball long and in the
back corners, whether by drives or cross courts. He was never under any
real pressure, and the beautiful attacks from Beachill didn’t seem to have
any effect on the Australian.
Do I hear the word “revenge”, as Palmer lost in the final of the Bermuda
Open just a few days ago????
Could it be????
Bet your racket it does…
Shame, as I was really glad to see an attacking and positive game from
Beachill. Please, more of those, Mr Beachill!
LINCOU – BENG HEE:
MY HEART BLEEDS…
God Squash is a tough heartbreaker. Two gentlemen battling away. Ong Beng
Hee who had a run of bad luck in the past months, psychologically a bit
insecure. Thierry Lincou, a very bad injury that kept him away from the
courts from months, having lost his number 1 ranking, and desperate to
recover, both physically and mentally.
And I think personally that Thierry's problem at the moment is a
confidence one. He doesn’t want to lose, whereas he just needs to want to
win again. That’s all. In this game again, he was very tense, and although
his forehand shots tonight were perfect (in his match against Nick Matthew
yesterday, they were very loose at times), in the 1st game in particular,
his backhand drives were miles away from the wall. And against an attacker
as brilliant as Ong, not a good idea.
Lincou should have never lost the 1st game. But Ong's drives were glued to
the wall, and he seized all the opportunities that Thierry’s nervousness
offered him on a silver racket.
In the second, Thierry was up 8/2, and lost the next 4 points. No, he
didn’t lose, Beng Hee won them. Actually there was a point that I thought
rightly deserved a let for Thierry, and wasn’t awarded. I was so surprised
I dropped my block note on the floor, and made a French sound “Hein???”.
Johnny White, sitting just behind me with Hanley, made a loud “Shhhhh”
towards me, with a biiiigggggg smile, expecting to get a reaction from
me…. I of course blew a loud raspberry toward him, and after Thierry won
the game 9/6, I went to him and murmured:
“Do you remember when I wrote that you were the nicest man on the circuit?
I lied!!!!!” And John laughed his heart out. “I thought press reports had
to be impartial”, he rightly noted. “I’m French before being a
journalist,” I apologised. “And anyway, I’m sooo impartial”. “Of course
you are” retorted John.
Me, French and partial? Certainly not!
And then, my pen just died on me. “Looks very professional”, laughed John
It was not my night….
For those of you who read my report on Peter Nicol/Beng Hee match, I wrote
that Beng Hee was back… God I wish last night I had been wrong! He was so
brilliant during the match. His game was fresh, inventive, precise,
brilliant. Thierry played beautifully, but just didn’t seem to have the
answers. Whatever attack shot or precise drop shot or volley drop he would
throw at his opponent, the Malaysian picked it up and returned it.
The 3rd game took 26 minutes. The 8/8 deuce advantage gave us some very
dramatic lets, some fantastic rallies of glued to the wall drives, both
forehand and backhand (Thierry by then had got rid of those loose shots),
some great changes of pace by Ong, some out of this world attacks for
Thierry and retrievals from Ong, and vice versa. Beng Hee tore the victory
10/8, and my heart with it.
After that one, Beng Hee was very tired, and let the 4th go in 5 minutes
9/1. But he was to come back with a vengeance. By that time, I wasn’t a
reporter anymore. Forgot the Squash Player. Forgot the “etiquette”. I was
a French supporter, well THE French supporter, as the rest of the crowd,
surprisingly enough all British as we were in London (imagine that), was
behind the magic young man whose had been a Londoner for years. And my
heart just broke as after one deuce, 3 lets, one stroke and one advantage
to Ong, Thierry couldn’t retrieve a perfect length shot from his extremely
And on top of that, as I went to have a drink after the match with Linda
Davie and the Eventis Boys, guess who I gave a lift to? Ong!
“You are not getting in my car,” I said, “after what you just did to me!
You are walking young man!” Thierry and Ong both laughed at my total
devotion to the number one French player.
81 minutes. Believe me, that new scoring doesn’t stop the close matches to
go on and on. Last night, it was Willstrop/Beachill, tonight Thierry/Beng
Hee. But it is a different game. In a normal game, I’m not sure Ong would
have had the physical resources to go all the way. But in a short format,
he was able to dig in, knowing that the finishing line was just round the
Thierry finished the match very sad, but I think I was even sadder. Boy,
it’s difficult to be a supporter sometimes… It’s easier just to watch and
But I still love squash.
9/7, 6/9, 9/7, 9/7 (45m)
9/4, 9/3, 10/8 (27m)
9/7, 9/6, 9/7 (29m)
Ong Beng Hee
9/6, 6/9, 10/8, 1/9, 10/8 (81m)
ON THE WHARF
Clifford Chance 1-2 KPMG
THE DAY ...
Well, the steeple actually. As I told you earlier, there was a leak
in the glass roof, and drops of rain were falling on the right side
of the court.
So what did they do? They called Superman, and while James Willstrop
was playing John White, they sent him up there, yes, all the way on
the top, like 200 metres up in the air, to sort out the problem. Who
said that Superman is only a fictional character!
HILTON LEADS CHAMPAGNE
PARTY FOR KPMG
KPMG beat Clifford Chance 2-1 in today's Canary
Wharf Corporate Classic on The Thunderdome court and collected a jeroboam
of champagne donated Chelsea Catering.
In a three-player format, Clifford Chance sportingly allowed James Hilton
to play twice for KPMG, but the move backfired as he beat Anthony Stewart
3-1 in the deciding rubber.
Mike Poulton had given Clifford Chance a great start by beating Hilton 3-2
in an opening match that drew nods of approval from the watching James
Willstrop and his father Malcolm, who were impressed by the quality of the
squash and the way in which the players contended with the sunlight
shining through the East Wintergarden windows.
Andrew Nichol brought KPMG level by beating Simon Cooke in the second
match, winning the third game on a tiebreak, and then Hilton clinched
victory as he enjoyed his second outing on the Perspex court by beating
Results (Clifford Chance names first):
Mike Poulton beat James Hilton 9-7, 9-6, 7-9, 8-10, 9-5.
Simon Cooke lost to Andrew Nichol 0-9, 5-9, 8-10
Anthony Stewart lost to James Hilton 10-8, 6-9, 8-10, 6-9.
SAY IT WITH A FRENCH ACCENT
the Framboise Gommendy column
Framboise arrives early
for Day Two ...
Second day at Canary Wharf. I arrived early
to talk with Malcolm Willstrop. Just finished a brilliant in-depth
interview. What a delightful human being! I’m sure you’ll think like him
as much as I did when you read what the great man (yes, I use the word not
lightly) has got to say about his love of the game [see
You know, when you arrive on Jubilee Place, you see that weird looking
glass building, like a church steeple. It’s really an amazing view, well
Over looking the court, imagine a theatre with the stalls (squash seats)
and the balcony, the East Wintergarden Restaurant. So people can dine and
watch squash, or just have a drink and overlook the game, glass in hand.
Very “cabaret de luxe”, really. Great atmosphere, and so original….
Oh come on and have a look, then! [Or if you can't, wait until Fritz
Borchert arrives on Thursday to see the photos, Ed.]
Yesterday, there was a little boy who came to ask Thierry Lincou to sign
his T-shirt while I was interviewing him (Thierry, not the boy), a T-shirt
which now has the full house. Joshua is 8 and came to see all the great
players, but also to play with them if possible. The lovely Nick Matthew
didn’t hesitate, and not only played with the ecstatic boy, but also lost
against him. So now we know why Nick was exhausted for his game against
Nothing to do with the organisers, but I was a bit surprised to see that
the glass walls hadn’t been cleaned by the owners! Surely they must clean
it before they rent it out! And please, I know I’m French and maybe a bit
too much on the fashion side of things, but who on Earth chose the
colours! The tin is blue, the lines are yellow (with a white ball, easy to
determine the not up, I tell you), the front wall is green, the side wall
and the base are blue, and the Canary Wharf Classic logo is red.
And I’m supposed to be the colour-blind one!
I am telling you, whoever had the idea of having 8 of the top players in
the world in 2 groups affront each other for three days in a glass box and
throw away the key, had the best idea since the Super Series Finals.
Every game is a different experience, a different flavour, style,
excitement, happiness, joy. The place is buzzing with professionalism,
fans, neophytes, and even French people. The new scoring (up to 9, if 8
all, deuce and advantage) keeps it light and fun and interesting.
Different from my favourite English Scoring, but really interesting. As we
say in French ‘Je n’en crois pas mes yeux” “I can’t believe my eyes.”
Two words for you, Mr Organisers: THANK YOU …
IT NEVER RAINS, BUT ...
Just in! (at 17.45) We have leaks in the roof. Until now, it was only one
spot in the seat area, but now, it's on the court itself, in the right
back corner. Tim Garner is looking at it and into it actually, and
towels have been placed on the court.
I have been told that it's only when the rain falls very hard, and it's
only a few drops once in a while. Oh that's a relief, then! The number of
things that can go wrong in an event, it's remarkable....
ON THE WHARF