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Malcolm Willstrop reports from Canary Wharf

Malcolm prefaced his final report with "sorry to have to write about James". 

It's not his fault he won,
after all (or maybe,
as his coach, it is!)


  James Willstrop beat Thierry Lincou   4-2
 9/7, 9/5, 5/9, 9/4, 9/10, 9/2 (87m)

Great crowds all week were topped by a sell-out on finals night and Peter Nicol and world no 1 John White, which sounds like a final, played the third/fourth play-off.

They were determined to entertain, which is a part of what these players need to do, and that was no problem to two of the most popular players in the world. They swapped shots, ran like demented dervishes, talked to anyone who would listen and gave the crowd, freed from their City Labours, an hour's worth of pure skill and comedy.

The serious stuff was about to happen however, since Thierry Lincou, rediscovering some form through the event, and ambitious James Willstrop were not too concerned with the lighter side.

Personal pride, prestige at such a high-profile event and Anglo-French relationships were all at stake. And anyway the crowd wanted the real thing and the players delivered.

Willstrop had been in fine form with the racket throughout the event and Lincou's win over Nicol showed there was not too much wrong with him.

Urged on by the crowd and especially by Darren and his men from Datchet, the youngster went 2-0 up effortlessly as Lincou struggled to cope with Willstrop's racket skills. However Lincou doesn't lie down and making life more difficult and aided by five marginal, but unforced, errors from his opponent he won the third.

Willstrop extended his lead in the best of seven final - some reward for all their hard work during the week - to 3/1 and then came a titanic fourth, which after three match balls he eventually lost 13/11 (or 10/9 if you prefer the call of 'deuce', which I do not).

This seemed likely to reinforce Lincou, but defence is not Willstrop's way and producing four beautifully-executed cross-court deceptions he quickly asserted to 5/1 and the gallant Frenchman knew, as did the demonstrative crowd, that the game was up, metaphorically and literally.

Willstrop took the title and his joy, after a demanding week and a fierce 87-minute battle, was there for all to see.

The Frenchman was gracious in defeat, declaring how difficult his opponent was to read, but the signs are that after a troublesome ankle injury, now repaired, he is well on his way back and the Canary Wharf Classic may have helped.

The Champion praised, and rightly, the entrepreneurial efforts of Peter Nicol, Tim Garner and Angus Kirkland, aided and suavely abetted by Alan Thatcher who gave the proceedings an added touch of class.

The sort of profile this marvellous event gave to squash in heartland London is just what the game needs.

Praise, too, to the crowds who came all week, were well-rewarded by Squash's excellent and approachable star players, and especially to the full house on finals night, who shared their delight in all they saw.
Ong Beng Hee had an 81-minute match late on Wednesday night when he beat Thierry Lincou in the fifth and since Nick Matthew has a good record against him it was something of a surprise that the Malaysian controlled each of the three games to record his second win in the Jubilee group.

Matthew seemed unable to raise the tempo, something that he has recently done very effectively, and Ong was relatively untroubled to win in three games.

Just as Ong had done, Thierry Lincou came up fresher than might have been expected against the unbeaten Peter Nicol. The local hero was always slightly ahead in the first game until 7/6 when the Frenchman caught up with him to steal the game 9/7.

Nicol romped away to 8/3 in the second, eventually taking it 9/5 and it seemed reasonable to think that Lincou's efforts of the night before might begin to tell. It didn't happen though and Lincou was soon at 8/3. A spirited recovery took Nicol to 6/9, but that was it and Lincou led 2-1.

Nicol led 4/2, 7/3 and 8/5 in the fourth, but failed to capitalise and not only lost the match, but his place in the final on countback, probably to his disappointment.

Lee Beachill had blister problems, but put up a game performance in an entertaining match with John White. They were definitely enjoying themselves and soon the crowd were too. The world no 4 won the first, the world no 1 the second 13/11 and then very quickly took a 2-12 lead, 9/2. The Yorkshireman threatened to get level, leading 8/9 in the fourth, but it was White who took it 10/8 to guarantee a place in the top four.

If David Palmer were to beat James Willstrop in the last match of the night, White would be in the final, but if Willstrop were to succeed he would become Lincou's opponent.

Willstrop had played well to beat White the night before and he was soon in impressive form, attacking uninhibitedly, missing very little. He controlled three games to win conclusively and to set up an England v France final, a prelude to Saturday's rugby showdown.

So Friday's line-up is:
3rd/4th:  Nicol v White
Final: Lincou v Willstrop

at the East Wintergarden, which will be a total sellout, after splendid crowds all week.


Jubilee Place Group:

Ong Beng Hee bt Nick Matthew
9/5, 9/4, 9/7 (32m)
Thierry Lincou
bt Peter Nicol
9/7, 5/9, 9/6, 10/8 (50m)

Canada Place Group:

John White bt Lee Beachill
5/9, 10/9, 9/2, 10/8 (55m)

James Willstrop bt David Palmer
9/7, 9/5, 9/6 (27m)


Day THREE preview:
With Ong Beng Hee having defeated Thierry Lincou in the longest match of the tournament to date by far, Peter Nicol should make tomorrow's final from the Jubilee Group.

The heavier Canada Group is anybody's guess. Each player has won once and the winners tonight will provide the finalist, the deciding factor when wins are equal being head-to-head.

Lee Beachill has blistered feet and may struggle with John White, in which case the world number one will want David Palmer to beat James Willstrop. Should Willstrop and White win the youngster will be in the final. Any of the four can win through, so entertainment is guaranteed.

After Michael Douglas spectating in Bermuda and apparently loving it, Andrew Castle, a squash enthusiast appearing on Tuesday and Ellery Hanley, Rugby League icon in the crown on Wednesday, squash is certainly drawing some star names, as well as large crowds, to Canary Wharf.

Day TWO, Wed 24th:

When world no1 John White and James Willstrop meet they rarely disappoint, and kicking off the second evening of the Canary Wharf Classic they gave the large crowd another match of brutal pace and intense power from White and fine racket control from Willstrop.

White led early in the first 5/3 and 7/3, but Willstrop finished with a flurry and stole the game 9/7. White again led in the second, this time 4/0 and 6/4, but Willstrop was now matching him and levelled at six-all before White got home 9/6.

In the third it was Willstrop who made the quicker start, 4/2 and 6/3 and the 8/6 and he held his nerve to win the game 9/7 and take a 2-1 lead.

The pace had hardly relented and at 5/1 down the World Junior Champion looked set for another five set match, but he came back strongly to five-all, took the lead for the first time at 8/7 and clinched the match 9/7.

Peter Nicol is clearly determined to leave his mark before he sets off into the mountains on his charity venture and he was always in control against Nick Matthew, although the Yorkshireman resisted stoutly.

The scoreline was tight - 9/7, 9/6, 9/7, but Nicol was never seriously challenged in terms of winning and losing. With two wins he is well set up to win the Jubilee Group, though Thierry Lincou may yet have a say in matters.

Lee Beachill, after his exertions in Bermuda and a quite demanding hour's work on Tuesday night, struggled from the beginning against David Palmer, who himself had a hard time of it on the first night with his match against John White, train ride to Birmingham and a five set encounter with Gregory Gaultier.

Palmer seemed to have recovered from his exertions and won the first two quickly. Despite looking uncomfortable Beachill had two game balls in the third, but it was Palmer who took it, and the match, 13/11 [recorded as 10/8].

So Palmer, White, Beachill and Willstrop all have a win each, guaranteeing fireworks on Thursday, when White plays Beachill and Palmer plays Willstrop. Pick a winner or two!



Canada Group:
James Willstrop bt John White
9/7, 6/9, 9/7, 9/7 (45m)

David Palmer bt Lee Beachill
9/4, 9/3, 10/8 (27m)

Jubilee Group:
Peter Nicol bt Nick Matthew
9/7, 9/6, 9/7 (29m)

Ong Beng Hee bt Thierry Lincou
9/6, 6/9, 10/8, 1/9, 10/8 (81m)


Day ONE, Tue 23rd:

David Palmer and John White, close friends, finalists in the World Championship 2002, opened proceedings in the Canary Wharf Classic and Palmer began as if he had a train to catch - which he had, to Birmingham to help Edgbaston in their National League playoff against Broxbourne.

He led in the first game 3/0, 5/3, 8/5 and eventually took it 9/7, both players striking cleanly and powerfully. It was world no 1 White, however, who called the tune in the second, leading at all stages - 3/1, 7/5 and taking it 9/5.

With the train leaving Euston any time now maybe Palmer lacked some of his normal stubborn resolve and White took a 2/1 lead. The Aussie is not good at lying down however, and led 6/5 before White provided the extra to power home in his bid to win the Canada Group.

The arena is intimate and spectacular with the river as a backdrop and the large first night crowds thoroughly enjoyed the start of the event.

There was no lack of competitive edge to any of the next three matches and the vastly improved Nick Matthew faced world number two Thierry Lincou, who was no doubt eager to get revenge for his 3/2 defeat in Bermuda.

The match began at high tempo, which both players enjoy, and it was maintained until the very late stages when the Frenchman took control.

The young Yorkshireman always led in the first and won it 9/6, showing his improved finishing ability. Lincou, though, levelled, pulling away from 5-all to win the second readily.

A splendid third was decisive. Again five-all, Lincou only got away after spirited resistance from Matthew.

The fourth was more comfortable and Lincou, holding his game together, ran away from 4/3 to 9/4 as Matthew was reduced to occasional guesses in a thoroughly entertaining match with France's champion a deserved winner.

Ong Beng Hee has not had a great time of it of late and he began slowly as Peter Nicol flew into action, winning the first quickly 9/4. The Malaysian improved and although he had the better of some rallies, invariably Nicol, keen to impress at this tournament, won them and took a 2-0 lead.

Oddly Nicol began indifferently in the third and was soon 5/1 and 6/2 down. This did wonders for Ong's confidence, so that he not only won the game, but held his former training partner to four-all in the fourth. He lost a massive rally at this point and it was Nicol who gradually, but by no means easily, drew sufficiently away to win the game and match 9/7.

For those who stayed, and that was almost everybody, the last and longest match between Lee Beachill, Bermuda Open Champion and James Willstrop disappointed nobody.

Willstrop started the better, was always ahead in the first and won it 10/8. In a similar pattern he again led in the second, but from 8/6 down it was the in-form Beachill who put together some excellent rallies to steal the game 10/8. Once again the third was nip and tuck with the younger player always just ahead to take it 9/7 and lead 2-1.

The quality of the approach play was such that chances had to be taken and Beachill from 3-all in the fourth quickly asserted himself, 9/3 to level the scores.

As Willstrop began to chance his arm, Beachill came clear again from three-all in the decider to win 9/4 after an hour.


John White bt David Palmer
7/9, 9/5, 9/4, 9/6 (34m)

Thierry Lincou
bt Nick Matthew
6/9, 9/5, 9/6, 9/4

Peter Nicol
bt Ong Beng Hee
9/4, 9/7, 5/9, 9/7 (42m)

Lee Beachill
bt James Willstrop
8/10, 10/8, 7/9, 9/3, 9/4 (59m)


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