|Day SIX - Wed 28th Jan,
 Peter Nicol (Eng) bt [Q] James Willstrop (Eng)
15/13, 9/15, 15/4, 15/8 (63m)
 Rachael Grinham (Aus) v  Cassie Jackman (Eng)
2/9, 9/6, 9/2, 9/5 (53m)
Nicol & Grinham
Conquer in Kuwait
Peter Nicol, the former world number one,
gained his first title for three months and a great deal of much relief when
he captured the Sheikha Al Saad Open with a 15-13,9-15,15-4,15-8 victory
over his fellow Englishman James Willstrop.
"I have had a bad time and it feels really good to win again," Nicol said.
"I didn't think I was anywhere near ready after so little training but I was
not as unfit as I thought. Give me a few weeks and I'll really be ready to
get the top spot again." For most of the second half of the match it was
evident that Nicol was going to deny Willstrop in the biggest PSA final of
his career so far, because the older man was much the fresher and more
It meant that Nicol was well able to cope with the unpredictable open
rallies - even though they are inimical to his preferred style - with which
Willstrop increasingly took risks.
The 20-year-old world junior champion did so because he was contesting his
sixth match in as many days, having battled his way through the qualifying
competition. But for that he might have run Nicol closer.
"He can become a world number one of the future for sure. He has immense
ability and a lot of confidence and was developing match by match here,"
said Nicol, referring to Willstrop's startling victories over world number
two John White and former world champion Jonathon Power.
But winning the first game was all important. Willstrop knew that and came
out of the blocks flying. He was soon 8-2 up and, after Nicol had cut the
deficit to two points, went to 12-8 with a backhand drop shot winner taken
from audaciously deep.
Willstrop used his great height and reach to smother the middle of the
court, making some breathtakingly wide interceptions and frequently changing
the direction of attack with the slickest of twists of the wrist.
But Nicol timed an increase of pace impeccably. He forced one very long
rally which got him to 9-12 and before Willstrop could fully recover from it
was hustling forward and moving the ball about, changing containment into
attack. There was another gut-wrenching rally at 13-13 and after had Nicol
won that too Willstrop put a forehand volley drop down quickly to lose the
It was always odds against the tired qualifier after that. The second game
was Willstrop's principally because the quality of his short game was so
outstanding that he was able to push through from 6-7 with a series of
But the first six points of the third changed everything. Nicol focused his
attentions more on Willstrop's backhand wing and marched through to 6-0
unhindered. He then made Willstrop run two diagonals of the court at 7-1 and
after that the game was effectively over.
Willstrop's last stand in the fourth was a brilliant one. He set out to
dictate the nature of the rallies even if he could not control their
outcome. The crowd was rewarded with an astonishing cataract of
wrong-footing strokes and masked intentions, and with several of the rallies
as flamboyant as if they had been part of an exhibition.
Willstrop led 5-4 and was still just about hanging on at 7-10. But Nicol
knew he had his man and now, in the new more creative vein he has been
developing recently, had the confidence to use a short game armoury which in
his younger days was often locked tightly away.
An exquisite backhand volley drop return opened up the court for a backhand
sliced and angled wickedly away, and even although there was one more
wonderfully long exchange in the penultimate game, that incisive one-two
combination signalled the end.
"He was making me work so hard," said Willstrop. "If I had been fresher I
might have got closer. But I wasn't far off today. But Peter was awesome.
This has been a massive learning experience for me. I have to make sure I
don't get carried away. I doesn't mean I am absolutely there."
There was no English double. Earlier Cassie Jackman had been unable to
celebrate her recapture the previous day of the world number one ranking,
after four years and two career-threatening back injuries. Nor was there a
revenge for her British Open defeat.
Instead the top seed was again beaten by Rachael Grinham, the
Cairo-based Australian, who won 2-9,9-6,9-2,9-5, cleverly slowing the pace,
applying pressure with her speedy court coverage, and in the second half of
the match, dictating more of the rallies with her accurate lobbing and
dropping. The cool conditions suited her game.
Jackman gets married again in the summer and before the final it was
announced that she was dedicating this week's success to her fiancée. It
always sounded like tempting the fates.
Her best moments were in the first 20 minutes. Grinham started
indifferently, perhaps nervous after a long wait in which a hundred doves
were released, followed by thousands of fireworks. Some of feathered friends
flew right back, to huddle on ledges and roofs. One chose a beam above
Perhaps that was why it took the Australian some while before she found her
accuracy with her lobs and high looping drives. Jackman needed only ten
minutes to wrap up the first, clouting the ball well.
But she made mistakes at the start of the second, recovered from 2-8 to 6-8,
lost it with an ambitiously disguised backhand flick which caught the tin,
and saw contest swing violently away from her in the middle of the third.
Some superb retrieving by Grinham kept her in a crucial rally she won to
reach 5-2 with a backhand counter drop. It seemed to shake Jackman's
self-belief, and suddenly she was faltering.
It was followed by a backhand volley to a great length and a forehand kill
from Grinham which got the crowd behind her, and she concluded the third
with a volley lob winner which Jackman could not twist to retrieve. It was a
Although the top seed led 5-3 in the fourth by now Grinham's volley drops
and counter-drops were a continual threat, forcing Jackman's error ratio up.
The final ended with a mistimed forehand drive which gave away a penalty
"I played more consistently and let her make mistakes," claimed Grinham. "I
think she was finding it difficult. I don't think I was really doing
anything special. After a while her confidence was affected."
So would she now be challenging for Jackman's number one spot? "It's only
the second time I've beaten her," answered the Australian, determined not to
get ahead of herself. "I just want to win as many matches as I can first."
more in the Gallery
Packed house for the finals
Rachael & Natalie Grinham
more in the Gallery