THE Final, Thu 25 Feb


[3] Peter Nicol (Eng) bt [2] John White (Sco)
      15-10, 17-15, 15-12  (67m)

Beth Rasin reports from New York

New York, NY: Feb. 26 -Two-time champion Peter Nicol got off to an impressive start in the finals of the Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions title match in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal when, in the first game, he took the immediate lead and never relinquished it.

Nicol executed his pre-match strategy against second seed John White from the very first point. By moving his opponent up and back in the court Nicol was able to prevent White, the hardest-hitting player on the tour, from unleashing his power.

White jumped ahead in the second but Nicol quickly caught him and surged ahead to 9-6. A seesaw battle followed as White started finding his power and had Nicol moving to the corners. But White failed to capitalize on his advantage, putting several seeming volley winners into the tin. At 15-16 in the tiebreaker, White made yet another error after a long punishing point to let Nicol take a 2-0 lead.

"I felt that I was playing the game I wanted to," said White. "But Peter was returning the shots tonight that were winners in my last two matches. I had several openings, but I just clipped the tin because of the pressure from Peter."

Indeed, the expectation by many in the know was that this was Whiteís tournament to win. Having achieved a career high #2 ranking at the end of 2003, White has been playing the most consistent squash of his career while Nicol seemed to still be recovering from a recurring virus that plagued him in 2003.

Although the overall match record of the finalists was 7-3 in Nicol's favour, White had won the last two matches - in the semi-finals of both the World Open in December 2002 and the PSA Masters in May last year. And regardless of the outcome of this match, White would become the top-ranked player in the world in just a few days.

But the competitive fire, tenacity and mental toughness that has taken Nicol to the top of the world rankings for all but 16 months out of the last four and a half years was clearly in evidence in this final. Having staved off the White charge at the end of the second game, Nicol blew out to a 12-5 lead in the third, and the match looked to be over.

White was not quite ready to throw in the towel and fought his way back to 12-all. The overflow crowd was on the edge of its seats and roaring with excitement as White chipped away at the lead. But a few more untimely errors from White and it was 15-12 for Nicol, who felt that he had certainly earned this third Tournament of Champions title.

"This one was brutal," said Nicol. "The entire match was played at such a fast pace that weíre both completely exhausted. Iím so tired I canít even be happy yet."

"Iím disappointed to lose 3-0," said White." But getting to my first Tournament of Champions title and leaving here as the world #1 is not too shabby."

After having had a few minutes to collect his breath and reflect briefly on his championship win, Nicol said, "It feels a bit strange right now because Iíve spent my whole life solely dedicated to winning squash matches." The 30-year-old went on. "But I am not doing that anymore. I am getting out and doing more but I feel like I am playing better squash and Iím still winning." Asked whether he was disappointed that White had overtaken him for the #1 ranking, the gracious champion replied, "Not at all. I think of all the players John has really earned the ranking because he has won several titles in the past year."

Then, with a sly grin, Nicol finished, "But hopefully he wonít be there too long."

The victory gave Nicol his 47th PSA tour trophy in 65 final appearances.

SquashPics in New York
more in the Gallery

A packed gallery for the final

Nicol prevails in three

Nicol with the trophy, and with Sam Molinaro of Bear Sterns

SquashPics in New York
more in the Gallery