Matthew proves his class

Nick Matthew...a memorable finish to the season.-Pics. Sandeep Saxena

The Englishman, playing in a familiar setting and in the absence of the top Egyptian players, was simply unstoppable. Over to Kamesh Srinivasan.

Fresh from his World Open triumph and with the confidence from having confirmed his year-end world No.1 ranking, Nick Matthew of England tackled compatriot James Willstrop with authority in the final of the $192,500 Punj Lloyd PSA Masters squash tournament at the Siri Fort Complex in New Delhi recently.

It was a familiar venue for the 30-year-old champion who had won the gold in the singles and doubles competitions of the Commonwealth Games at the same venue in October 2010. Matthew's only worry was about how to get back home quickly and prepare for the Christmas celebrations, as the Heathrow Airport was closed following heavy snowing.

A champion of great character, Matthew said he had great respect for Willstrop Jr. — son of the renowned coach Malcolm Willstrop — whom he had played in the finals of big tournaments, including the World Open and the Commonwealth Games.

In the Masters, Matthew recorded his 10th consecutive victory over Willstrop (11-7, 11-8, 11-7), shutting him out with a solid game. So far, the two have played against each other 22 times with Matthew winning 16 of them.

“Each day is a new day. No matter whether you are World No.1 or 100, you have to do things right to win the next point. The long rallies suit my game, the short ones suit him. I tried to change the pace, it worked today. It may not the next time,” explained Matthew.

Jenny Duncalf... WISPA Masters champion.-

In the absence of Ramy Ashour of Egypt, the former World No.1 who had won the previous edition in Mumbai by beating Matthew in the final, the Englishman flourished. Even the World No. 3, Karim Darwish of Egypt, was absent.

In fact another Egyptian, a real magician on court and four-time World champion, Amr Shabana, was expected to test Matthew, but the new World champion called the shots in the semifinals before Shabana conceded the match after losing the first two games, 9-11, 4-11, owing to an abdomen muscle pull. It was Matthew's seventh victory in 12 meetings with Shabana. Earlier, in the World Open, the Englishman had beaten the Egyptian in straight games.

Despite being the top seed, all of Matthew's matches were scheduled last, but he progressed quietly, beating Dick Lau of Hong Kong, Jonathan Kemp and Daryl Selby of England in the first three rounds while dropping only one game (to Kemp).

Matthew acknowledged that he was drained after his singles and doubles victories in the Commonwealth Games but had trained very well with his team so as to finish off the season in a memorable way.

Willstrop paid the best compliment to Matthew by stating that there was a valid reason as to why he was the World champion and the World No.1. The solidity of Matthew outshone the flair of the Egyptians.

For the home crowd, six-time National champion Saurav Ghosal gave a lot to cheer about. He lost to Shabana 5-11, 6-11, 11-6, 9-11 in the pre-quarterfinals after beating qualifier Adrian Waller of England 11-7, 12-10, 11-6.

It was indeed a brave fight and a delight to the spectators. Taking games off Shabana was nothing new for Ghosal; he had done so in their two previous meetings too, including a five-game contest earlier in the season.

Coach Malcolm Willstrop, who has been training Ghosal in Leeds, said that there was no doubt about the 24-year-old lad having the potential to be a top-10 player and assured that he would gain from such experiences while playing against the top players of the world.

“He is on the right track. The trick is to keep working hard. I wish him well,” said Shabana of Ghosal.

Wild card Harinderpal Sandhu gave a good account of himself before going down to Omar Mossad of Egypt 8-11, 10-12, 10-12. He was unlucky not to win at least one game.

In the women's event, Dipika Pallikal, 19, showed what she was capable of as she stretched the second-seeded Kasey Brown to five games in the quarterfinals. Brown, the eventual finalist, recorded a 11-5, 11-5, 7-11, 7-11, 11-5 victory, as she handled the climax much better than the inexperienced Indian. Dipika, in fact, was actually pleased that she could last five games at the fag end of a packed season.

Dipika, enjoying her best ranking at No. 29 in the world, hopes to improve to top-20 in the next season.

Ten-time National champion Joshna Chinappa lost in the first round to Annie Au of Hong Kong after saving three match-points in the climax. It was a heart-breaker for the Indian as she lost 6-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 10-12.

It was bad scheduling too as Joshna's match coincided with Saurav Ghosal's match against Shabana. In fact coach Malcolm Willstrop had a tough time moving from the side court to the show court, providing guidance to his two Indian wards.

The men's tournament was the second biggest in the world and the women's event also had a good field, but the organisers had failed to package the event nicely and price the tickets appropriately, which resulted in empty stands.

THE RESULTS

PSA Masters final: Nick Matthew (England) bt James Willstrop (England) 11-7, 11-8, 11-7. Semifinals: James Willstrop bt Hisham Mohammed Ashour (Egypt) 11-8, 11-2, 11-5; Nick Matthew bt Amr Shabana (Egypt) 11-9, 11-4 (conceded). Quarterfinals: James Willstrop bt Cameron Pilley (Australia) 12-10, 11-1, 11-3; Hisham Mohammed Asour bt Thierry Lincou (France) 11-7, 6-11, 12-10, 11-5; Amr Shabana bt Mohamed El Shorbagy (Egypt) 11-8, 11-9, 11-9; Nick Matthew bt Daryl Selby (England) 11-9, 11-7, 13-11.

WISPA Masters final: Jenny Duncalf (England) bt Kasey Brown (Australia) 11-5, 11-5, 11-4. Semifinals: Jenny Duncalf bt Camille Serme (France) 11-9, 8-11, 11-3, 9-11, 11-5; Kasey Brown bt Annie Au (Hong Kong) 11-6, 11-9, 4-11, 2-11, 11-8. Quarterfinals: Jenny Duncalf bt Joey Chan (Hong Kong) 4-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-2; Camille Serme bt Low Wee Wern (Malaysia) 11-7, 11-8, 11-3; Annie Au bt Jaclyn Hawkes (NZ) 9-11, 11-9, 15-13, 11-9; Kasey Borwn bt Dipika Pallikal (India) 11-5, 11-5, 7-11, 7-11, 11-5.