By Max Chesterton
Nick Matthew has claimed a record tenth British National title following an epic showdown with James Willstrop at the Dunlop British National Championships final in Manchester.
In Matthew’s final British National appearance, the former World No.1 overcame fellow Yorkshireman and long-term rival James Willstrop 11-7, 12-10, 8-11, 11-6 (69m) in a tightly-contested finale.
Remarkably before Sunday’s clash, the younger Willstrop had never triumphed over the World no.8 in any Nationals match – falling short on seven occasions, including five final defeats.
But with the World no.16 exhibiting a rich vein of form throughout the 2018 tournament, including making light work of 2011 winner Daryl Selby in the semi-finals, there was always cause for hope for the 34-year-old Willstrop.
With the sound of Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ ringing in Matthew’s ears, the three-time world champion leapt into action, huffing and puffing to a hard earned 5-1 lead inside the first game.
In a tight opening encounter characterised by gruelling minute long rallies and lung busting scrambles, Willstrop clawed his way back into the tie, utilising his formidable short game to his advantage to stretch within a point of drawing level at 7-7.
On the back of an uncharacteristically wayward Willstrop serve, the world no.8 rallied, powering to victory and claiming the first game 11-7.
With the wind behind his sails, the three-time British Open winner began coasting, sailing to a 6-2 lead before a resurgent Willstrop again broke back to complicate proceedings for the top seed.
With the scores level at 10-10, the English pair began an enthralling duel of cat and mouse until two-time National champion Willstrop made the first slip, enabling Matthew to clinch the second game and put the Sheffield player within one game of a fairy-tale tenth national title.
As tensions rose on court, Willstrop continued to battle admirably – refusing to give in to the six-time defending champion’s challenge and advancing to a 9-5 lead in the third.
Undeterred by the looming sound of defeat, Willstrop pressed on, capitalising on the slightest of Matthew mishits and eventually wrapping up a deserved 11-8 win.
Where many would have faltered under the pressure, Matthew showed no visible signs of nerves, grinding down his opponent and forcing his challenger into completing uncharacteristic unenforced errors on more than four occasions.
While this may not be the first masterclass Matthew has produced on Manchester’s glass court, it may be the last, but not before treating the awaiting audience to an exhibition of beautiful squash.
With five match balls remaining, Matthew utilised every inch of his six-foot frame to swing at one final National championship ball and claim his tenth ever British National Championship crown in the process.
Speaking after the match, Matthew expressed his disbelief at attaining a record ten titles: “I didn’t think I would get one to be honest.”
“I had three goals this year, one of them was to win the World Championships in December and the second was to try and get a tenth National title.
“As James said I am a pretty horrible person on the court, but James is pretty tough on there as well. We are both tough and that is why we have had such a good rivalry over the years.”
“It was a great match, I really enjoyed the squash,” said Willstrop.
“It was a great game to have and we are both coming into a good spell.
“It is a good job he wins more than he loses, but he is a wonderful player, a wonderful ambassador for toughness and an incredibly hard player to compete against.
“I love playing the game, and if my body allows me to do it, I will keep going. I can’t count on that necessarily but I hope I will be back next year.”