Commonwealth Games 2014: Olympics must allow us in says Nick Matthew after taking epic squash final
The sport lost out to the reintroduction of wrestling at the last vote in 2013 and must wait until 2028 at the earliest for an Olympic introduction
The Commonwealth Games served up a match worthy of an Olympic final on Monday, if only the International Olympic Committee saw the world the same way. What’s not to like, the No 2 and No 6 in the squash world rankings going at it with inhospitable ferocity in a glass cage visible from all sides?
The ancient Olympians would have thrown garlands of laurel around the necks of the gold medallist Nick Matthew and beaten finalist James Willstrop without a second thought. They were only sharpened racket frames from gladiatorial warfare in an epic contest lasting an hour and 40 minutes, Matthew taking the match 11-9, 8-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-5.
The sport lost out to the reintroduction of wrestling at the last vote in 2013 and must wait until 2028 at the earliest for an Olympic introduction. Bonkers on this evidence. “We have done the sport justice,” said Matthew. “This is the Commonwealth Games but that was a world- standard final. We have both been world No 1. Hopefully, the IOC were watching and go, ‘wow we need to get this sport in’. It had everything.”
No arguments from this quarter. There is no great love passing between these very different Yorkshiremen, but plenty of respect. Willstrop, at 30, four years the junior, must be wondering what on earth he has to do to register a first victory in seven years against his great rival.
The head-to-head count stands at 42-11 in Matthew’s favour. The champion admitted that had it been a boxing contest the ref might have stopped it in his opponent’s favour. “I never felt I had one bit of control in the whole match. He had me under so much pressure. It was testament to my fighting ability that I stuck in there. He was playing great squash and I had to be attritional. I exhausted Plan A, B, C and so on. I think I was on Plan Z by the end.”
Matthew’s victory was the more remarkable given the knee operation he underwent just five weeks ago. “I’m a stubborn so-and-so. I’m a Yorkshireman, an only child and a Leo. Put that lot together and you have one hell of a stubborn character.”
Willstrop had problems of his own. The hip condition he has been nursing these past six weeks requires surgery, but he did not make that an excuse. As Matthew generously acknowledged, Willstrop reached the greater heights, the point to level at 4-4 in the fourth game typical of his vision, flair and touch. He added the next two to take control of the game and, ultimately, the match into a decider.
Nicol David celebrates winning the women’s final against Laura Massaro (Getty)
Typically, after periods of almost unanswerable artistry Willstrop would behave like a kettle that had just boiled. The cooling was not rapid but enough to allow Matthew to insinuate his way back into the match. He was quickly into the fifth game, taking the first two points. Willstrop’s 6ft 4in frame seemed to sag a little, as if he knew his chance had gone.
It had. Matthew took it 11-5, and with it his second Commonwealth gold. “I gave everything I could. I haven’t got a good record against him. I’m used to it,” Willstrop said. “There was a point in the fourth when I thought, ‘this is as good a chance as you are going to get. This is it’. He is not at his peak physically, but it didn’t work out. We have had some antagonistic matches in the past but there is respect there, despite us being very different characters.
“He was humble at the end, he usually is after matches. He was very sincere but then it is always easy to be sincere when he has beaten me, but that is fine. He won the match. It was a great match. If you had said we might produce that five weeks ago when we were both in a mess we would have been pleased with that.”
In the women’s singles the world No 1 Nicol David of Malaysia beat England’s world No 2 Laura Massaro in three games to take gold. Massaro wasted game point in the first and never recovered, losing 12-10, 11-2, 11-5. “I was disappointed not to convert that game ball,” Massaro said. “Things like that can turn matches. After that she settled down very well and it was always going to be difficult”
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