Squash: Friction with top two men, but can they lead England to World title?
Saturday 20 August 2011
In terms of great British sporting rivalries, it may not have the glitz and glamour of Hamilton versus Button, but it is one with begrudging respect which has threatened to turn into a full-blown war of words. Step forward world No 1 Nick Matthew and James Willstrop, England's No 2, from the world of squash.
This weekend the two Yorkshiremen form the backbone of a strong four-man England squad at the biennial World Team Championship in Paderborn, Germany. England, with four players inside the world's top 11, will be looking for their fifth team title since 1995 as they aim to atone for a rare fourth place two years ago.
It was a performance fraught with problems. What didn't help was the simmering tension between England's top two players following the pair's thrilling, but highly charged British Open final a few weeks previously. In the first all-English final for 70 years, regarded as one of the finest matches in recent times, Willstrop lost his second British Open final in succession holding match balls.
Afterwards, Willstrop, 28, said his fellow Yorkshireman's on-court shenanigans were "disrespectful" following a number of disputed calls to the referee. Moreover, the two Yorkshiremen refused to speak to each other and the fall-out continued until those World Team Championships. Jonah Barrington, Britain's greatest ever player who made his mark in the seventies, said: "It is a healthy rivalry and inevitable. Squash is gladiatorial and it is not unexpected when two guys are vying for top honours."
It was hardly surprising given that these two Yorkshiremen have been thrashing it out together since their childhood. Both are vastly different characters. Matthew is methodical – he took notes on his game as a teenager – with unrelenting fitness levels. The more naturally talented Willstrop, a former world junior champion, has had to contend with a bulky 6ft 4in frame and being exposed to constant injury worries.
"Maybe as we have known and played each other from a very young age there is added significance," he says. "But mainly because we have played so many times and many of them have been such tough games the rivalry has developed over time."
Plans are afoot to bring the British Open back to London next year for the first time since the early nineties.
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