Surprise Women’s Final as Matthew and Shabana set up Grand Prix rematch
The semi-finals of the Delaware Investments U.S. Open at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia’s Drexel University saw two women’s upsets and two enthralling but contrasting men’s matches.
Australia’s Kasey Brown, seeded six, powered to a four game win over third seed Madeline Perry, while fifth seed Laura Massaro prevailed in straight games in an all-English encounter with world number two Jenny Duncalf. For both, appearing in a WISPA World Series Final will be one of their career highlights to date.
The first men’s semi-final was also all-English, and in an often brutal encounter world number one and top seed Nick Matthew extended his run of victories over James Willstrop, winning in four games to reach a third consecutive PSA World Series Final this season.
Matthew’s opponent will be third seed Amr Shabana, after the Egyptian four-time world champion also won in four games, although his match against France’s Thierry Lincou was a much quicker affair, taking just over half the time of Matthew’s.
 Kasey Brown (Aus) bt  Madeline Perry (Irl) 12/10, 6/11, 11/6, 11/6 (67m)
 Laura Massaro (Eng) bt  Jenny Duncalf (Eng) 13/11, 11/5, 13/11 (60m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) bt  James Willstrop (Eng) 11/9, 11/7, 7/11, 11/7 (86m)
 Amr Shabana (Egy) bt  Thierry Lincou (Fra) 11/1, 9/11, 11/6, 11/7 (48m)
Kasey pulls into the final
When Kasey Brown raced into a 6/1 lead in the first game of the first women’s semi-final, the prospect of a nightmare like that experienced by Rachael Grinham last night reared its head. Northern Irish fans will have been reassured though as Madeline Perry put that start behind her, extended the rallies and started to pin her Australian opponent to the back of the court, as she does so well.
Brown got as far as 8/3 ahead, but Perry was into her game now and not only levelled but went 9/8 ahead. A stroke took her to 10/9, but then three fortunate point in a row for Brown – Perry clean missed a simple drive, Brown’s mishit boast nicked and Perry mishit a simple return – and the Aussie had escaped to lead one-nil.
The next three games were all close, for the first half of them at least. Perry pulled clear from 5-all in the second to equalise 11/6, Brown did exactly the same in the third to regain the lead, 11/6.
The fourth was delicately poised too, but from 4-all the Irishwoman made three quick errors in a row and Brown had broken clear. She filled her boots, so to speak, with three winners of her own and in a flash she was 10/4 up.
Perry pulled a couple of points back, but a comeback of that scale was never likely, and after running hard to stay in the final rally Kasey finally got a loose ball which she drove into the deep to reach the final.
“I started well then stepped off it a bit in the first and she started to get in front of me, she’s so hard to play if you let her do that.
“I scraped through that one but lost the second as my length dropped of. I had to try and get it back in the third, which I did, and when she made three errors in a row in the fourth I said ‘thank god for that’! I knew it wasn’t over but I managed to pull clear from there.
“It’s been a fantastic time for me living in America, working with my coach Rod Martin, everything’s coming together and it feels just great to be in a major final like this!”
Massaro maintains her grip
Having beaten her higher-ranked compatriot Jenny Duncalf twice in a row, Laura Massaro made it three out of three tonight with an assured performance that saw her move into the final with a straight-game win.
It could easily have been different though, as Duncalf, seeded two, raced into a 5/0 lead in the first, but Massaro settled, levelled at 8-all and saved two game balls before taking it on her own secod chance, 13/11.
She was well on top in the second, quickly ahead, 5/1 and 8/3 with Duncalf looking less than happy with proceedings – she was on the wrong end of most of the video appeals too, which didn’t help – while Massaro maintained an outward calm and got on with the job, impressively so.
At 4/9 Duncalf, from deep in the back corner, hit an overhead backhand crosscourt volley drop into to next to bring up a big roar from the crowd. Massaro replied instantly, plopping Duncalf’s server into the nick then taking the game, and a 2-0 lead, 11/5 on a stroke.
The third was close all the way, but Massaro always seemed to have the slight edge – if she went to the front she was liable to put the ball away, whereas Duncalf was for the most part being drawn there by her opponent and having to defend.
Massaro edged ahead, 5/3, 6/4 and 8/5, 9/6 and 10/7 with another service return winner. Now it was Duncalf’s trun to fight back, four point in a row saw her to game ball, but then she was drawn to the front three times, and three times Massaro drove the ball deep into the back corners to take an impressive win, 13/11.
“She hit a few good shots at the start, but you always want to win the first, so I tried my best to turn it round sooner rather than later and thankfully I managed to get back into it and take that one.
“It’s tough when you’re the seed, you always feel the pressure more, I jiust went on to play my game plan as well as I could and today it was good enough – it’s close at the top and anyone can beat anyone on the day.
“I’ve had a really good year and a half, mainly thanks to my coach Phil Whitlock who’s made me much more aware of what I’m doing on court.
“Kasey and I always have tough matches, it should be a good final but I’m happy with how I played so I’m just going to try to carry on like that …”
Matthew still on top
They’ve had some classic battles, have Nick Matthew and James Willstrop, as you would expect from two wonderful players who have met so often, and tonight’s first men’s semi-final was up there with the best of them as Nick Matthew continued his winning run over his Yorkshire rival in a top quality, gruelling and at times brutal four game encounter.
As Matthew said at the end, it’s been a good few months since they played, so it was like starting afresh, and Willstrop certainly didn’t come into the match with any sort of inferiority complex.
The first game was as tough and as close as they come, never more than a point or two between them, never an easy rally. It took 26 minutes for Matthew to take the lead, although the end came quickly as at 9-all Willstrop snatched at, and tinned, a volley in the middle of the court, and Matthew followed up with an unexpected angle at the front to close it out.
The second started in the same vein, but from 5/6 down Matthew enjoyed a spell of relative dominance, going ahead 10/7 and doubling his lead 11/7 in 17 minutes after pushing Willstrop from corner to corner before finally getting a loose ball to pounce on.
Matthew has worn Willstrop down before, notably in the World Open final last December, but James wasn’t done yet, not this time, and he came out strongly in the third, from 3-all moved ahead to 7/3, and although Matthew recovered to as close as 7/8, Willstrop took advantage of a couple of rare Matthew mistakes to pull a game back 11/7. That one took 14 minutes.
The fourth was brutal. 22 minutes it took, and once again there was nothing to choose between them – 4-all, 5-all, 6-all, 7-all. Then Matthew got two stokes, the type he gets a lot of against Willstrop in that front left corner, to go 9/7 ahead. A monumental rally ended in a let, then Matthew’s basic length died in the back corner for match ball, and on the next rally a boast out of the blue left Willstrop stranded and Matthew in the final.
“When I was 2-0 we were talking in the corner, about how James is renowned for his racket skills, but he’s also one of the gustiest players and fiercest competitors you can ever meet, so there was no question of easing up or thinking the job had been done.
“He came out really well in the third, and it was all credit to him for winning it rather than anything I did wrong.
“James’s racket skills are as good as they’ve ever been so I’m delighted to have managed to win that one, and looking forward to what should be a fantastic final.”
Shabana sets up Matthew rematch
It would have taken some match to follow that Yorkshire battle, and although Amr Shabana and Thierry Lincou both showed patches of exquisite play, their match was something of an anticlimax, as it was bound to be, compared to what had gone before. It was still four games, but it took just over half the time to complete.
After winning his quarter-final last night the Frenchman declared anything more would be a bonus, but when he slumped to an 11/1 first game loss it didn’t look as if any bonus was coming his way tonight.
To his credit, from the outset of the second game Lincou cut out the errors, lengthened the rallies and stopped the flow of winners from Shabana’s racket. He took a 6/3 lead and although Shabana closed he could never quite get there. The Egyptian looked visibly annoyed at letting the game slip, but let it slip he did, making a couple of careless errors at the end.
He wasn’t about to let that happen again though, and Shabana was well on top in the next two games, moving swiftly, hitting some sublime winners, and pulling clear to 9/5 in the third and 10/4 in the fourth, finishing them off 11/6 and 11/7 to set up another meeting with Matthew, after their British Grand Prix semi-final just over a week ago.
“It was a good match – Thierry is one of the best of all time at controlling the T, so I knew I had to work hard to try to get him to the back of the court if I was going to have any chance to win, even if it was going to hurt.
“Thankfully it all worked out right in the end, now I need to get myself prepared for Nick again. He’s had a wonderful spell over the last two years and is playing great squash, I’ll need to raise my level to really challenge him tomorrow …”
Preview – for posterity
First up is Northern Ireland’s Madeline Perry, aged 34, against Aussie Kasey Brown, 26, who took out top seed Nicol David in the quarter-finals. Currently ranked #4 and #6 in the world, they have met eight times, tied at four-all but Brown has won the last three of those, including their only meeting this year in Greenwich.
Englishwomen Jenny Duncalf, 28, and Laura Massaro, 27, are no strangers either, having met 15 times in all events but just six times in WISPA competition. Duncalf leads 11-4 overall and 4-2 in WISPA meetings, but Massaro has won the least two clashes, in the Cleveland Classic and the final of the British Nationals, both in February this year.
When it comes to long running rivalries, few can match that ofNick Matthew, 31, and James Willstrop, 28, England’s top two who meet in the first men’s semi-final. Both from Yorkshire, they have met 38 times in total, going back to a British Open qualifier in 2001, and 26 of those have been PSA matches. Matthew leads both, 29-9 overall and 18-8 in PSA. More importantly, Matthew’s last defeat to Willstrop was back in the English Open final of 2007, and after that he has gone on to win every one of their last 16 meetings, a sequence which includes finals of the British Nationals, the British Open, Commonwealth Games and the World Open last year in Saudi Arabia.
The final match of the day features two players approaching Veteran status in Egypt’s Amr Shabana and France’s Thierry Lincou. Both have been world number one and world champion, but Shabana was at the top for longer – 33 months compared to 13 – has won more world titles – four to one – and is the younger of the two, 32 versus 35. Shabana leads the head to head too, but only by 13-12 (12-10 in PSA), and although he has had the better of things in recent years it was Lincou who won their last meeting, 2010 in El Gouna.
So four matches, each with their own history and a real treat in store tonight for the Philly squash faithful …