English squash stars Nick Matthew and James Willstrop are destined to continue their explosive rivalry in the semi-finals of the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic.
World No2 Matthew is top seed in this prestigious PSA World Tour Five Star event to be staged at Canary Wharf’s spectacular East Wintergarden venue in London next week, from 22-26 March.
Willstrop has won the event three times but Matthew, currently enjoying the best form of his career, is determined to claim his first title.
The Sheffield-based 29-year-old, who has two British Open titles to his credit, said: “I have seriously under-performed at Canary Wharf in the past – and I am very disappointed by that,” said Matthew. “I will be looking to put that right. It’s high time I put in a good performance there.”
Matthew trains at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield and will be inspired by the weekend success of Jessica Ennis, who won the pentathlon gold medal at the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Doha – a city where Matthew clinched the Qatar Classic Super Series title in 2009 as he increased the pressure on Egypt’s world No1 Ramy Ashour.
“The EIS has been a massive part of my life,” added Matthew. “There are athletes there from all walks of life. Jessica is a leading light and a good friend.
“It’s great to be part of it all and you can’t help but learn from all the different influences that are available. You absorb things from other sports and it is so nice not to exist purely in a squash bubble.
“Normally squash players just exist in a squash community but being part of this kind of sporting community leads to good habits.”
Matthew and Willstrop currently share the lead in the PSA Super Series 2010 points table, following their impressive tournament victories on American soil. They have already met three times this year, with Matthew triumphant on each occasion – in the final of the Swedish Open and British Nationals, and the semi-finals of the North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.
The two met in an acrimonious final of the British Open last year, but Matthew denied any fall-out between them.
“There is absolutely no animosity between us,” explained the England number one. “Life is too short for that. We have a high respect for each other.
“James always does well at Canary Wharf and he obviously enjoys playing there. He has some great memories of victories there down the years and he will be looking to keep that momentum going.
“At the end of the day it’s just another glass court, and it’s up to me to try and get some of memories of my own.”
Matthew meets a qualifier in the first round and will have to overcome a scheduled quarter-final against France’s former world champion Thierry Lincou before his seeded semi-final meeting with Willstrop.
The Leeds-based Willstrop began the year in sensational style by winning the Tournament of Champions in New York, beating the illustrious Egyptian trio of Amr Shabana, Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour in the process – a stunningly unique achievement in modern-day squash.
With the senior Egyptians deciding to give the English winter a miss, Frenchman Gregory Gaultier is No2 seed at Canary Wharf and another major competitor seeking his first ISS title.
Gaultier meets a qualifier in the first round and faces a fierce clash with title-holder David Palmer, the former world number one and world champion from Australia, in the quarter-finals.
This provides the prospect of a mouth-watering repeat of last year’s epic semi-final battle, when Palmer was so fired up after losing the second game 11-1 that he returned to the court totally transformed.
He overturned a two-game deficit to win 11-8 in the fifth to clinch victory after 80 minutes of spellbinding squash.
Willstrop, who lost to Palmer in last year’s final, faces his Pontefract team-mate Saurav Ghosal from India in the first round.
Willstrop is seeded to meet the in-form Essex star Daryl Selby in the quarter-finals. Selby has enjoyed a fantastic run of form in recent weeks with victories over Gaultier and England team-mate Peter Barker.
Barker, the current world No7 and fourth seed, faces wild card Adrian Waller, a fellow Londoner, in the first round with a scheduled quarter-final against England’s No7 seed Alister Walker or Pakistan’s Aamir Atlas Khan.
The sole Egyptian in the main draw is talented 22-year-old Tarek Momen, who meets Selby in the opening round.
1st round draw: Nick Matthew (ENG) v Qualifier
 Thierry Lincou (FRA) v Qualifier
 James Willstrop (ENG) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
 Daryl Selby (ENG) v Tarek Momen (EGY)
 Alister Walker (ENG) v Aamir Atlas Khan (PAK)
 Peter Barker (ENG) v Adrian Waller (ENG)
 David Palmer (AUS) v Qualifier
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Qualifier
Official Site: www.canarywharfsquash.com