JUST two weeks after battling for the world number one ranking in New York, Sheffielder Nick Matthew and Leeds-based James Willstrop will bid for domestic glory in the anticipated men’s final of the British National Squash Championships in Manchester.
In last week’s first ever all-English final of the PSA World Series Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Station, Matthew - who topped the world rankings throughout 2011 before Willstrop replaced him in January - reclaimed pole position after overcoming his rival in a dramatic 85-minute climax.
The 2012 British National Squash Championships, (7-12 February,) will be celebrating its 16th successive year in Manchester and its tenth appearance at the National Squash Centre. In the draws revealed yesterday, both Willstrop and Matthew face qualifiers in the first round en-route to the predicted men’s final which would be the first in the event’s 38-year history to feature the top two players in the world.
Willstrop, twice winner of the title, is the event’s the top seed. The 28-year-old, who surprisingly crashed out at the quarter-final stage last year, is expected to meet seventh seed Chris Ryder, the former world university champion from Leamington Spa, in the quarter-finals before a predicted clash with career-long rival and England team-mate Peter Barker in the semis. Barker, the world No7 from London, is the third seed and opens his 2012 campaign against Pontefract’s Neil Cordell.
Second seed Matthew has an anticipated quarter-final clash with Guernsey-born Chris Simpson, the world No52 from Harrogate. Champion on three previous occasions - in 2006, 2009 and 2010 - the 31-year-old is expected to face fourth seed Daryl Selby in the semi-finals.
It was 29-year-old from Essex who shocked the country by toppling Matthew in last year’s final to become men’s champion for the first time.
Selby, ranked 11 in the world, begins the defence of his title against a qualifier.
Lurking near the bottom of the men’s draw is another Pontefract man, Simon Parke, the only other former champion in the 2012 field. The now retired former world No3, who will celebrate his 40th birthday later this year, made his British Nationals’ debut in 1987 - and won the title for the only time 11 years later. In his 19th appearance in the event, Parke will face 14th seed Charles Sharpes, a 19-year-old from Surrey who was born in 1992; the year after Parke first appeared in the final. The women’s title is also expected to go to Yorkshire: Jenny Duncalf, top seed from Harrogate, should reach her fifth final in six years.