Despite being some 150 miles apart, Commonwealth Games Doubles gold medallists Nick Matthew and Adrian Grantclinched places for Benz-Bavarian Duffield and Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets, respectively, in next month’sPremier Squash League (PSL) final after dramatic semi-finals in the world’s most prestigious squash league, supported by Dunlop.
Matthew, the two-time world champion from Sheffield, was representing Derbyshire club Duffield for the 66th time since October 2003 – and the world number two found himself playing the decider when the tie against visitors Exeter Diamondswas tied at two-all after the first four matches.
It was Matthew’s team-mate Laura Massaro, the women’s world number two, who put Duffield into the lead with an 11-5, 11-4, 11-7 win over Irish champion Aisling Blake. But underdogs Exeter, the Devon club making its debut in the event’s semi-final play-offs, struck back to move 2/1 ahead following wins by British Open O35 champion Tim Vail and Finnish number one Olli Tuominen.
However, much to the packed Duffield crowd’s delight, club stalwart Andy Whipp recovered from a game down to topple Exeter’s Joey Barrington 8-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-7.
Matthew went into the decider boasting a 10-0 career head-to-head lead over his opponent Laurens Jan Anjema, the world No16 who recently won his eighth successive Dutch national title. Twice Matthew led, and twice the tall Dutchman powered back to draw level.
The crowd were on the edges of their seats as the visitors sensed a shock victory when Anjema led 8-4 – but the hugely experienced Matthew was not about to surrender and held his nerve to claw back the deficit before closing out the match 11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8.
The win extends Matthew’s remarkable unbeaten PSL run to 33 matches – and takes three-time champions Duffield into their sixth final, but their first since 2009.
“That was the closest contest in any sporting arena you will ever get to see – especially considering that Nick was 8-4 down in that deciding game,” said a relieved Duffield team manager Felix Frixou afterwards. “There was perhaps even more pressure on Nick tonight than for a world championship final – the whole crowd was willing him to win – and we had the biggest crowd I’ve seen here in the 20 years I’ve been involved.
“But I can tell you, we were worried during that last match – but nobody other than Nick could have done what he did.
“Proud of the team? That goes without saying, but I always knew it would be close.”
Exeter manager Adam Lings was undoubtedly disappointed, but full of praise for his team’s efforts: “I can’t put it into words; we assumed Tim and Olli would win, so when Joey lost, that was that – but LJ played out of his skin and, to be fair, should have won!
“At 8-4 up, myself and Felix said ‘this this is the point’ – a cross-court nick was so close to rolling it’s not even funny ….. but it didn’t and that was that!
“What a night, what a match! I could not ask for more of my players. We will be back!”
Over 150 miles south, in the Croydon suburb of London, title-holders Surrey Health & Racquets hosted Oxford Health & Racquets in a repeat of the 2010 final.
After making history last year by becoming the first club to win the PSL title a fourth time, Surrey Health were keen to make a further entry in the record books by reaching the final for a fourth successive year.
And after 16-year-old Georgina Kennedy – a late replacement for the injured world No4 Alison Waters – dropped the opening match to Oxford’s experienced Irish international Madeline Perry, hosts Surrey Health stormed back with straight games wins by British U23 champion Adrian Waller and fast-rising young Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad to move 2/1 ahead.
All that was now needed was a win by the Croydon club’s second string Adrian Grant – but the Londoner ranked 20 in the world faced Cameron Pilley, the Australian number one ranked thee places higher, and with whom he shared a 4/4 career head-to-head record.
Pilley took the opening game, but left-hander Grant took the next two to lead 2/1. The Australian led throughout most of the fourth, but Grant fought back and, after saving a game-ball, clinched a popular 11-13, 11-4, 11-9, 14-12 to take Surrey Health into the final for the fifth time, and the record fourth year in a row.
In the dead rubber that followed, Spanish number one Borja Golan gained some consolation for the visitors by beating the Croydon club’s top string Peter Barker, the world No8, 11-6, 11-13, 11-7, 11-3.
“We’re really privileged to be in the final again,” said Surrey Health & Racquets team manager Pete Smith. “We’ve got a great team and we’ve had another great season.
“We’ve also had great crowds all season – it’s good that the club members are really enjoying our success.”
The final will take place on Tuesday 7 May at a venue yet to be confirmed.
RESULTS: Premier Squash League, semi-finals, Tuesday 9 April 2013
Benz-Bavarian Duffield 3 Exeter Diamonds 2
Nick Matthew bt Laurens Jan Anjema 11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8
Joel Hinds lost to Olli Tuominen 6-11, 7-11, 4-11
Andy Whipp bt Joey Barrington 8-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-7
Adam Murrills lost to Tim Vail 11-3, 9-11, 6-11, 7-11
Laura Massaro bt Aisling Blake 11-5, 11-4, 11-7
Integrity Surrey Health & Racquets 3 Oxford Health & Racquets 2
Peter Barker lost to Borja Golan 6-11, 13-11, 7-11, 3-11
Adrian Grant bt Cameron Pilley 11-13, 11-4, 11-9, 14-12
Karim Abdel Gawad bt Scott Handley 11-6, 11-7, 11-5
Adrian Waller bt Ben Coleman 11-9, 11-5, 11-8
Georgina Kennedy lost to Madeline Perry 4-11, 3-11, 3-11