Hard-hitting German Simon Rösner pulled off one of the most impressive wins of his career in recent years, surviving four squandered match balls, to defeat 2010 champion and the recently resurgent James Willstrop in the second round of the 2016 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions to book a quarter-final beth in New York.
The 28-year-old’s progression up the PSA World Rankings during the past 18-months correlated in tandem with Willstrop’s fall from the upper echelons, as the 32-year-old slowly recovered from career-threatening injury, but opposite runs of form at the back end of 2015, when Willstrop beat World No.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy in the World Championship and Rösner fell to a series of surprising defeats, set up what promised to be an intriguing battle – and the capacity crowd in Grand Central weren’t disappointed as an 80-minute thriller ensued.
The duo traded points tit-for-tat in the opening exchanges as they tried to feel each other out before Rösner stepped on the gas to open up a 9-7 lead. It was short lived however as Willstrop responded in fashion, producing a series of sublime winners to take the game from under the powerful German’s nose.
Showing astute tactical awareness Rösner came out with a new game plan in the second, playing at a ferocious pace to limit the Englishman’s time on the ball, and it paid dividends as he overturned the scoreline to lead 2-1 before a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat fourth game brought the match to a conclusion.
Neither man managed to assert their dominance on proceedings in the fourth as they stuck to each other like glue but it was Rösner who managed to edge ahead, 10-8, to set up match ball. But Willstrop again upped his levels taking three straight points to overturn the advantage and set up his own game ball. As momentum swung back-and-forth time and time again, with the crowd gasping at each shift in control, Rösner saw a further two match ball opportunities go to waste before he finally managed to secure the win 9-11, 11-4, 11-3, 16-14.
“To beat James, in the form he has been in recently, on this stage is one of the most significant wins of my career in recent years and especially so as I struggled a bit at the end of last year,” said Rösner.
“I had a few tough defeats at the end of 2015 and was maybe losing a little bit of confidence so to be moving well on court again and winning a big match like this is very important for me.
“He took me apart in the first game so I knew I had to really up the pace in the second and try and take time away from him because when he has time to play he is deadly – that’s why he is called the marksman. I concentrated less of precision and more on pace and it worked.
“He just kept coming back in that fourth game though and wouldn’t let it go even though the scoreline in the second and third games wasn’t that close. I’m really happy that I managed to close it out in the end and move into the quarter-finals here.”
Rösner, who will appear in a third consecutive Tournament of Champions quarter-final, will line up against World Champion Gregory Gaultier on Tuesday when he’ll be hoping his recent resurgence continues.
“I’m feeling good on court against and I enjoy playing US events so hopefully I can play well again in the quarters against Greg.”
 Simon Rösner (GER) bt James Willstrop (ENG) 3-1: 9-11, 11-4, 11-3, 16-14 (80m)
Willstrop struggles with the pace