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Declan James and Nele Gilis | Photo courtesy of Mikael Ropars

England’s James and Belgium’s Gilis Take 2018 Open International de Squash de Nantes Titles

England’s Declan James and Belgium’s Nele Gilis are the 2018 Open International de Squash de Nantes champions after they caused an upset on the final day to defeat top seeds James Willstrop and Emily Whitlock, respectively, inside the stunning Théâtre Graslin.

World No.23 James claimed his first ever win over former World No.1 and Commonwealth Games doubles partner Willstrop in a dramatic 76-minute final which saw the two towering players showcase their best squash.

Willstrop took the lead, before 25-year-old James fought back to level the scores in the second. The momentum of the match continued to constantly shift between the two Englishmen right up until the last moment, when with the scores locked at 9-9 in the fifth, James held his nerve to edge ahead and claim his biggest PSA title with a 2-11, 11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9 victory.

“Along with the Commonwealths earlier in the year with James, this is probably the best moment of my career,” said the 25-year-old from Nottingham.

“I had a really good mentality before I went on and I just said to myself that the result doesn’t matter, it’s just an occasion to enjoy and as long as I leave everything on the court then I will be happy.

“I had to dig really deep, James was making me do so much work and was unplayable at times, but I knew that would be the case because of how much class he has got. I just had to dig in as much as I could.

“It all just happened really quickly in the end but it’s a really special moment for me.”

Meanwhile, in the women’s final, Belgium’s Gilis avenged last year’s final defeat at the tournament as she dispatched 24-year-old top seed Whitlock in a thrilling five-game final.

Gilis, who knocked out defending champion Fiona Moverley in the semi-finals, showed incredible resilience and physicality to come from a game down against Whitlock, to win her biggest PSA title.

England’s Whitlock didn’t put a foot wrong in the first game as she claimed a comfortable 11-4 lead to take the first game. However, once Gilis had settled her nerves she put the 24-year-old Englishwoman under pressure and executed her game plan to perfection to take a 4-11, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 11-6 victory in 72 minutes.

“I really enjoyed the match and atmosphere was incredible,” said the 22-year-old Belgian.

“I just told myself from the beginning to fight for each and every point. I just wanted to make the most of my time here in this amazing venue, so I just told myself to fight and not give up and I did – I’m so happy.”

Result: Men’s Final
[2] Declan James (ENG) bt [1] James Willstrop (ENG) 3-2: 2-11, 11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9 (76m)

Result: Women’s Final
[4] Nele Gilis (BEL) bt [1] Emily Whitlock (ENG) 3-2: 4-11, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 11-6 (72m)

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