England’s James Willstrop and Sarah-Jane Perry captured the AJ Bell British National titles at the University of Nottingham today following two tightly contested finals.
Defending champion Willstrop saved eight game balls to defend his crown in style by stunning favourite Joel Makin to claim a fourth title. Meanwhile, women’s top seed Sarah-Jane Perry secured her second trophy after squeezing past England’s Jasmine Hutton in straight games.
Second seed Willstrop’s defence was peerless throughout a gripping encounter as he beat Welshman Makin 3-1 in 76 minutes. The World No.18 showed no signs of fatigue at 36-years-old but it was the 25-year-old Welshman who started the brighter of the two.
Makin flew into a 10-4 lead for six game balls, yet somehow in his 11th final, Willstrop reeled off eight straight points to clinch the tie-break. The Welsh No.1 then won 11 consecutive points to level and showed his class in the third, coming back from 6-1 down to 8-8.
James Willstrop (left) and Joel Makin in the final
Willstrop saved a game ball with his signature backhand drop shot before winning another tie-break. The heat turned up in the fourth, and a despairing Makin dive at 9-9, prevented a first championship ball for former World No.1, only adding to the drama.
Whilst Makin twice extended the match – forcing Willstrop into saving a game ball of his own – the Englishman proved too clinical third time around.
“To sneak in there at the end against one of the top players in world, I’m not sure how I was able to do it really,” said Willstrop.
“The British Nationals has prestige and history. Some of the greats have played it and to play and compete with someone like Joel who’s one of the top players at the moment is great.
“He’s incredibly hard to break down. The bagel in the second sums it up. That’s how hard it is to win a rally. He goes for everything and once I got 6-nil behind it seemed impossible.
“I came back though and it’s great to be able to compete at that level and win. It’s special anytime to win the Nationals but especially against a field like this!”
2015 champion, and World No.7, Perry had experience, a higher ranking and a superior head to head over finalist Hutton, who had made the final after two straight withdrawals.
Sarah-Jane Perry celebrates with the trophy
Perry’s imposing court presence and calm head on the tight points proved too much for the 2019 British U23 Open winner. Hutton had a chance at 9-9 to earn a game ball, instead trying too much with a simple shot as Perry took the gift and promptly wrapped up the first game.
The youngster overcame a patchy start to the second to bring it back to 8-8 but Perry bagged two more game balls, the 29-year-old all over the second opportunity for another 11-minute game.
Hutton benefitted from two overrules in her favour in the third to lead 7-6 but three straight points from Perry, swiftly followed by some stunning Hutton winners and then costly errors, summed up the athletic youngster’s final as Perry prevailed in 35 minutes, winning 11-9, 11-9, 11-9.
“I’m really pleased to win a second National title because I’ve been stuck on one for a little while,” Perry said.
Perry (right) and Hutton on court in the final in Nottingham
“Jasmine played fantastic. She came out with no signs of nerves and played some really fearless squash. She has improved so much in the past six, 12, 18 months.
“She is definitely pushing in that crop of young players trying to challenge the slightly older guard like myself. I am sure she will have many more finals.”
Result – Men’s Final
 James Willstrop bt  Joel Makin (WAL) 3-1: 12-10, 0-11, 12-10, 14-12
Result – Women’s Final
 Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt [5/8] Jasmine Hutton (ENG) 3-0: 11-9, 11-9, 11-9