English veteran James Willstrop – the 38-year-old former World No.1 – rolled back the years to produce a vintage display of accurate, controlled hitting on the opening day of action at the 2021 Canary Wharf Classic to defeat Egyptian World No.14 Mohamed Abouelghar, ten years his junior.
Willstrop, the current World No.24, won the inaugural Canary Wharf Classic competition, staged in 2004, but he showed no signs of slowing down as, almost 18 years later, he came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders to control the play and nullify the attacking threats of Abouelghar, prevailing an 11-6, 11-8 victory in the best of three format.
“It was good, I didn’t think we were giving each other very many chances,” said Willstrop in his post-match interview.
“I just had to be very clever and selective when I went in short and I’m very pleased to be playing, that was amazing. I was in the reserves and when you get the call about Canary Wharf it’s special and I’ve been here about 300 times. I think this is almost the most special in a way because I wasn’t going to get in and I thought I missed out.”
Willstrop will now face French number one Gregoire Marche in the second round on Tuesday November 16, while he is joined in the last 16 by compatriots Adrian Waller and Declan James, who both scored upset wins against Malaysian Eain Yow Ng and German Raphael Kandra, respectively.
Waller, the World No.28, showed tenacity and fighting spirit to edge a tightly contested affair 11-9 in the third game – having witnessed an early 1-0 game advantage slip away.
“I imposed my game quite early in the match, but credit to him, he came back with a brilliant game plan and got back in front,” said Waller afterwards.
“In a best-of-three you have less margin for error. It’s a lot shorter and I think mentally it’s different, you will see everyone approach it more cautiously.”
James meanwhile produced one of his best performances of the past year as he came from a game down to defeat Kandra – the German sitting 13 places higher on the World Rankings – 7-11, 12-10, 11-3, coasting home in the third game thanks to some superb shot placement and a devastating finishing touch.
“I’ve just been desperate to play matches,” admitted James afterwards. “I feel like in the last two years I’ve had like 10-15 matches and these guys that are in the top 10 and 15 have been playing a lot more than me because I haven’t been winning, it’s not been good enough. Coming here this week, I’ve been training hard, it’s not good enough to just come up and win a first or second round, I need to be pushing to the next level.”
Elsewhere, former World No.9 Daryl Selby played his last match at a major PSA World Tour event after he suffered a 2-0 defeat to compatriot George Parker.
The 39-year-old announced before the event that this would be his last Canary Wharf appearance and Selby put up a good fight but was unable to get past a resilient Parker who dug in to take the win 11-9, 11-9 in 25 minutes.
“I was probably a bit edgy knowing it was my last Canary Wharf opportunity,” said Selby on court afterwards. “I was desperate to win to try and play one more match. Fair play to George and hopefully he can kick on from here.”
Daryl Selby and George Parker
Elsewhere, Spain’s Iker Pajares Bernabeu prevailed against 2016 winner Mathieu Castagnet to secure a second-round match against World No.1 Ali Farag, with the Egyptian searching for his first Canary Wharf Classic title this week after falling short in the final to Mohamed ElShorbagy last year.
“Mathieu used to be one of my favourite players and when he won the tournament here, he won that final without making any mistakes,” said Pajares. “I learned a lot from this match and it feels amazing to finally beat him.
“I’ve been a bit unlucky with the draws and I’ve been meeting all the top players in early rounds. Tomorrow I’m playing Ali Farag, but it’s best-of-three and I take a lot of confidence from today.
The top half of the draw feature in round two tomorrow (November 15) and play will begin at 18:00 (GMT). All of the action will be shown live on SQUASHTV.
Fans can stay up to date with the latest news on the tournament by visiting the event’s official website or by following the Canary Wharf Classic on Twitter.
Results: Canary Wharf Classic – Round One
Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP) bt Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) 2-0: 11-6, 11-7 (37m)
Declan James (ENG) bt Raphael Kandra (GER) 2-1: 7-11, 12-10, 11-3
Adrian Waller (ENG) bt Eain Yow Ng (MAS) 2-1: 11-6, 4-11, 11-9 (39m)
Baptiste Masotti (FRA) bt [WC] Charlie Lee (ENG) 2-0: 11-8, 11-8 (28m)
George Parker (ENG) bt Daryl Selby (ENG) 2-0: 11-9, 11-9 (25m)
James Willstrop (ENG) bt Mohamed Abouelghar (EGY) 2-0: 11-6, 11-8 (36m)
Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt Greg Lobban (SCO) 2-0: 11-6, 11-5 (26m)
Youssef Soliman (EGY) bt Borja Golan (ESP) 2-1: 11-7, 7-11, 11-9 (55m)
Draw: Canary Wharf Classic – Round two (top half) – To be played November 15
 Ali Farag (EGY) v Iker Pajares Bernabeu (ESP)
Declan James (ENG) v Miguel Rodriguez (COL)
 Mostafa Asal (EGY) v Adrian Waller (ENG)
Baptiste Masotti (FRA) v  Tarek Momen (EGY)
Draw: Canary Wharf Classic – Round two (top half) – To be played November 16
 Diego Elias (PER) v George Parker (ENG)
James Willstrop (ENG) v  Gregoire Marche (FRA)
 Joel Makin (WAL) v Saurav Ghosal (IND)
Youssef Soliman (EGY) v  Paul Coll (NZL)