R2 :  Joel Makin (Wal) 3-2  James Willstrop (Eng) 11-7, 8-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-9 (79m)
Incredible performanceS. Yes, with a big S. Because both played their part in that amazing show we were lucky enough to witness. As James stated “it was a battle of two different styles”.
On my left, James 37 forking years old, former number 1, today 18. On my right, Joel, 26 years young, WR9. On paper, “ça ne fait pas un pli”, it’s pretty obvious who should win. But let’s look at the stats for a second.
On and off PSA Tour (PSA, British Nationals, Premier League, European Champs), they battled 7 times, and James is actually 4/3 up. Including their last two battles: Feb 2020 at the Nationals, 3/1 for James, including a sharp 11/0. Then in October 2020, in Cairo, on a traditional court, James came back from 2/1 to take the next two, 11/6 in the 5th.
Was James up for it? You bet. Was Joel? Freak yeah.
A bit like Paul in a previous match today, Joel didn’t make a single error for two games. Then one in the third. He went wild in the 4th, two of them, then back to normality, 0 in the last one. “Ca laisse rêveur”….
Mind you, James didn’t do bad either, if you think of the high percentage game he plays: 3 in the first – that he lost, 2 in the second that he won, 0 in the third, he won it, 2 in the fourth, and the only one he really lost the plot, the 5th, 5 of them, only to love 11/9, giving away 7 points in all in that one (2 strokes)….
The quality of the match was purely magic. James had a simple game plan: Lob the ball, frustrate Joel by pushing him, turning him, pinning at the back, and then varying the height of the ball, the pace of the ball, the angle of the ball. Simple….
Joel changed direction so many times, run so many miles, picked up winner, after winner, and James had to produce his best squash again, and again and again. Just have a look at what James had to do to win a rally (reminded me of Paul in Canary Wharf!!)
WOW – TRIPLE DIVE!! 😱
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) December 15, 2020
From the opener, the tone is set, with James lobbing the ball straight, crosscourt, finding ridiculously crispy winners on the back of pretty accurate drives. 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, 6/6, 7/7. But Joel manages to clinch point after point, grinding rallies, 11/7 in 13m.
In the second, James finally gets to find a few more damaging winners, and from 5/5, is able to frustrate the Welsh again and again, taking the time away from him, 9/5, 8/9, 11/8. 10 winners for James, but still 7 for Joel. High quality. 15m. And James keeps the same momentum in the 3rd, quite extraordinary control from the PonteMan, 5/1, 7/2, 9/5, 10/6, 11/7 in 13m.
The fourth is a mammoth one to be honest. It’s 19m of nail biting squash, incredible of intelligent cat and mouse stuff, James playing catch up, from 2/2 Joel a whisker ahead, then 5/5, with James starting to suffer with his movement, penalised 4 times up to the middle of the game. Joel looks good 8/5, but James is still kicking 8/8.
Super attacking shots from Joel, he knows James is suffering, goes for the jugular, 10/8 two game ball, both saved, but it’s still the Welsh that clinches that crucial game 12/10… 6 winners each. But the strokes make the difference…
The 5th, James is struggling in the first quarter of the game, three errors d’entrée, at the start, 4/1. Mini second wind for the English, 4/4. 6/6. James is running on fumes, but the accuracy, the game plan are still in place. Two errors at a crucial moment, and it’s 10/6 match balls for the Golden Tiger.
The crowd is going mad, seriously, they are supporting the Old Timer, going for the Underdog, and they are pushing him to save not one, not two, but three match balls. But a ball that lands in the middle of James’ legs, and the ref cannot call anything but stroke.
James, gracious as ever, smiles and salutes his opponent.
And as he accepts to talk to me after such a brutal match, he is smiling, we are crying, laughing, while he is jumping up and down before running to his flight home. ‘Fram, if I don’t do it, now, I’m going going to be able to walk for six months!”
Elegance is an attitude. And if one day, someone creates a perfume called Class, we’ll just have to put James in a bottle, et voilà.
It’s always very hard to play in the first game against Joel. I have to whistand a bit, as I cannot open up, it’s asking a lot of questions, and I can’t find the openings.
Then in the second, I’m finding the pace a bit better, but then, he managed to reverse the momentum, he stopped me, and I had the impression to be in the first game again.
But at that point, he did enough damage physically, I couldn’t step up and reverse it…
It was a battle of two different styles, and in the fifth, it’s a shame I couldn’t find the control in the middle section.
Shame, playing another quarter final would have been nice, but we had a good response from the crowd, which is always good….
The accuracy wasn’t there, or that’s what it feels like against James, covering so much of the court from the first point straight through to the last basically. I just had to keep fighting, trying to keep the intensity in it and take my chances when I got them, even though there was few of them. I worked hard for that definitely.
He was just leaving the ball so short and deep, the purchase he was getting on the ball once it softened up and the quality was a joke. If there was a bit more bounce in it then I had chance to get a few more balls back. Just hard all the way through.
I got 10-6 up and then he put three perfect rallies together. Hit his back corners perfectly and then followed up with a straight drop, I couldn’t get near.
I’ve got through to mostly quarter finals and a couple of semis this year – I need to push on from here really. I’ve done well against Tarek before, lost in five tight in Qatar, so I just need to get my body recovered and get stuck in tomorrow.