James pushes Mo to the limit


It was a very special night at the East Wintergarden as the Canary Wharf squash family rose to their feet to show their love for four-times champion James Willstrop.

He pushed Mohamed ElShorbagy all the way and the fifth seed was hugely relieved to squeeze home 12-10, 12-14, 11-8.

On an emotionally-charged evening, the crowd warmed to every winner from Willstrop, but this was no exhibition match.

ElShorbagy, having lifted his fifth title of the season in Cairo last week, has his sights set on reclaiming the world No.1 ranking by winning his third Canary Wharf crown on Friday.

He could not risk allowing his focus to drop and was forced to play at a supremely high level to battle past an opponent who was relishing what could be his farewell appearance in front of this adoring crowd.

The 39-year-old Willstrop won our first final in 2004 and appeared in seven finals, winning four of them, and has missed only one of the 20 editions of the tournament.

His stylish play and sporting demeanour have earned him many supporters throughout the squash world and it was a wonderful opportunity for his fans to say a big Thank You for the entertainment he has served up in Bank Street during the past two decades.

Sometimes the venue is less than full for the final match of the evening schedule as fans leave to catch a train home. But last night every seat was full as these two players took to the court in front a boisterous crowd.

Our 20th anniversary celebrations reached a peak as he and ElShorbagy crafted rallies of outstanding quality.

Willstrop’s tiebreak win in the second game brought the biggest cheer of the night and ElShorbagy had to mix caution with his favoured attacking play to make sure that he won through to the quarter-finals, where he faces his lifelong friend and rival, Ali Farag.

This time, ElShorbagy will be wearing England colours.

If the quality of play reaches anything like their battle in last World Championship final in Cairo, where Farag clinched a third world title, then fans will be in for another treat.