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Palmer Shines --- Willstrop Wilts
Oct 17, 2008, by Martin Bronstein for SquashTalk.com , Independent News; © 2008 SquashTalk LLC       

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This David Palmer bloke, he’s quite old by squash standards, but nobody
seems to have told him. Tonight he broke a lot of English hearts as he
raised his game to a near-perfect level to defeat James Willstrop in a 78
minute match that had the packed arena roaring like I have seldom heard in
a British squash venue.

“He was awesome tonight,” said Willstrop afterwards. “You have to applaud
him as an athlete and for being able to maintain his standard at his age.
In the last two games he was better than me by a distance.”

Which sums up perfectly what happened tonight: there is no point in trying
to analyse strategy or game plans or talk about probing for weaknesses.
Both players can do everything all over the court. They can hit winners,
retrieve impossible shots, hit length and use deception at the right time.
These are two players at the top of their form at the very pinnacle of the
game. But Palmer was playing at 105 percent while Willstrop was 95
percent. He refused to give any excuses even though his right ankle was
strapped -“I never thought about it; I never felt it,” he commented quite

Willstrop had everything in his favour – home court, hometown crowd
bellowing their hearts out, and great motivation – he wanted revenge for
being beaten in the British Open on a controversial decision in the final
game. Palmer needs no motivation, he just wants to win more than anything.
He said he didn’t mind the hometown crowd, it spurred him on.

Although lost the first game after leading 5-2, he never looked less than
determined and came back to dominate the second game to win 11-5. He
trailed most of the third but tied it 9-9 hitting the tightest of
forehand drives. In fact everything he hit was tight and Willstrop was
made to work hard in most rallies. But Willstrop hit five clean winners
in the game ending with backhand drive that was too good for even Palmer,
to take the third game 11-9 to lead 2/1.

The fourth was a huge let-down for crowd as Palmer seemed to step up a
gear, read everything Willstrop tried and rushed to a 5-0 lead. It was
obvious that when the score got to 7-2 Willstrop was not interested in
chasing the game and it was over in 6 minutes 11-4 for Palmer.

To my eyes, Willstrop’s body language showed that he was far from his top
form. He didn’t have the sparkle and while he tried to catch up from 4-1,
a stretch of the game which he dominated for three points, Palmer soon
took that away with his speed and inhuman accuracy to dominate and work
his way inexorably to an 11-5 victory. That fifth game lasted 19 minutes
so it wasn’t a walkover but, as Willstrop said, Palmer was better by a
good distance.

Most excitement of the day came from Madeline Perry of Ireland who played
badly and still won. Her Houdini like escape from certain defeat will
long be remembered.

She beat Jaclyn Hawkes of New Zealand, who now has Anthony Ricketts as the
New Zealand head coach. Hawkes, you may remember knocked out world number
four Natalie Grainger of the US using good tight length and tonight she
nearly put paid to Perry the same way. Hawkes’ tightness on the backhand
wall is constant and perfect. She doesn’t do a lot else with the ball but
she has proved in this tournament sometimes you don’t have to.

Perry’s length was appalling and everytime she tried to drive the wall to
the back she hit the side wall, the ball ending up centre court. She said
later it was the pressure and that she could not believe how badly she was
playing. Inside 20 minutes she was two games down and then 7-9 down in
the third. Somehow she managed to stay alive as she started hitting the
ball harder and getting some semblence of length. By sheer determination
she won the game 11-9 to give herself a lifeline. The fourth game was
fairy-tale time as she let up once more and stood staring defeat in the
face when Hawkes held match ball at 10-5. The argument against this new
scoring is that there is no way back from a big deficit. Don’t believe it
– Madeline Perry did it – taking seven points in row to save herself and
win the game to live again into the fifth game.

She trailed at 7-5 and then at 9-8. Still she fought, won the next point
to draw level and then take the next two point to chalk up the most
unlikely win of her life. Wonderful stuff to watch with bated breath
unbelieving eyes. Perry now moves into the semi-finals where she will
face Nicol David, he had a 30 minute straight game victory over Omneya
Abdel Kawy.

My bet is that Perry will raise her game now that she got rid of her
jitters. She may not beat David – but then again, with her luck and
determination, she could.13-11 (98m)




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