It’s the fifth day of play in the Dunlop National Championships – semi-finals day.
Seven of the top eight seeds and six former champions were still in the mix, so a fantastic day of squash looks to be in store at the National Squash Centre in Manchester .
[3/4] Tesni Evans (Wal) 3-0  Laura Massaro (Eng) 11-3, 11-8, 11-9 (36m)
[3/4] Alison Waters (Eng) 3-2  Sarah-Jane Perry (Eng) 11-6, 11-4, 8-11, 10-12, 11-5 (61m)
 James Willstrop (Eng) 3-0 [3/4] Daryl Selby (Eng) 11-9 , 11-4, 11-2 (35m)
 Nick Matthew (Eng) 3-1 [5/8] Chris Simpson (Ggy) 6-11, 11-2, 11-9, 11-6 (64m)
Women’s top seeds beaten by Evans and Waters as
Matthew and Willstrop set up another battle …
The first semi-final session saw victories for Wales’ Tesni Evans, with a huge win over top seed and defending champion Laura Massaro, and James Willstrop, who maintained his winning record over an ultimately injured Daryl Selby.
In the evening matches Alison Waters survived a five game thriller to beat second seed SJ Perry, and nine-time champion Nick Matthew recovered from a 0-9 start to beat Chris Simpson in four.
Read on for match reports …
Matthew 3-0 Simpson
Matthew being Matthew, the nine-time champion fought back to 6-9 before Simpson took the lead 11-6, but Simpson’s momentum had been broken, and Matthew carried that into the second game, charging into a 6-0 lead and levelling the match 11-2.
The next two games were both hard fought, and Simpson had his chances, leading 7-4 in the third and 6-3 in the fourth. Matthew fought back in both though, levelling the third at 7-all before taking the lead 11-9, and taking eight points in a row in the fourth to dash Simpson’s hopes and reach his 11th Nationals final.
“I was just worried about getting bageled in the first! It was important to get into the match, and I managed to turn the tide and got a bit of momentum, which I took into the second.
“I had to use every inch of my experience and get a bit feisty and angry to win that one …”
Simpson reflected: “I thought I played well, those first 9 points were probably the best of my life, and though it would have been nice to keep it going we both probably knew it wasn’t sustainable.
“He just had the edge on me at the end of the games, but I’m happy I was able to push him that hard, I may not have many more goes at him …”
Waters 3-2 Perry
Waters took a two game lead, firing in winners with Perry seemingly unable to find her game. Find it she did though, recovering to take the third, then in a close fourth saving two match balls – actually Waters tinned them – before taking the game 12-10, on another Waters tin, to set up a decider.
Waters recovered well in the fifth, found the severe volleys of the first two games, and stayed ahead, taking it 11-5 to move into a tenth final.
“At 2-0 I knew she could come back, we’ve had some real battles over the years. Then at 10-8 in the 4th I thought I had it but I hit 3 or 4 tins.
“I’m proud of how I came back to win the 5th and proud to reach another final, I’d dearly love to win a fifth title.”
Evans 3-0 Massaro
This was a repeat of their World Champs clash here in December, and it was a repeat upset win for Evans, who started strongly, taking the first game 11-3 with Massaro making several uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Massaro started to find her game, forging ahead 7-2 in the second, but Evans staged a great comeback, levelling at 7-all and doubling her lead 11-8.
The Welsh #1 took that momentum into the third, building up an 8-2 lead. This time it was Massaro’s turn to recover, getting back to 8-all, then 9-all. A straight drop gave Tesni match ball, and a stroke on the next point put her into a first Nationals final.
“I knew there was more pressure on Laura than me, being the top seed and defending champion, I went the other way and told myself I wasn’t expected to win, and I was really pleased with how I played.
“It’s great getting to the final, there’s a lot more English in the draws than us Welsh and Scottish, so it means a lot. I ‘m really looking forward to tomorrow and I’ll try to be relaxed about it.”
Willstrop 3-0 Selby
That statistic belies how close the two are in standard and rankings, and the first game went point for point until Willstrop, helped by a couple of fortunate bounces at the end, took the lead 11-9.
Willstrop took control early in the second, doubling his lead 11-4, after which Selby took an injury break. Although he returned to play the third, he was clearly struggling and Willstrop closed out the match 11-2.
“I’ve had a problem since last week,” admitted Selby, “and it’s unfortunate that there’s no-one with me this week to help. I was hoping I could get through with it, and it was fine in the first game, but it flared up in the second and I just couldn’t compete after that.”
Willstrop, through to his 9th final, sympathised : “We’re both in our 30s, you have to look after your body but sometimes it lets you down. Daryl played well at the start, and while you never like to profit from someone’s injury, it’s good to be through to the final with a bit of effort saved.”
Massaro won comfortably in their 2016 semi here, and also in last year’s Hong Kong Open, but most recently – also here – Evans produced a big upset to knock Massaro out of December’s World Champs.
H2H 6-2 Massaro
Perry v Waters: Second seed Sarah-Jane Perry is playing her third semi-final in four years, while four-time champion Alison Waters will be making a remarkable 13th semi-final appearance in a row (she missed ’11 through injury).
They’ve met four times in the Nationals, Waters winning the first two in ’10 and ’13, Perry taking the honours in ’15 and in last year’s semi (so yes, this is their 3rd Nationals semi in four years).
H2H 12-3 Waters, but 3-3 in last six meetings.
The men’s semis feature the same four players as in 2016 – but in different combinations.
Matthew v Simpson: Nick Matthew is, like Massaro, making a 12th consecutive semi-final appearance (he missed ’07 and ’08 through injury), and of course he’s used to winning them – his only semi-final defeat came in ’05.
Chris Simpson is no stranger to this stage though, having reached the last four in ’15 and ’16 (he missed ’17 injured) where he lost out to James Willstrop and Matthew.
That ’15 semi was one of three Nationals’ meetings, all won by Matthew, Simpson’s only win coming back in ’10 in the British Grand Prix.
H2H 13-1 Matthew
Daryl Selby is in the last four for the fourth time in a row (he missed ’17 injured) and 7th overall.
Although Willstrop is second seed, on current World Ranking Selby is ahead – #15 to Willstrop’s #16.
They’ve been playing each other for almost 25 years, Willstrop winning four British Junior clashes from ’94 to ’01, and he’s continued to dominate the stats, winning 21 senior meetings with Selby’s only triumph coming in ’13 in Qatar.
H2H 25-1 Willstrop
Data gleaned from SquashInfo.com