The 2018 Dunlop National Championships feature no less than SEVEN players who have previously won the title, each aiming for more glory in Manchester.
Top of the list, of course, is Nick Matthew, the nine-time men’s champion who will be playing his 19th Nationals and aiming to extend his record tally by claiming a 7th consecutive title. Having first appeared in 1995, and claimed his first title in 2006, Nick is well into his last season on the PSA tour, so this might be his last Nationals – at 37 he’s been eligible for the Masters for a few years already, so who knows where he might be next year …
It was Matthew’s Yorkshire rival James Willstrop, who will be playing in his 20th consecutive Nationals, who won in 2007 and 2008 and will be aiming to reach a 9th final.
Matthew and Willstrop have met 7 times in the Nationals, Matthew winning each time including five finals between 2009 and 2016.
In fact, the only player to have beaten Matthew in the Nationals since 2005, when he lost in the semi-finals to eventual champion Lee Beachill (a defeat he avenged in the marathon 2006 final), is Daryl Selby, who won a titanic tussle in the 2011 final, when Matthew was reigning World Champion and World #1.
Selby is in the bottom half of the draw for his 17th Nationals (16 in a row until he misssed last year through injury), so if he is to reach the final for a third time he will probably need to beat Willstrop in the semis. They’ve met twice before, but not for 8 years, Willstrop claiming victory in the 2009 quarters and 2010 semis.
And if he’s to win a second title, chances are he’s going to have to beat Matthew, who has avenged that 2011 defeat four times since, including the 2015 final.
Women’s top seed Laura Massaro, playing in her 18th consecutive Nationals, will be aiming for a third title in a row and a fifth overall. Remarkably she has reached the semis or better in each of the last 11 editions, from 2007 through to last year.
The other three former champions are all in the bottom half of the draw, and if Massaro wins through to her 8th final, it would be a surprise if she didn’t face one of Alison Waters, Jenny Duncalf and Sarah-Jane Perry.
Perry is the ‘newcomer’ with just 7 previous appearances, but finished off a spectacular run of five-game wins (including Waters in the semi and Massaro in the final) to claim the title in 2015 and was runner-up last year.
She meets two-time champion Duncalf in a tantalising first round encounter. Like Willstrop, Duncalf will be playing in her 20th Nationals in a row, and has reached the quarters or better the last 13 times she’s taken to the court (the 2012 R1 ‘loss’ was due to due to her hoping an injury would clear up in time).
The winner of that clash could be looking at a semi-final against four-time champion Waters, who has reached the semis or better in her last 12 appearances, starting with a run from qualifying to the final in 2005.
A Perry v Waters semi would be a repeat of their previous meetings in the 2015 and 2017 semis, both won by Perry; Duncalf v Waters would be their 9th Nationals meeting after contesting 3 finals 4 semis and 1 quarter.
If Perry meets Massaro in the final it would be their 3rd final in 4 years, while Duncalf v Massaro would, surprisingly, be only their 3rd meeting in 16 Nationals in which they’ve both played, the others being R1 in 2005 and the 2011 final!
A Waters v Massaro final would be perhaps the most interesting clash of all – it would be their 9th meeting (starting with qualifying in 2002) with Waters leading 5-3, and their 5th final, the score there being 2-all.
So, the seven champions who between them, have won all the titles for the last eleven years are in the mix, and while there are plenty of others who may well have a say in the matter, we make no excuses for dwelling a little on our former champions.