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Whirlwind White hits 172mph!   

Wed 24 Mar, Day TWO:
vs WHITE :
[Well, not quite ... Ed]

People, that’s it, call back the dogs, the race is over, I am in love and I’m probably going to get arrested for it. James Willstrop is THE man.

When the match started, with a bit of delay of course, due to the 'leak' technical hitch, I sat near Malcolm, James’ father and coach. Then, out of nowhere, appears Ellery Hanley the Rugby player who coaches John. So, here I am, James’ coach on my left, John’s coach on my right. Talk about the devil and the deep blue sea ...

Oh well, it’s a tough job, but somebody has got to do it.

And God Hanley has got shoulders, I’m telling you. I saw him with John White at the Nationals, where he came to support him. He coaches the Scot on the mental preparation angle.

So, of course, we HAD TO talk about rugby and Saturday’s match….

Back to the game.

You know, it’s much easier when you don’t know the players, or when you don’t particularly like them. But there arrives a point where you don’t know who to support. This match was one of those points. John or James, James or John? So you just look, and enjoy the battle of the Giants. 6’4" for James Willstrop, 6’4" for White. Or is it the reverse? Not sure, and who cares? Boy o boy do I feel small.

I didn’t say skinny. I said small.

Two attackers. Two performers. Two brilliant personalities. Two ball hitters (John White just established the new unofficial Squash Speed World Record at 172m/hour. Andy Roddick, with his 150 m/hour, can go home and cry….). And Two wonderful big hearted men.

In the 1st set, Willstrop was leading the rallies, playing perfect length cross courts and attack drives, forcing White to hit some loose shots and to put the ball in the tin. That game was pretty much James’, who won 9/7 in 9 minutes.

By the way, when you are trying to report on a match, and both players have the same initials (JW), that make one’s life very difficult! Honestly, somebody should think about those things, and rename the players or something…

In the second, James served us with some pretty good deception shots, played one reflex cross court from behind his back, and retrieved shots I didn’t think had been invented yet. But John gradually speeded up the pace (if that’s possible) and took the 2nd 9/6 in 8 minutes.

Retrieving was the name of the 3rd game. I saw some pretty good retrieving from Peter Nicol and Thierry Lincou over the years, but what Willstrop and White saved today was pretty miraculous, if you ask me. John landed on his tummy, James threw himself against the walls, o they had a lovely time out there. And they call that fun?

9/7 for Willstrop. So 2/1 for him.

4th game. 4/0 for John. 4/5 for James. 5/5. 6/5. 6/6. 7/6. There was a rally at 7/6, that you will never ever see again. Amazing. Breathtaking. Incredible. John retrieved drop shots, drives, court courts, run left, right, back and down, and left and right, succeeded to take the advantage, and won the point to get to 7/7. James takes it back 8/7.

And you know what made the difference? The serve. James served a lob serve that John had so much problem to return, that gave him the perfect position to end up the match 9/7.

During an interval, James told his dad that the pace was “brutal”. Yop, you can say that again.

John was as witty as ever. “Are you going to give me a let?” he cheekily asked the ref with his soft voice. “Yes”, he replied. “Are you going to give me a stroke?” “No”, retorted the ref.

Oh yes, the tension was high, arguments, shouting… NOT. The game was fluid, friendly, well behaved, and yet fierce. No complaisance, no “exhibition mode”, believe me.

One of those game you don’t want to end with a loser.

God I love Squash!

It’s you, Great Promoter/Player. Jeez, 29 minutes later, he was back wearing his promoter’s cap. And during the 2nd game interval, I saw him ask Linda Davie (Tournament Referee) what time it was. And I’m pretty sure it was the promoter thinking, “Good, we are not going to finish late, perfect”.

Well, he is so good, he is so above the rest of us, poor mortals that we are. In the 1st game for example, he is just under pressure from Nick Matthew who is attacking beautifully, and hitting the ball well and with great precision at 7/5 for Nick. So Nicol just runs slightly quicker, extends a bit more, and 3 rallies later, he wins the game 9/7. It would have taken him a whole 9½ minutes.

The second will take 8 minutes, and the last 7minutes. Need I say more?

Oh, all right then. Just 2 lines.

As Nick was asking for a let, a smiling Peter asks the ref:
“Are you going to ask me if there was contact? Are you going to ask me if there was contact? “Was there contact?” asked the Referee? “Yes there was!” laughed away Peter. And the crowd loved it.

As Peter was telling the ref that, in his opinion, one of Nick drop shots went in the tin:
“Even he [Nick] said the ball is not up!” “I never said that”, replied Matthew o so quickly, “I said I wasn’t sure”! And the crowd laughed with delight.

Matthew gave us some beautiful rallies, but Nicol was just too much in command for any misgiving….


After his marathon evening of last night (you must have heard, or you just came back from the Moon, that David Palmer, former World Champion, actually played 9 sets yesterday, 4 against John White in London, and 5 against Gregory Gaultier in Birmingham, and Gaultier also took trains and buses to arrive from France especially for the match – so many rules have been bent to allow David Palmer to play his late match that there are not many left standing…)

So honestly, I thought that Palmer would suffer today. He suffered nothing! If it took 29 minutes for Peter to finish his game, Palmer needed only 27 to squash his opponent Lee Beachill away.

Lee Beachill, like I mentioned it yesterday, is normally very good at imposing his game of length and patience. But last night, he was the one taking all the risks, dropping and volleying the shots, and unfortunately, Palmer was the master of the rallies, hitting the ball long and in the back corners, whether by drives or cross courts. He was never under any real pressure, and the beautiful attacks from Beachill didn’t seem to have any effect on the Australian.

Do I hear the word “revenge”, as Palmer lost in the final of the Bermuda Open just a few days ago????

Could it be????

Bet your racket it does…

Shame, as I was really glad to see an attacking and positive game from Beachill. Please, more of those, Mr Beachill!


God Squash is a tough heartbreaker. Two gentlemen battling away. Ong Beng Hee who had a run of bad luck in the past months, psychologically a bit insecure. Thierry Lincou, a very bad injury that kept him away from the courts from months, having lost his number 1 ranking, and desperate to recover, both physically and mentally.

And I think personally that Thierry's problem at the moment is a confidence one. He doesn’t want to lose, whereas he just needs to want to win again. That’s all. In this game again, he was very tense, and although his forehand shots tonight were perfect (in his match against Nick Matthew yesterday, they were very loose at times), in the 1st game in particular, his backhand drives were miles away from the wall. And against an attacker as brilliant as Ong, not a good idea.

Lincou should have never lost the 1st game. But Ong's drives were glued to the wall, and he seized all the opportunities that Thierry’s nervousness offered him on a silver racket.

In the second, Thierry was up 8/2, and lost the next 4 points. No, he didn’t lose, Beng Hee won them. Actually there was a point that I thought rightly deserved a let for Thierry, and wasn’t awarded. I was so surprised I dropped my block note on the floor, and made a French sound “Hein???”.

Johnny White, sitting just behind me with Hanley, made a loud “Shhhhh” towards me, with a biiiigggggg smile, expecting to get a reaction from me…. I of course blew a loud raspberry toward him, and after Thierry won the game 9/6, I went to him and murmured:

“Do you remember when I wrote that you were the nicest man on the circuit? I lied!!!!!” And John laughed his heart out. “I thought press reports had to be impartial”, he rightly noted. “I’m French before being a journalist,” I apologised. “And anyway, I’m sooo impartial”. “Of course you are” retorted John.

Me, French and partial? Certainly not!

And then, my pen just died on me. “Looks very professional”, laughed John White.

It was not my night….

For those of you who read my report on Peter Nicol/Beng Hee match, I wrote that Beng Hee was back… God I wish last night I had been wrong! He was so brilliant during the match. His game was fresh, inventive, precise, brilliant. Thierry played beautifully, but just didn’t seem to have the answers. Whatever attack shot or precise drop shot or volley drop he would throw at his opponent, the Malaysian picked it up and returned it.

The 3rd game took 26 minutes. The 8/8 deuce advantage gave us some very dramatic lets, some fantastic rallies of glued to the wall drives, both forehand and backhand (Thierry by then had got rid of those loose shots), some great changes of pace by Ong, some out of this world attacks for Thierry and retrievals from Ong, and vice versa. Beng Hee tore the victory 10/8, and my heart with it.

After that one, Beng Hee was very tired, and let the 4th go in 5 minutes 9/1. But he was to come back with a vengeance. By that time, I wasn’t a reporter anymore. Forgot the Squash Player. Forgot the “etiquette”. I was a French supporter, well THE French supporter, as the rest of the crowd, surprisingly enough all British as we were in London (imagine that), was behind the magic young man whose had been a Londoner for years. And my heart just broke as after one deuce, 3 lets, one stroke and one advantage to Ong, Thierry couldn’t retrieve a perfect length shot from his extremely brilliant opponent.

And on top of that, as I went to have a drink after the match with Linda Davie and the Eventis Boys, guess who I gave a lift to? Ong!

“You are not getting in my car,” I said, “after what you just did to me! You are walking young man!” Thierry and Ong both laughed at my total devotion to the number one French player.

81 minutes. Believe me, that new scoring doesn’t stop the close matches to go on and on. Last night, it was Willstrop/Beachill, tonight Thierry/Beng Hee. But it is a different game. In a normal game, I’m not sure Ong would have had the physical resources to go all the way. But in a short format, he was able to dig in, knowing that the finishing line was just round the corner.

Thierry finished the match very sad, but I think I was even sadder. Boy, it’s difficult to be a supporter sometimes… It’s easier just to watch and enjoy…

But I still love squash.

Canada Group:
James Willstrop bt John White
9/7, 6/9, 9/7, 9/7 (45m)

David Palmer bt Lee Beachill
9/4, 9/3, 10/8 (27m)

Jubilee Group:
Peter Nicol bt Nick Matthew
9/7, 9/6, 9/7 (29m)

Ong Beng Hee
bt Thierry Lincou
9/6, 6/9, 10/8, 1/9, 10/8 (81m)


(Corp Chall):
Clifford Chance 1-2 KPMG


Well, the steeple actually. As I told you earlier, there was a leak in the glass roof, and drops of rain were falling on the right side of the court.

Not good.

So what did they do? They called Superman, and while James Willstrop was playing John White, they sent him up there, yes, all the way on the top, like 200 metres up in the air, to sort out the problem. Who said that Superman is only a fictional character!

Corporate Challenge:

KPMG beat Clifford Chance 2-1 in today's Canary Wharf Corporate Classic on The Thunderdome court and collected a jeroboam of champagne donated Chelsea Catering.

In a three-player format, Clifford Chance sportingly allowed James Hilton to play twice for KPMG, but the move backfired as he beat Anthony Stewart 3-1 in the deciding rubber.

Mike Poulton had given Clifford Chance a great start by beating Hilton 3-2 in an opening match that drew nods of approval from the watching James Willstrop and his father Malcolm, who were impressed by the quality of the squash and the way in which the players contended with the sunlight shining through the East Wintergarden windows.

Andrew Nichol brought KPMG level by beating Simon Cooke in the second match, winning the third game on a tiebreak, and then Hilton clinched victory as he enjoyed his second outing on the Perspex court by beating Stewart.

Results (Clifford Chance names first):
Mike Poulton beat James Hilton 9-7, 9-6, 7-9, 8-10, 9-5.
Simon Cooke lost to Andrew Nichol 0-9, 5-9, 8-10
Anthony Stewart lost to James Hilton 10-8, 6-9, 8-10, 6-9.


the Framboise Gommendy column


Framboise arrives early
for Day Two ...

Second day at Canary Wharf. I arrived early to talk with Malcolm Willstrop. Just finished a brilliant in-depth interview. What a delightful human being! I’m sure you’ll think like him as much as I did when you read what the great man (yes, I use the word not lightly) has got to say about his love of the game [see Malcolm's reports].

You know, when you arrive on Jubilee Place, you see that weird looking glass building, like a church steeple. It’s really an amazing view, well worth seeing.

Over looking the court, imagine a theatre with the stalls (squash seats) and the balcony, the East Wintergarden Restaurant. So people can dine and watch squash, or just have a drink and overlook the game, glass in hand. Very “cabaret de luxe”, really. Great atmosphere, and so original….

Oh come on and have a look, then! [Or if you can't, wait until Fritz Borchert arrives on Thursday to see the photos, Ed.]


Yesterday, there was a little boy who came to ask Thierry Lincou to sign his T-shirt while I was interviewing him (Thierry, not the boy), a T-shirt which now has the full house. Joshua is 8 and came to see all the great players, but also to play with them if possible. The lovely Nick Matthew didn’t hesitate, and not only played with the ecstatic boy, but also lost against him. So now we know why Nick was exhausted for his game against Lincou!!!!!

Nothing to do with the organisers, but I was a bit surprised to see that the glass walls hadn’t been cleaned by the owners! Surely they must clean it before they rent it out! And please, I know I’m French and maybe a bit too much on the fashion side of things, but who on Earth chose the colours! The tin is blue, the lines are yellow (with a white ball, easy to determine the not up, I tell you), the front wall is green, the side wall and the base are blue, and the Canary Wharf Classic logo is red.


And I’m supposed to be the colour-blind one!


I am telling you, whoever had the idea of having 8 of the top players in the world in 2 groups affront each other for three days in a glass box and throw away the key, had the best idea since the Super Series Finals.

Every game is a different experience, a different flavour, style, excitement, happiness, joy. The place is buzzing with professionalism, fans, neophytes, and even French people. The new scoring (up to 9, if 8 all, deuce and advantage) keeps it light and fun and interesting. Different from my favourite English Scoring, but really interesting. As we say in French ‘Je n’en crois pas mes yeux” “I can’t believe my eyes.”

Two words for you, Mr Organisers: THANK YOU

Just in! (at 17.45) We have leaks in the roof. Until now, it was only one spot in the seat area, but now, it's on the court itself, in the right back corner. Tim  Garner is looking at it and into it actually, and towels have been placed on the court.

I have been told that it's only when the rain falls very hard, and it's only a few drops once in a while. Oh that's a relief, then! The number of things that can go wrong in an event, it's remarkable....









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