The final battle of PSA Masters could not have been more dramatic. World No 2 James Willstrop won the title after his opponent from France, Gregory Gaultier, conceded the match due to an injury when he was down 1-6 in the fourth game. The match ended with Willstrop leading 19-21, 11-8, 11-4, 6-1.
But Gaultier clearly won the hearts of everyone at the Siri Fort Sports Complex on Sunday, owing to a hard-fought win in the marathon first game of the match, which lasted a record 59 minutes.Thanks to the title, when the new rankings are released in January 2012, Willstrop will climb to the top spot, dethroning compatriot Nick Matthew. He also completed a hat-trick of titles as he had come to Delhi on the back of clinching the Hong Kong Open and the Kuwait PSA Cup. Willstrop pocketed the winner’s cheque of $24,938 (Rs13,09,869).
“This win is special for many reasons. Winning three titles on the trot is of course something, and the rankings go with it,” said Willstrop. But for Gaultier, the year-end tournament turned into a forgettable experience. He had sustained a hamstring injury in December 2010, and now admits that December is “unlucky for me perhaps”.
Though the crowd didn’t get to watch the full match, the first game made up for it. Gaultier won it 21-19 in 59 minutes, which is the longest for any first game in modern squash.
The long rallies and lightening quick reflexes from both players kept the game on and they admitted that winning that game mattered more than winning the match at that point.
Gaultier later reflected on what impact that match had on him. “It was very, very long. The intensity of it didn’t help me later in the match, because I was a little exhausted,” the world No 3 said. “I had been feeling a bit of pain in my upper thigh for the last two days and that first game didn’t help.” The Frenchman revealed that, in the fourth game, he started experiencing spasm in the region and couldn’t move his legs.
Even Willstrop was affected by that game. “It would be very strange if I say I was not fatigued after that. What else do you expect, with two people going gladiatorial in a box.”
But the 28-year-old Briton said that winning the second game wiped out the advantage of that marathon first game. Gaultier said he tried to continue in the fourth set but his movement was restricted due to which he lost points and had to concede the match. He pocketed the runners-up cheque of $16,388 (Rs8,60,780).