The semi-finals of the British National Championships take place today, with the first match getting underway at 17:30 (GMT+1) at the National Squash Centre, Manchester.
George Parker caused an upset in the quarter-finals by surviving a late fightback from defending men’s champion James Willstrop to progress to the semi-finals. Parker will end the day’s play against Adrian Waller at 20:00.
Defending women’s champion Sarah-Jane Perry enjoyed a more serene route to the last four and will face Wales’ Emily Whitlock in the day’s first match at 17:30.
World No.10 Joel Makin will face Declan James, who beat No.4 seed Greg Lobban 3-1 in the quarter-finals, while Makin’s Wales compatriot and World No.11 Tesni Evans will play England’s Georgina Kennedy.
Today's order of play.
The first women’s semi-final sees World No.6 Perry take on Whitlock.
Perry will likely go into the match feeling confident. The defending champion brushed aside Rachael Chadwick in the quarter-final, needing just 20 minutes to complete a 3-0 victory and goes into the tie as the favourite. World No.23 Whitlock will not be without hope, however, and will draw confidence from her 3-0 and 3-1 victories in round one and the quarter-finals.
Speaking after her quarter-final victory over England’s World No.89 Alicia Mead, Whitlock said she felt her concentration improved as the match wore on and was able to stay calm despite going one game down.
“I felt like I found my groove a bit more and that was the difference at the end of the day… once I started to get less irritated by everything,” she explained.
Perry and Whitlock are well acquainted with each other, having faced off eight times so far. Although Perry has won all eight of those encounters, Whitlock will take heart from their most recent match, when she caused Perry a number of issues in a tight 3-2 defeat at last year’s Black Ball Open.
Last year’s beaten finalist Makin has looked in fine form so far in the tournament and is yet to drop a game, having seen off Scotland’s Rory Stewart in the first round and England’s Nathan Lake in the quarter-finals.
With last year’s winner Willstrop out, Makin is now the favourite to lift the trophy. Speaking after the match against Lake, Makin credited his improving mental discipline, something that may serve him well if he is to reach back-to-back finals.
World No. 29 James, meanwhile, may well go into the match still feeling the effects of yesterday’s 73-minute slog with Lobban. Despite James taking the first game he was forced on the back foot when Lobban took the second, before the 28-year-old managed to regain momentum and see out the match.
After the match, James acknowledged the quick pace of games would make today’s semi-final challenging, saying: “As hard as that was today, I know that tomorrow will be another step on.”
When Makin and James face-off today, it will be for the eighth time in their careers. Although James may take some comfort from their seemingly close records – with James winning three games and Makin four – Makin’s recent run of three successive victories suggests James has a difficult task ahead of him.
The day’s third game sees England’s Kennedy taking on Evans.
Evans will go into the match the fresher of the two, having spent less than an hour on court so far. She cruised through her opening match against Saran Nghiem in 22 minutes and saw off last year’s runner-up Jasmine Hutton in 34 minutes in her quarter-final appearance.
Speaking ahead of today’s matchup, Evans said of Kennedy: “We played a few months ago and she beat me. We play completely contrasting styles of squash, so I think it will be a good match and it will be really tough.
“I’m definitely up for the challenge and I want to get my revenge. I need to stay patient, it’s too easy to get caught up in her style of squash. I need to enjoy the game rather than seeing it as a pressure match.”
While Evans is a two-time Nationals winner, for World No.74 Kennedy this will be her maiden Nationals semi-final. Despite going a game down to World No. 30 Lucy Turmel, Kennedy hit back to win 3-1.
As mentioned by Evans, although 63 places separate the two in the World rankings, Kennedy had the better of her opponent in their most recent encounter, when she beat Evans 3-1 in the Pro Squash Challenge Series in June. Evans, however, can boast an overall better record, having won the other two games played.
In the day’s final game, Adrian Waller takes on George Parker in an all-English affair.
Parker faced an arduous task to reach his second successive semi-finals, with the 25-year-old being drawn against defending champion James Willstrop in the quarter-final. However, Parker made an ideal start when he took the first two games. Though Willstrop fought back impressively to level, Parker was eventually able to clinch the fifth game, with Parker surviving a stunning late rally from Willstrop.
Speaking after the match, Parker explained that he is sharper and more confident after playing a number of exhibitions with Makin.
Waller, meanwhile survived three match balls in an epic five-match game against Patrick Rooney. Waller will no doubt be hoping the mental determination he showed in his 76 minutes against Rooney will help him break his semi-final duck, having missed out in his last three semis.
If Waller is to reach his first Nationals final, he may well draw confidence from his form against today’s opponent. In the two matches Waller and Parker have played, Waller has been the victor both times, with the most recent being a 3-0 win in the English Premier League.