Just two weeks after battling for the world number one ranking in New York, Yorkshiremen James Willstrop and Nick Matthew will bid for domestic glory in the anticipated men’s final of the British National Squash Championships in Manchester.
In last week’s first ever all-English final of the prestigious PSA World Series Tournament of Champions at Grand Central Station, Sheffield-based Matthew – who topped the world rankings throughout 2011 before Willstrop replaced him in January – reclaimed pole position after overcoming his Leeds rival in a dramatic 85-minute climax.
The 2012 British National Squash Championships, from 7-12 February (following qualifying the previous two days), will be celebrating its 16th successive year in Manchester and its tenth appearance at the National Squash Centre, the unique venue which was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and boasts a permanently-sited all-glass court.
In the draws revealed today, both Willstrop and Matthew face qualifiers in the first round en-route to the predicted men’s final which would be the first in the event’s 38-year history to feature the top two players in the world.
Willstrop, twice winner of the title, is the event’s the top seed. The 28-year-old, who surprisingly crashed out at the quarter-final stage last year, is expected to meet seventh seed Chris Ryder, the former world university champion from Leamington Spa, in the quarter-finals before a predicted clash with career-long rival and England team-mate Peter Barker in the semis.
Barker, the world No7 from London, is the third seed and opens his 2012 campaign against Yorkshireman Neil Cordell.
Second seed Matthew has an anticipated quarter-final clash with Guernsey-born Chris Simpson, the world No52 from Harrogate. Champion on three previous occasions – in 2006, 2009 & 2010 – the 31-year-old is expected to face fourth seed Daryl Selby in the semi-finals.
It was 29-year-old from Essex who shocked the country – if not the world – by toppling Matthew in last year’s final to become men’s champion for the first time. Selby, ranked 11 in the world, begins the defence of his title against a qualifier.
Lurking near the bottom of the men’s draw is Yorkshireman Simon Parke, the only other former champion in the 2012 field. The now retired former world No3, who will celebrate his 40th birthday later this year, made his British Nationals’ debut in 1987 – and won the title for the only time 11 years later.
In his 19th appearance in the event, Parke will face 14th seed Charles Sharpes, a 19-year-old from Surrey who was born in 1992 – the year after Parke first appeared in the final!
The women’s title is also expected to go to Yorkshire: Jenny Duncalf, the top seed from Harrogate, is expected to reach her fifth final in six years. Ranked two in the world, 29-year-old Duncalf opens her bid against a qualifier and is expected to line up against England team-mate Sarah Kippax, the Halifax-based No4 seed from Cheshire, in the semi-finals.
Local hopes will be led by third seed Laura Massaro, the world No4 from Preston who last year became Lancashire’s first winner of the title.
Third seed Massaro begins the defence of her title against a qualifier, and faces her toughest opponent in the predicted semi-final in the lower half of the draw against second seed Madeline Perry.
The world No3 from Banbridge, near Belfast, is hoping to become Ireland’s first ever winner of the title. Perry plays Lauren Selby – sister of the men’s champion – in the opening round before her expected meeting in the final against Duncalf.
But, despite winning her 13th Irish national title in December, Perry has yet to reach a British final.
More than 340 players will converge on Manchester, not only for the two main open events but a full range of men’s and women’s Masters events, from Over-35 to Over-75.
Men’s 1st round draw:
 James Willstrop (Yorks) v Qualifier
 Andy Whipp (Cheshire) v Declan James (Notts)
 Chris Ryder (Herts) v Qualifier
 Adrian Waller (Herts) v Qualifier
 Peter Barker (Essex) v Neil Cordell (Yorks)
 Robbie Temple (Glos) v Qualifier
 Tom Richards (Surrey) v Qualifier
 Eddie Charlton (Notts) v Adam Murrills (Cheshire)
 Joe Lee (Surrey) v Stephen Siveter (Merseyside)
 Adrian Grant (Kent) v Qualifier
 Joel Hinds (Derbyshire) v Anthony Graham (Glos)
 Daryl Selby (Essex) v Qualifier
 Charles Sharpes (Surrey) v Simon Parke (Yorks)
 Chris Simpson (Hants) v Ben Coleman (Essex)
 Jaymie Haycocks (Shropshire) v Phil Rushworth (Yorks)
 Nick Matthew (Yorks) v Qualifier
Women’s 1st round draw:
 Jenny Duncalf (Yorks) v Qualifier
 Lauren Briggs (Essex) v Qualifier
 Sarah Kippax (Cheshire) v Lisa Aitken (Scotland)
 Alison Waters (Middx) v Qualifier
 Victoria Lust (Beds) v Sarah-Jane Perry (Warwicks)
 Laura Massaro (Lancs) v Qualifier
 Emma Beddoes (Warwicks) v Tesni Evans (Wales)
 Madeline Perry (Ireland) v Lauren Selby (Essex)
Tickets for the British National Squash Championships – Manchester 2012 can be booked online at www.isportgroup.com/ticketing, or by telephone on 0844-870 0000 – or for further help and information email: email@example.com
For more general details of the 2012 National Championships, please visit the official website: www.nationalsquashchamps.co.uk