Senior service as squash star Gaultier wins British Open title

Richard EATON
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France's Gregory Gaultier, pictured in 2011, won the British Open at 34 years old

Gregory Gaultier became the oldest winner of the British Open since Hashim Khan in the late 1950s when he beat Nick Matthew, the oldest finalist since that era, in a four-game final on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Frenchman’s 8-11, 11-7, 11-3, 11-3 win over the 36-year-old Englishman earned him his third British Open title and made him the oldest ever world number one on a ranking system which began in the 1970s.

"There is a lot of emotion in winning such an old and great title as this," said Gaultier.

"I am near the end of my career –- six months ago I was thinking of hanging my rackets up, but winning this will give me extra motivation."

Gaultier destroyed opponents so efficiently in the earlier rounds that Matthew came to the final having competed for two-and-a-half hours longer than his rival.

By the third game his movement was beginning to slow.

There was trouble for Gaultier when he was admonished by the referee for taking his opponent's space late in the second and warned that next time he would lose a conduct stroke.

But gone are the moments when Gaultier would sometimes lose concentration, and an immediate surge of eight points in a row which carried him to 6-0 in the third game irrevocably swung the direction of the match.

- 'Never 100 percent comfortable' -

Laura Massaro became the first English woman in 58 years to defend the British Open twice when she beat surprise finalist, Sarah-Jane Perry, her seventh-seeded compatriot, by 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 11-6.

It was Perry’s first World Series final and by far the biggest final of her career, whereas the 33-year-old Massaro was a former British Open champion, a former world champion, a former world number one, and was playing her fourth British Open final in five years.

The disparity in experience was soon apparent.

The fifth-seeded Massaro had also beaten the two top Egyptians, the world number one Nour El Sherbini and the former world number one Raneem El Welily, and was the more consistent player, more often keeping the ball tight, and waiting more patiently before attempting attacking forays which involved risk.

She was not though as comfortable as she looked.

"I tried to relax, or be as relaxed as I could be, but I was never one hundred percent comfortable," she admitted.

"Sarah-Jane has improved a lot this season, and she changes direction (of her shots) so much, so I'm thrilled to have won this again."

With England producing three finalists for the first time in 26 years, the home country’s apparent decline seemed at least to have been granted a bright sunset.

It was the first time in four years that Egypt -- which has three of the top five men in the top ten, and three of the top four women -- had failed to produce a finalist.

However, the outcomes may be very different at the World Championships at El Gouna on the Red Sea in a fortnight’s time.