Only Malaysian Nicol David stands in the way of double gold for England in Friday’s Commonwealth Games Squash Singles finals in Delhi where the world number one from Penang meets second seed Jenny Duncalf in the women’s final, and top seeds Nick Matthew and James Willstrop line up in an all-English men’s final at the Siri Fort Complex in the Indian capital.
Jenny Duncalf was the first to secure a place in the medals. But the world No2 from Harrogate in Yorkshire had a tough battle against fellow countrywoman Alison Waters, the third seed, dropping the first game and facing game-ball against her at 10-9 down in the second.
But the 27-year-old England No1 recovered to draw level before taking the next two games to avenge her defeat in this year’s British National Championship, beating Waters 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-4 in 59 minutes.
“Obviously it’s great to be in the Commonwealth Games final – tomorrow will be one of the highlights of my career,” said the jubilant Duncalf moments after coming off the all-glass showcourt at the new 11-court complex.
“Getting the second game was really important. We’re extremely competitive – but best mates off court.”
How does she see her chances in the final? “I’m just looking forward to it – whoever I’ve got. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.
“I’ve felt good this tournament – I really like the court and the arena’s great.”
When asked if she felt she was playing as well as when she downed Nicol David twice in succession last year, Duncalf replied: “I’m never totally sure how I’m playing. But I definitely had to play well to beat Ali – she’s a great player technically and physically. She really dominated me in the first game.
“Winning gold would be unbelievable. It would be the highlight of my career. We’re all desperate to win gold.”
A downcast Waters confirmed her Achilles twinge: “This really hampered my movement. If I’d won the second game, it would have made a big difference.
“I still felt I was in it – the third game was close,” added the Londoner. “I felt I was playing really well. I’m now concentrating on bronze.”
Can Jenny win it, the 26-year-old was asked? “I hope so – she’s playing well.”
Later, top seed Nicol David emerged from the second semi, recording her fourth successive straight games win in Delhi by beating Australia’s surprise semi-finalist Kasey Brown, the sixth seed who upset Northern Ireland’s No5 seed Madeline Perry 24 hours earlier.
The 25-year-old from New South Wales led three times in the opening game, but at six-all David took control to close out the game after winning the next five points in row. The cool Malaysian was always ahead thereafter and after 38 minutes notched up her 11-6, 11-3, 11-3 victory.
Now just win away from the only major tile which has hitherto eluded her, David was pleased with her performance: “I was playing really well to stay with her, moving well and hitting the ball well. I felt good. I had a really good run today.
“I’m glad to be in the final – but it’s going to be a battle. Just one more push!”
Much is expected of the record five-time world champion who finished in a disappointing fourth place four years ago in Melbourne: “That was a big turning point for me. I learned a lot from that. I’ve brought my game up.”
The favourite was asked what it would mean to win the title: “The Commonwealth Games title would definitely be up there with the other big ones,” said the Penangite.
Brown was philosophical about her defeat: “All this experience is going to help me in the future. Maybe next time I can win gold.”
When asked to identify what makes her opponent so difficult to beat, the New York-based Aussie replied: “Mentally Nicol is very strong – and physically too. She’s also very quick and consistent. You feel you have to win five points before you get one.”
The left-handed Londoner led Matthew 8-7 in the first game, and was poised at 9-9 in the third game – but the third seed came away empty-handed as the favourite, who struggled to find his form earlier in the event, scored his 11-9, 11-2, 11-9 victory.
“I’ve got better each match, for sure – but I had to,” said Matthew. “The competition’s got tougher. I am pleased to get off in three.
“I feel I’m back to my best. I’m a lot happier than I was the first couple of days.
“I’ve been in contact my psychologist back home, which has been a help. If you start day-dreaming about winning matches, as soon as you get ahead of yourself that’s when you slip up.”
His reaction on reaching the final? “It’s fantastic. But I’ve not come here just to get in the final – tomorrow is when the job is finished.”
Barker felt he had been let down by the referees: “The first and third games were crucial – I had two bad decisions. Not that it would have made any difference. Nick outplayed me in the second.
“But it’s disappointing when you work so hard – and it comes down to bad decisions.
“Nick played a lot better: controlled and accurate squash.”
Barker ended a run of 10 successive defeats by Matthew in August by beating the Yorkshireman for the first time in theHong Kong Open. “He played better than he did in Hong Kong – and I didn’t play as well,” said Barker. “He just didn’t let me. I thought it was a fair match.”
Would he win bronze? “I hope so,” concluded the 27-year-old.
The much-touted ‘dream’ all-English final came about a few hours later when second seed James Willstrop defeated surprise opponent Mohd Azlan Iskandar, the No6 seed from Malaysia, 11-4, 11-7, 11-5 in 44 minutes.
Whilst Willstrop had survived a brutal 111-minute encounter the previous night – fighting back from 2/0 down to beat dogged Australian David Palmer in a match which finished at 12.45 am – the Malaysian had needed 135 minutes to upset determined Englishman Daryl Selby in an incident-packed affair.
But it was clearly Iskandar who had been affected more as the 28-year-old from Kula Lumpur fell to his sixth successive defeat to the tall Englishman.
“That couldn’t really have worked out much better,” said Willstrop. “Looking back at being 2/0 down last night, I didn’t think I’d be in this position. Just 40 minutes on court today is handy.
“If we’d had another ding dong tonight, it would have made it very difficult for tomorrow. Yesterday, mentally, was very hard. I was nearly out of it last night. Two hard back-to-back matches would have made it very difficult,” explained the world No4 from Leeds.
“I set the tone pretty well today – I felt alright, I didn’t feel too bad. When he’s had two hours in his legs, and is 1/0 down, it’s hard.”
Four years ago in Melbourne, Willstrop crashed out at the quarter-final stage – losing to Matthew in an 82-minute marathon.
“Last time was quite heart-breaking, playing Nick in a monster match in Melbourne,” Willstrop recalled. “But I don’t think the England team could be happier this time – we’ve probably come and done as well as we could have hoped. We’ve always said that this is a very important competition – all of the players have put in a massive effort to get here.”
On another clash with Matthew, Willstrop stated: “I play him more than anyone. It’ll be a big game and an exciting one. Everybody talks about the rivalry – and that’s great for the sport.
“I’m behind at the moment – it’s time I got one!”
A tired Iskandar praised his opponent: “James has a super attacking game – he just didn’t give me a chance to get going. He was simply too good – to beat him, you need a fresh pair of legs. I thought he deserved to win.
“He’s a great player. He doesn’t allow you to get into a rhythm.
“I set my goal of making the semis – and I achieved that. I hope to recover tomorrow to put in another day.”
For more info, visit the WSF’s dedicated Commonwealth Games site www.cwgsquash.com
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Peter Barker (ENG) 11-9, 11-2, 11-9 (60m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) 11-4, 11-7, 11-5 (44m)
 Nicol David (MAS) bt  Kasey Brown (AUS) 11-6, 11-3, 11-3 (38m)
 Jenny Duncalf (ENG) bt  Alison Waters (ENG) 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 11-4 (59m)