Top seed Nick Matthew reached the final of the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic when his English rival James Willstrop retired injured on match ball down after an astonishing marathon match in the $52,500 PSA World Tour event at East Wintergarden in London.
It was a dramatic finish to the 127-minute clash – the longest match in the tournament’s seven-year history, and the longest in both players’ careers – which included an astonishing 20-18 tiebreak finish to the third game.
The world number two now meets France’s world No6 Gregory Gaultier in Friday’s final.
Willstrop’s left leg cramped up after he crashed into the back left corner of the glass court, chasing a winning drive from Matthew after the players had battled toe to toe for more than two hours of brutal squash.
Matthew punched the air with relief at winning the point after one of many physically depleting rallies – but his expression turned to concern for his fellow Yorkshireman as Willstrop was clearly in agony.
Referee Dean Clayton rushed down to the court as two physios treated Willstrop – and informed the sell-out crowd that as the injury was self-inflicted the 6ft 4in world No4 would have to concede the match unless he was unable to play on immediately.
However, Matthew refused to accept victory in such conditions and offered Willstrop a three-minute break.
But Willstrop was unable to continue and had no alternative but to concede the match.
The two players hugged in the middle of the court, and now Matthew will have to hope his body holds up in the final.
Matthew stayed in front throughout a demanding opening game that lasted 25 minutes, maintaining the high-speed pressure squash that saw off former world champion Thierry Lincou in the quarter-finals.
However, Willstrop responded brilliantly in the second game, reducing his error count and mixing up tight drives with delicate touch shots at the front of the court.
Willstrop moved 7-4 up in the third as the match moved beyond the hour mark but Matthew hit back to force the game to a tiebreak at 10-10. Willstrop kept getting his nose in front but conceded several penalty strokes as Matthew constantly fought back. Willstrop finally clinched it 20-18 after 38 minutes of pure drama as Matthew drove his shot into the tin.
Willstrop led 6-3 in the fourth game but was unable to sustain the pressure as Matthew fought back to win 11-8.
In the fifth, Willstrop took a three-minute injury break after receiving a knee in the back of the calf but he returned to the court to again open up an early lead of 4-1.
But Matthew continued to reel in the points, finally taking the lead at 8-7. Then, at 9-8, he unleashed a stinging backhand drive into the back corner. Willstrop, who had been forced to chase the ball all over the court, fell in a heap as the ball raced beyond his reach.
Matthew sportingly said: “Nobody wants to win a match like that. We always have long battles, but that was by far the hardest-ever. I just hope my body will hold up in the final tomorrow.
“The crowd were absolutely brilliant all the way through, cheering us both on and creating a fantastic atmosphere.
“This is one of the best tournaments in the world and I’m delighted to get through to the final for the first time.”
Ironically, Matthew lost in the first round of the event last year after receiving a dead leg from Egypt’s world junior champion Mohamed El Shorbagy.
Former world No1 Gaultier was made to work hard by England’s fourth seed Peter Barker before clinching his first appearance in the Canary Wharf final.
Gaultier powered through the opening two games before Barker launched a solid counter-attack in the third game. He dropped his cautious approach and began matching Gaultier with some outrageous winners.
Barker led 5-4 in the fourth game but Gaultier regained control to win 11-7, 11-5, 6-11, 11-7 in 63 minutes.
“It was a hard match and Peter played very well,” said Gaultier. “We have both had injuries this season but we are both playing a lot better now.
“The first match was unbelievable and it was difficult to cope with the long delay in waiting to go on court. You go the loo 25 times and warm up six times!
“Nick is a very strong guy and I am sure he will have lots of energy left for the final.”
Former world champion Peter Nicol will return to the court before the final as the Legends of Squash Tour makes its London debut.
Nicol, who beat his great rival Jonathon Power recently when the Legends Tour was launched at New York’s Grand Central Station, will be taking on former England star Simon Parke.
As promoter of the Canary Wharf event, Nicol has already achieved one massive success this week with sell-out crowds every night at the superb East Wintergarden venue.
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  James Willstrop (ENG) 11-7, 5-11, 18-20, 11-8, 10-8 ret. (127m)
 Gregory Gaultier (FRA) bt  Peter Barker (ENG) 11-7, 11-5, 6-11, 11-7 (63m)