No easy games, says Squash star Willstrop

 06 Dec 2012 - 0:56


by Armstrong Vas

DOHA:  World No.1 James Willstrop (pictured) of England says the standard of the game has reached an all-time high and any of the players in the top-50 are capable of winning major titles on the men’s tour. 

The Englishman, who won the North American Open and finished runner-up in seven other tournaments this year, is targeting the PSA World Championship title in Doha.

“Every opponent is tough. Everyone from world No.50 is a tough player to beat and a challenge. World squash is an all-time high now. The dividing line is too thin,” Willstrop told The Peninsula yesterday.

Willstrop, who lost to Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in the 2011 Qatar Classic final, said winning the title in Doha would not be an easy task.

Having finished as runner-up two years in Saudi Arabia and a couple of semi-final losses at the PSA World Championship, the 29-year-old is determined to lay his hands on one trophy missing from his collection. 

“Of course, it will be nice to win the PSA World Championship. It has been great 12 months and this is the biggest tournament of the year. Obliviously, it is (PSA World Championship) where you make it all happen. 

“I hope to play as well as possible and hopefully win the Championship,” the 29–year-old who is accompanied on the PSA Tour by his coach-father Malcolm, said.

The seven-day championship is hosted by Qatar Squash Federation and begins from tomorrow at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex. 

The $325,000 tournament which ends on December 14 is contested by the world’s top players.  The Yorkshire man has got a good draw at this year’s championship in Qatar, as his major rivals all languish in the bottom half of the 64-man draw.

“I do not think there is anything as a kind (easy) draw nowadays. The PSA Tour is so strong; all the players are so strong. All the players pose big threats everywhere. Every match I play is a challenge.”

The 2010 runner-up begins his 2012 campaign against compatriot Chris Ryder, the world No.43. Willstrop, said he would not single out any players who could possibly shatter his title aspirations in Qatar.

The top-seed aims to take game by game and opponent by opponent in the Championship which starts from tomorrow.

“I just (aim to) take each (opponent) one by one. I am focused on my first match. Right now, I am not thinking about Nick (Matthew), Greg (Gregory), Ramy (Ashour) or Karim (Darwish) in such a long event involving six rounds. I just look at my opponents (round by round) and I have to beat them and I have to be ready for every single one.”

Willstrop, however, said Ashour to whom he lost in the PSA Tour event in Hong Kong last week was in “brilliant form” and will be one of the players to watch out in the championship having won the last two events on the Tour.  “The Hong Kong event was sellout. What we need is to follow the same standards at all the tournaments,” said Willstrop, pointing to World Squash Federation (WSF) efforts to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for a place at the 2020 Olympics.

The Englishman is hopeful that WSF would succeed in winning a berth at the 2020 Games. 

However, he said not being a part of the 2012 London Olympics action was ‘very hard’ on him and his compatriots. 

“It was very hard but we enjoyed watching it, I loved it, no bitterness, very sad. Me, Nick (Matthew), Peter (Barker), Jenny (Duncalf) and Laura (Massaro), all of us in age group of 29-30 and playing at home with world rankings among the top ten, it would have meant we would have won medals all over the place. 

“The profile of the sport would have gone on a massive scale. That is what squash needs...very hard to take it could not have better. But it was a disaster for all of us,” said Willstrop with a tinge of sadness his voice. Willstrop sprung a surprise by publishing a compelling book ‘Shot and a Ghost: A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash’ while still been active player.  The book has become one of the most talked about topics on the Tour. 

‘Shot and a Ghost’ is one of seven titles nominated for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

“Many people have enjoyed reading it and I have got a good response for my book. It is not any autobiography. It is a diary of my life in squash and depicts to the people the other side of the squash player, away from the courts, what kind of life we live.” The Peninsula