James Willstrop’s passion for squash goes beyond playing the game. He wants to make the sport popular as well. K. KEERTHIVASAN
England’s James Willstrop is not just a brilliant squash player, ranked No.4 in the world. His range of interests, like his strokes, is varied. He is part of the music band called Lost for Words where he sings and plays the guitar, is an avid reader, a keen observer of theatre, and a columnist for a local regional newspaper in Leeds. All this makes the 27-year-old an interesting personality and a good conversationalist.
“I was introduced to squash when I was a little boy,” said Willstrop, “through my family.” My whole family played and dad (Malcolm Willstrop) coached. The game was all around me and I loved it.” With such an illustrious father as a guide, success followed him in his junior career. He won the British junior Opens, European junior championship, and World Junior championship to become the most successful junior player ever to emerge from the country.
The transition to the senior level wasn’t entirely a path of roses, but Willstrop made the right adjustments along the way. In 2002, he entered the Men’s World Tour and quickly asserted his authority. By the end of 2005, at the age of 22, he had reached a ranking of World No. 2, which till now remains his highest ranking.
The J.P. Morgan tournament of champions held in New York last year was the turning point. It made him realise his capabilities. He defeated Amr Shabana in the quarterfinals, and then overcame Karim Darwish in the semi-finals and the redoubtable Ramy Ashour in the final. Thus, Willstrop clinched his first PSA Super Series title of the year in a memorable manner defeating players, who have all been ranked No.1 at some point of time.
In the recent World Cup mixed team event held in Chennai, Willstrop—he became the World junior champion nine years ago in the same city—was instrumental in England reaching the final. But against the top seed Egypt, England lost 2-0. In the first tie, Ashour defeated Willstrop and Raneem El Weleily overcame a tough challenge from Jenny Duncalf. “It was a great disappointment for us. We were there to win,” he said, of the summit clash.
Willstrop was all praise for the all-glass show court at the Express Avenue Mall in Chennai. While terming it as an “unmitigated success”, he said the experience of playing the World Cup was fantastic. “We had a good time. The event was run very well; the Indian people are so warm and welcoming. The Indians do vegetarian food so well, which pleases me no end!”
A man brimming with ideas for making squash more popular and a vigorous campaigner for the sport’s entry into the Olympics, Willstrop was recently elected as the President of Professional Squash Association (PSA). “I am excited to be in a position to help the Association and its players,” said the new PSA President, who replaced Shabana.
Popularity: 1% [?]