Painful exit as number two seed Willstrop quits Nationals on the day he reveals the trauma of rehab
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Former world No.1 James Willstrop has quit the British National Championships in Manchester.
Number two seed Willstrop, who was clearly in extreme discomfort during his first round match against Lyell Fuller, withdrew from the competition early on.
This gave his scheduled opponent, Surrey’s Charles Sharpes, a walkover into the quarter-finals. Willstrop has been struggling to get fit since a hip operation in September. He had hoped to make his comeback in the Tournament of Champions in New York in January but his recovery programme was such that he postponed his return to action until the recent Swedish Open.
He beat regular training partner Chris Simpson in the first round in Linkoping but then lost to South African Steve Coppinger in the quarter-finals. Ironically, his withdrawal in Manchester coincided with the publication of his article in The Guardian newspaper chronicling his attempts to return to match-fitness following surgery.
He had also interviewed fellow sufferer Ramy Ashour, who had astonished the squash community by winning the World Championship after six months to of action and then undergoing a knee operation.
Back in the summer, despite ultimate defeat, Willstrop had produced squash of a sublime quality against his long-term rival Nick Matthew in the final of the Commonwealth Games a few weeks before his hip operation.
His musings in The Guardian revealed the pain and frustration of an athlete’s most difficult dilemma, dealing with major injuries. And yet here, on that same day, he was once again forced to give way to the messages being conveyed to him by his body.
I am sure that everyone in squash will wish James a successful recovery. We often use the word “speedy” on such occasions. It is an entirely inappropriate message. The human body, as James has discovered, has its own timetable for healing.
I would love to see him turn up at Canary Wharf in a few weeks’ time to continue his remarkable record of competing in every one of the tournaments we have held so far. He has won four of them, and finished runner-up in three more. But if that proves impossible, he might then be looking towards the British Open in May.
James Willstrop is one of the most popular players in the history of squash. Whatever happens, James, we all wish you the very best of fortune.
Pictures from National Championships website, hosted by www.squashsite.co.uk