Thursday, November 30, 2023

James Willstrop takes centre stage as England’s super six power through

The Bard of Pontefract delivers drama and comedy in three short acts
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Birmingham 2022 hosts England enjoyed a dream start in their bid to capture Commonwealth Games medals on home soil after every member of the England Squash team picked up victories in straight games in round two at the University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash Centre.

Former World No.1 James Willstrop achieved a career highlight at the 2018 Games when he beat New Zealand’s Paul Coll to win the men’s singles gold medal at the fourth attempt and the 38-year-old made the ideal start to his title defence.

During the build-up to the Games, Willstrop showcased his love of theatre when he performed his own play about the history of squash, called Outside The Box, on the University courts. James Roberts’ review is here

James Willstrop is a lover of drama on court

Yesterday he took centre stage there once again, and admitted to having a few first night nerves. Of course, he had a job to do, but he was also sensitive to the nerves of his opponent, 44-year-old Christian Navas from Gibraltar.

He also knew the crowd wanted to see a few of his trademark triple fakes.

Willstrop paced the action perfectly with a producer’s eye for drama, and delivered a precision performance in three short acts.

Willstrop pinned Navas at back a number of times throughout the match, with the crowd showing particular appreciation for the inevitable windmill as Willstrop went 2-0 up with 11-1 and 11-2 wins.

To his delight and rapturous applause, Navas won the first point at the start of the third game. Willstrop allowed him his moment in the spotlight and choreographed several further opportunities for his opponent to earn even more applause.

Willstrop understands that audience appreciation is the lifeblood of an entertainer, and he was happy to provide the foil for Navas to gain maximum enjoyment from his experience on the glass court.

Navas must have felt his heart pumping as Willstrop applauded his exit from the court having gained six precious points in that third game.

The result sent Willstrop through to the last 16, and today he plays Nasir Iqbal after the Pakistani’s compatriot, 9/16 seed Tayyab Aslam was forced to withdraw through injury during yesterday’s match.

No doubt Willstrop will prepare his lines differently today, knowing that the fun stuff has been delivered and a more serious tone is required. But I bet he won’t be able to resist a few more windmills if the opportunity arises!

“I don’t think I’ve walked into an atmosphere like that for a long time, possibly ever,” Willstrop said afterwards. “That was his first ever match on glass I think, so I’ve no idea how he handled it because I was nervous walking into that. It was an amazing reception, really.

“I’m under no pressure at all (defending the title). The pressure was in getting here. I really wanted to get here and the pressure was all season getting the points to get here and now I’m just trying to enjoy every day.”

While all six English players went in as favourites today, safely progressing through to the third round will be a welcome relief for the trio of Commonwealth Games debutants; 3/4 seed Patrick Rooney from St. Helens, 3/4 seed Georgina Kennedy from London, and 5/8 seed Lucy Turmel from Ipswich.

Turmel, 22, was the first English player involved but showed few jitters in her match against Papua New Guinea’s Amity Alarcos.

Turmel settled into the match with an 11-5 win in game one before bringing things to a swift conclusion with a pair of 11-1 wins in games two and three.

“Naturally, I had a few nerves at the beginning,” Turmel said. “A lot of people came to watch me today which was really nice. I’m glad that match is over with and tomorrow’s match can’t come soon enough, I’m ready to go!”

Rooney and Kennedy enjoyed similarly scare-free passage through to the next round, with Rooney earning an 11-2, 11-6, 11-6 win over Julian Jervis of the Cayman Islands and Kennedy beating Sri Lanka’s Yeheni Kuruppu 11-1, 11-1, 11-1.

Rooney said: “The Games have been pretty surreal, especially the opening ceremony, it’s something I’m not used to at all. That was a good start to the tournament with great pace and quality and I’m happy to be through.”

Kennedy added: “I was on the late shift tonight so I’ve been eagerly waiting all day to get on court. I’m really happy to get going and start my campaign off and I was feeling really good out there. It’s a dream of mine to even be here.”

Birmingham native and No.2 seed Sarah-Jane Perry quickly put Jade Pitcairn of the Cayman Islands to the sword 11-1, 11-3, 11-5 as she looks to improve on her 2018 silver medal, while Adrian Waller, playing at his first Commonwealth Games singles event, dispatched Pitcairn’s compatriot Jake Kelly 11-4, 11-3, 11-3.

Perry said: “It’s fantastic to see so many people here getting behind all the players and enjoying the squash. I’m sure there are many who are new to it and I hope they’re having a great time. There’s a Kenilworth flag over here which is awesome, thank you!

“It’s been a long time coming and I’m really happy to play on this court in front of an amazing crowd.”

Waller concluded: “A 3-0 victory is always what you want to start a tournament. It’s nice to get the ball rolling in the Commonwealth Games and to see a real buzz with a lot of English fans around.”

Yesterday, Kennedy admitted that she was so excited by the occasion that experienced squad member Alison Waters had to help her calm down. See yesterday’s Live Blog

Paul Coll, Willstrop’s opponent in the 2018 final, wants to go one better this year and the top seed, who hit the world No.1 ranking for two months earlier this year, enjoyed his second round tie against Niall Engerer, the Malta national coach.

Although Engerer, who has Maltese family but was born in England, was unable to get the better of Coll, he won plenty of fans with an entertaining attacking display that caught the Kiwi out a number of times, particularly in the third game.

Speaking after his 11-4, 11-2, 11-4 win, Coll said: “It was good fun. I’ve never played him before and it’s nice to play someone new. It was a great and clean match and he’s got great skills.

“It’s amazing seeing the New Zealand supporters. It’s my favourite time of year playing for New Zealand.”

Squash Mad reporter Rod Gilmour caught up with Engerer and his interview is here

The Bristol-based Joelle King, Coll’s fellow Kiwi and top seed counterpart in the women’s draw, was the first star in action on the show court against Botswana’s Leungo Katse, allowing the 17-year-old a handful of points in an 11-1, 11-4, 11-3 scoreline.

Yesterday also saw Rachael Grinham became the first Australian woman to compete in six Commonwealth Games as she went down to compatriot and 9/16 seed Donna Lobban.

The 45-year-old Grinham, who has won eight Commonwealth Games medals since she appeared at squash’s Commonwealth Games debut in Kuala Lumpur 1998, took a hard-fought first game 11-6 to the delight of the crowd.

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Lobban, however, never looked flustered and won the next three games. Afterwards, Lobban said: “It’s definitely bittersweet. We were gutted we had to play each other because we wanted to beat someone else! I have so much respect for Rachael as a team-mate and a friend.

“She’s been World No.1 and World Champ and I was lucky enough to grow up looking up to her and with her inspiring me.”

Indian 14-year-old Anahat Singh’s Commonwealth Games campaign came to an end at the hands of Wales’ 5/8 seed Emily Whitlock, Canada’s Nick Sachvie fought from 2-1 down to beat New Zealand’s 9/16 seed Lwamba Chileshe in the longest match of the day, and Wales’ Emyr Evans downed Malaysian 9/16 seed Mohammad Syafiq Kamal 3-1 to set up a last-16 clash with top seed Coll.

Round three of squash at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games begins today at 12 noon.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, University of Birmingham, England.

Men’s Second Round:
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) bt Niall Engerer (MLT) 3-0: 11-4, 11-2, 11-4 (16m)
Emyr Evans (WAL) bt [9/16] Mohd Syafiq Kamal (MAS) 3-1: 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7 (46m)
Christopher Binnie (JAM) bt [9/16] Ramit Tandon (IND) w/o
[5/8] Adrian Waller (ENG) bt Jake Kelly (CAY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-3, 11-3 (25m)
[5/8] Greg Lobban (SCO) bt Ravindu Laksiri (SRI) 3-0: 11-9, 11-4, 12-10 (37m)
[9/16] Ivan Yuen (MAS) bt Rhys Dowling (AUS) 3-1: 11-9, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 (42m)
[9/16] David Baillargeon (CAN) bt Peter Creed (WAL) 3-1: 11-8, 8-11, 11-6, 11-4 (48m)
[3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) bt Shamil Wakeel (SRI) 3-0: 11-4, 11-4, 11-6 (24m)
[3/4] Patrick Rooney (ENG) bt Julian Jervis (CAY) 3-0: 11-2, 11-6, 11-6 (28m)
[9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO) bt Temwa Chileshe (NZL) 3-1: 8-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-4 (45m)
Nasir Iqbal (PAK) bt [9/16] Tayyab Aslam (PAK) 3-0: 11-5, 9-3 (rtd) (16m)
[5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) bt Christian Navas (GIB) 3-0: 11-1, 11-2, 11-6 (26m)
[5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) bt Jason-Ray Khalil (GUY) 3-0: 11-4, 11-2, 11-4 (17m)
Nick Sachvie (CAN) bt [9/16] Lwamba Chileshe (NZL) 3-2: 11-6, 6-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-4 (70m)
[9/16] Alan Clyne (SCO) bt Abhay Singh (IND) 3-0: 11-3, 9-2 (rtd) (12m)
[2] Joel Makin (WAL) bt Mike Kawooya (UGA) 3-0: 11-1, 11-2, 11-2 (24m)

Women’s Second Round:
[1] Joelle King (NZL) bt Leungo Katse (BOT) 3-0: 11-1, 11-4, 11-3 (15m)
[9/16] Georgia Adderley (SCO) bt Emma Keane (BER) 3-0: 11-1, 11-3, 11-1 (20m)
[9/16] Jess Turnbull (AUS) bt Collette Sultana (MLT) 3-0: 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 (33m)
[5/8] Lucy Turmel (ENG) bt Amity Alarcos (PNG) 3-0: 11-5, 11-1, 11-1 (15m)
[5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) bt Lijana Sultana (MLT) 3-0: 11-2, 11-1, 11-2 (16m)
[9/16] Aifa Azman (MAS) bt Sunayna Kuruvilla (IND) 3-0: 11-7, 11-7, 11-7 (25m)
Kaitlyn Watts (NZL) bt Mary Fung-a-Fat (GUY) 3-0: 11-2, 11-6, 11-4 (23m)
[3/4] Joshna Chinappa (IND) bt Meagan Best (BAR) 3-0: 11-8, 11-9, 12-10 (34m)
[9/16] Donna Lobban (AUS) bt Rachael Grinham (AUS) 3-1: 6-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 (32m)
[9/16] Nicole Bunyan (CAN) bt Chanithma Sinaly (SRI) 11-1, 11-8, 11-4 (20m)
[9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS) bt Amna Fayyaz (PAK) 3-0: 11-3, 11-2, 11-5 (14m)
[5/8] Tesni Evans (WAL) bt Amanda Haywood (BAR) 11-5, 11-3, 11-2 (18m)
[5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL) bt Anahat Singh (IND) 3-1: 11-7, 11-7, 4-11, 11-6 (43m)
[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) bt Yeheni Kuruppu (SRI) 3-0: 11-1, 11-1, 11-1 (16m)
[9/16] Chan Yiwen (MAS) bt Faiza Zafar (PAK) 3-0: 11-3, 11-6, 11-5 (18m)
[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt Jade Pitcairn (CAY) 3-0: 11-1, 11-3, 11-5 (16m)

Men’s Third Round:
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) v Emyr Evans (WAL)
Christopher Binnie (JAM) v [5/8] Adrian Waller (ENG)
[5/8] Greg Lobban (SCO) v [9/16] Ivan Yuen (MAS)
[9/16] David Baillargeon (CAN) v [3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND)
[3/4] Patrick Rooney (ENG) v [9/16] Rory Stewart (SCO)
Nasir Iqbal (PAK) v [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG)
[5/8] Eain Yow Ng (MAS) v Nick Sachvie (CAN)
[9/16] Alan Clyne v [2] Joel Makin (WAL)

Women’s Third Round:
[1] Joelle King (NZL) v [9/16] Georgia Adderley (SCO)
[9/16] Jess Turnbull (AUS) v [5/8] Lucy Turmel (ENG)
[5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) v [9/16] Aifa Azman (MAS)
Kaitlyn Watts (NZL) v [3/4] Joshna Chinappa (IND)
[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) v [9/16] Nicole Bunyan (CAN)
[9/16] Rachel Arnold (MAS) v [5/8] Tesni Evans (WAL)
[5/8] Emily Whitlock (WAL) v [9/16] Donna Lobban (AUS)
[9/16] Chan Yiwen (MAS) v [2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)

Pictures courtesy of England Squash


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