Rumble at the Humber as Willstrop meets world number one in first round of the British Open
By NATHAN CLARKE
England’s James Willstrop believes he’s on track to get back to his best at the Allam British Open following an injury-disrupted season on the PSA World Tour, despite being drawn to face world number one Mohamed Elshorbagy in the first round.
The former World No.1, who reached the quarter-final stage during the 2014 edition of the tournament before being eliminated by current world champion Ramy Ashour, has been limited to competing in just four events since then after undergoing treatment on a hip injury, but he believes he’s returning to form just in time.
Willstrop, 31, made his comeback to the PSA World Tour during February’s CASE Swedish Open and after reaching the quarter-finals during last month’s El Gouna International, successfully coming through two tough 60-minute encounters en route, the signs are good for the talented shot-maker ahead of a mouthwatering first round encounter.
“I’m happy I have played in a few tournaments recently and I’ve had the chance to get a good month of training in which gives me a great platform to have a real go at the Allam British Open,” said the three-time tournament runner-up.
“Getting through three hard days of squash in Egypt was more than I could have expected and it’s a boost for me so it confirms that I’m on the right track.
“It was brilliant playing in Hull last year, I thought the venue looked really good and it was a pleasure to play there. Obviously for me as well it’s only down the road which is a great comfort as I don’t have to travel far and that’s a special thing for me to be so close to home.”
Willstrop, who lives in Harrogate, is unseeded for the event and faces World No.1 Elshorbagy in the opening round, where he knows victory would open up the draw.
“I’m playing the best player in the world straight up which is obviously a tough ask,” he said. “But it’s also really exciting to be honest and I’m looking forward to it.”
“My targets are all about keeping a perspective,” said the 31-year-old, who is now ranked 15th in the world. “I’m very much enjoying my squash at the moment. I’m not getting as tied up in training as I did.
“I feel very grateful and thrilled to be able to walk on to the court at this level again. I don’t really go into tournaments with the mindset that I have to win. Obviously I want to win, but before, there was always a cloud over my head thinking about winning. Now it’s much less about that.
“The goals I have are more specific – of getting through matches injury-free, working on my physio to be as strong and as solid as I can be on the squash court so that I can safely play these matches, and getting myself into good shape to get into the tournament.
“I love squash and I want to think about that love of the game for what could be my last years in it.
“May be if things continue to go well in the next few months, I will think a little bit more about really trying to focus on events and achieve a certain ranking, but at the moment I’m very much trying to get my body through this season.”
Willstrop will be be involved in the tie of the Allam British Open first round in Hull next Monday, when he faces Elshorbagy, the world no.1 from Egypt.
“It’s quite a nice situation,” said the Yorkshireman. “I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on me. Now I can pitch up against the best player in the world and pitch everything into that match without thinking too far ahead. It’s quite an exciting prospect.
“Hopefully I can go into the match fresh. Before, if I was playing the world no.1, it would be in the final or later on in the event and my body would be a bit tired, but I’m just trying to go into it very positive. I’m just thrilled to be playing.”
The China Open champion is happy with his current form, having reached the quarter-finals of the latest World Series event in El Gouna, Egypt.
“I had a good time at El Gouna and a couple of big wins against Steve Coppinger and Chris Simpson, who are really solid and strong players whom I have a lot of respect for, so it was fantastic to beat them,” he said. “I also had a good match with Ramy (Ashour), so there were lots of positive things there.”
The 2015 Allam British Open gets underway at the Airco Arena, Hull from Monday May 11 – Sunday May 17 with tickets available to purchase via Ticketmaster: http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/British-Open-Squash-Championships-tickets/artist/1686792?SREF=TWArtist
Picture courtesy of PSA