EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW by RJ MITCHELL (Squash Mad Correspondent)
RORY STEWART reckons that his career best win against former world No.1 James Willstrop has provided him with the belief to start making a regular place in PSA Platinum Series events his own.
The 26-year-old has been on fire en France in recent weeks, winning the Bordeaux Gradignan in October by defeating home hope Benjamin Aubert in the final.
The Scot, who hails from the scenic Perthshire town of Crieff, soon followed that up with a superb run at the Lagord Squash Open, where he defeated Willstrop in straight games and extracted suitable revenge on the giant Yorkshireman for the heartache of defeat in a titanic struggle at the Commonwealth Games, when Stewart blew a final game lead of 7-4 with a semi-final place almost within his grasp.
Impressively, the new Scottish No.2 backed that up by beating another English former top-20 player Declan James in a four-game semi-final before losing out to France’s Auguste Dussourd in the final.
But there was to be no rest for Stewart and this week he was back on court at the Open International Niort Verte, where last night world No.21 Baptiste Masotti proved too strong and too fresh in a three-game quarter-final.
Yet as he looked forward to the Far East swing that will see him take his place in the main draw of the PSA Platinum Eyebright Securities International Hong Kong Open, Stewart was rightly positive about his recent progress.
He said: “My ranking is up at 54 and I have been pretty consistent at the 10k level and I have been climbing the rankings and it has been a great start to the season in making finals and winning other titles.
“I think my biggest goal is to get into Platinum Series events consistently as from there you can start planning your season and if you are picking up ranking points with wins in these events then you are only going one way.
“But it’s top-50 or 48 for PSA Platinums, so for me I need to break that top-50 as soon as possible and hopefully after the two Hong Kong events I won’t be far away.
“Really I am pretty happy with how I have been playing. I had a tough 3-2 with Tom Walsh in the second round here (Niort Verte) and he is a tough opponent and maybe I wasn’t at my best.
“In the quarter-final in front of his home crowd on his courts I knew Baptiste, who is 20 in the world, was going to be tough and I guess I just didn’t have enough left in the tank but credit to him, he played well.
“I had played him once before and that was in a Scotland top and I managed to win, but I have always had my best wins in a Scotland shirt and it was a tough night’s work!”
Stewart continued: “These three tournaments in France have all been within 100 miles of each other and it is almost like a circuit with two more tournaments to come but this is my last event here.
“Next week I am off to Hong Kong to play my first Platinum Series and then the Hong Kong Football Club event and hopefully I have given myself a good platform into that.”
Reflecting on his English-bashing of Willstrop and James, who are at No.35 and No. 43 with rankings that clearly bely their previously exalted standing in the game, the pragmatic Scot was keen to play down any suggestion that revenge had been a dish best served cold.
He said: “I don’t think the Commy Games match had too much impact on the PSA match, and I guess also the Commy Games match meant a lot more to James than the PSA match.
“Yes, it definitely felt good to overturn that result from Birmingham and it was a massive win – and to follow it up by beating Declan James was almost as important, and these results have been positive for my rankings as well.
“Against James I just played the way I wanted to play and attacked, and to be fair I am not sure how James’ body was during the match. I thought he wasn’t moving as smoothly and I just tried to exploit that as best I could and managed to make it count.
“I wouldn’t say I put too much on the confidence I took from that one win, but certainly it is the best PSA victory I have had and, like I say, to back it up with the win over Declan was almost more important.
“He was a top-20 player at one point so I know how good he is. He is an established player with the type of English style I seem to play well against, but it was great to have successive victories of that quality and then make another final.
“Also it was a 20k title and that is where I want to be, playing for these titles. I was disappointed the way the final turned out against Auguste. But I didn’t lose any sleep over that as physically and mentally it was always going to be tough to go the whole way after the previous two matches.
“Also I came to France the week before and that was my eighth match in two weeks and maybe I was due a dip in performance.”
With Alan Clyne’s retirement, Stewart now has the exalted status of being the Scottish No.2 behind Greg Lobban but was keen to straight-bat any suggestions he has the man from Inverness in his sights, although there is one area in which Stewart is confident he will soon be challenging the world No. 25.
With a laugh he said: “Greg has just got back to the top-25 and he is a country mile away and he also has a magnificent moustache, so I have a bit of work to do on both of these but by the end of ‘Movember’ hopefully I will have him beaten in the moustache stakes!”
Pictures courtesy of Nicolas Barbeau