Pontefract squash star reaches British Open semis

James Willstrop.
James Willstrop.

Pontefract’s James Willstrop beat the number one players from South Africa, Germany and Australia on his way to the semi-finals of the Allam British Open Squash Championship in Hull.

With the glass court sited at the KC Stadium, the championship was affected by the very cold and rainy weather throughout the week

Last to play on every day, Willstrop was the player most affected.

He beat the improved South African Steve Coppinger 3-1 in the first round, but midway through his second round match with the German number one Simon Rosner, rain made the court unplayable and the match was moved indoors to the Hull and East Riding club.

Willstrop dealt well with the interruption and brushed aside the dangerous Rosner 3-0 convincingly.

Because of the continuing inclement weather the quarter finals were all played indoors and taking to the court at 9.15pm Willstrop found himself embroiled in a titanic battle with the Australian number one Cameron Pilley, who had put out the world number five Mohammed El Shorbagy (Egypt) in the previous round.

After two long games Willstrop found himself 2-0 down and in danger of going out 3-0.

However, showing great resolve, he won the third on a tiebreak and then took control, winning the fifth against an exhausted opponent easily.

The match lasted almost two hours and 18 hours later he was back on the glass court, this time at the KC Stadium against world number one Ramy Ashour (Egypt).

Understandably Willstrop began slowly and with Ashour, the greatest shot maker the game has ever seen, playing a series of incredible shots, the first game was quick.

Willstrop has never been short in toughness and he extended Ashour in the second game, only to lose it 11-9. Nor was that the end of it.

With both players showing an outstanding array of shots, the large crowd, enjoying the improved weather, were treated to a wonderful third game and at 10-8, Willstrop served for the game, only for a remarkable rally, which Willstrop controlled, to end in a let.

The game went to a tiebreak which Ashour won 13-11 to take his place in the final.

Ashour eventually won the title, beating Frenchman Gregory Gaultier 3-1.

With the world team championships in France only a fortnight away, Willstrop proved he is back close to his best after an interrupted preparation.

England will need him to be at his best if the anticipated final against Egypt materialises.

Pontefract’s Saurav Ghosal beat qualifier Jon Kemp (England) 3-0 in their first round match and then played extremely well in a 3-1 defeat to Gaultier.

Pontefract had success at the championships, though, when Andrea Santamaria won the Allam British Open over 45 women’s title, beating fellow Yorkshire player Nicki Pratt in the final.

The English under 11 championship takes place in Manchester this weekend and Pontefract’s Sam Todd will seek to win his first national title.

Layla Johnson, still only eight, will be looking to make an impression in the under 11 girls, as will another promising young girl Milly OToole, who won the under 11 plate at Chapel Allerton recently.