Relaxed James Willstrop at ease with his new status

James Willstrop at the final of the British National Championships last year.
James Willstrop at the final of the British National Championships last year.

Yorkshire’s James Willstrop is not expecting an easy ride at the National Squash Championships in Nottingham, despite going into the tournament as top seed.

The former World No 1 is looking to reach his tenth final and claim a third title at the championship, after a successful 2018 in which he won singles gold and doubles bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

James Willstrop playing in the final of the Commonwealth Games men's singles last year.

James Willstrop playing in the final of the Commonwealth Games men's singles last year.

Now 35, Willstrop is in the twilight of his career and he believes his experience has helped him to take a more serene approach to his squash in recent years.

“At this stage in my career now, pressure-wise I just don’t go into it like that any more,” said Willstrop.

“I’m quite relaxed, I’m really enjoying playing squash for a living.

“It’s not like it was when I was in my peak years where you’re striving for everything and putting so much intensity into everything.

It’s not like it was when I was in my peak years where you’re striving for everything and putting so much intensity into everything.

James Willstrop

“It’s less like that for me now.

“There’s that element of enjoyment, just going into it and trying to have a good tournament, enjoying the fact that it’s a big occasion and that there might not be too many left for me.”

The tournament, which gets underway today, will be the first Nationals in some time not to feature Willstrop’s long-time rival and fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew. A ten-time national champion, Matthew retired in 2018 with a record of 49 wins to 13 against Willstrop, and bowed out as England’s greatest ever squash player.

“Nick has been the main character in all this tournament and all across the world tour for god knows how long,” said Willstrop.

“He will obviously be missed, he’s won it so many times and he’s probably the most successful Nationals squash player in history.

“Things quickly move on, though, we all retire.

“Even the best legends move on, the tour keeps going and you just keep playing and get on with it.”

Willstrop is seeded to face the equally experienced Daryl Selby in the final, but he is not expecting a clear path, adding: “So many guys are just getting quicker and stronger by the month. British and English squash are certainly in good shape at the minute.”