Team England squash star James Willstrop is showing no signs of slowing down as he embarks on his 20th year in the sport.
After claiming a memorable gold at last year’s Commonwealth Games, James Willstrop is planning to continue his form, with the immediate focus on the upcoming AJ Bell National Squash Championships which begin this week.
Injury-plagued throughout parts of his career, Norfolk-born Willstrop never even considered taking a step back, showing sheer determination to recover from a serious hip injury to claim the men’s singles title at Gold Coast 2018.
In what was his fourth Commonwealth Games, Willstrop stormed his way past the competition and cleanly dispatched of New Zealander Paul Coll in straight games to take the title. His emotion was visible, having come so close previously, twice making the final.
Reflecting on becoming Commonwealth champion for the first time, Willstrop said: “At 34, who knew you could win a major title like that as well as having had major hip surgery. I just wanted to get to the event in one piece, to go on and win it was beyond what I could have imagined.”
Following on from his win, the Leeds-based player has found that it has helped the sport appeal to a wider audience and with a gold medal win, it definitely pushed squash into the lime light: “Being the only multi-sport event that squash is featured in, becoming a Commonwealth champion was definitely a big deal.”
He’s continued to work hard both on and off the court with his latest accomplishment being a film giving audiences a glimpse into his amazing career, with a screening taking place at his local squash club.
“At this stage in my career it was a lovely evening to celebrate with people and to thank them from my point of view, I’ve been playing in that squash club since I was a little kid and people have helped me in all sorts of different ways.”
After a well- deserved break following his success last year, he’s back on top form and training for one of the biggest events on their calendar this year, the AJ Bell National Squash Championships. After 15 years of the event being held in Manchester it’s relocating to Nottingham and Willstrop is excited for the change, adding: “It’s great to see new places getting involved in sport and squash especially.”
Additionally, Willstrop is thrilled to see new talent coming through, as well as some who have worked hard and are starting to reap the rewards.
“We are starting to see some very outstanding prospects, younger prospects, but also ones that have been working away, chipping away that are really starting to go well, Patrick Rooney and Declan James are both in great form.”
The competitive streak in him will be on show again throughout 2019, with Willstrop believing that the national championships are: “as competitive as it’s ever been.”
And Willstrop’s impressive career competing looks like it is set to continue, thriving upon the prospect of challenging himself and always motivated to keep going. Could we see Willstrop aim to retain the title at Birmingham 2022? Stay tuned.