James Willstrop Wins First Tournament of Champions Title
29 Jan 2010
England's sixth seed James Willstrop was a master of precision as he decisively defeated world No1 Ramy Ashour in the final of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions to win the $97,500 PSA World Tour Super Series squash title at Grand Central Terminal in New York for the first time.
The 26-year-old Yorkshireman had a definitive strategy going into the match against 22-year-old Ashour: "Ramy's pace and racquet speed are unlike any other player," said Willstrop after his 12-10, 11-5, 9-11, 11-3 triumph. "You've got to stop Ramy from having any chances to shoot because even when he has half a chance he can do so much with the ball."
The champion's strategy was to "withstand and contain", which he did by hitting impossibly tight shots; maintaining a medium pace that blunted his opponent's preference for power; and seizing the first opportunity to take the ball at the front of the court.
The first game was a bit of cat and mouse as the players tested each other with a variety of shots and pace. Ashour led the entire game, but Willstrop was not bothered, staying calm and focused, playing disciplined and intelligent squash. The first lead Willstrop had was at 11-10, but it was all he needed to win the game.
Unlike the first game, Willstrop led from start to finish in the second as he contained the passionate Egyptian with balls that hugged the glass wall and shots to the front that were deft and feathery. Willstrop also varied the pace, floating lobs and then snapping power drives that kept Ashour scrambling to keep the ball in play. As much artist as athlete on court, Ashour was flummoxed by the lack of opportunity to unleash his creativity: Willstrop took the game to extend his lead.
Down 0/2 in games, Ashour kept himself alive in the match and brought the standing room only crowd to their feet when, at nine-all, he hit two stupefying winners after long rallies to win the third game - and become the first player to take a game off Willstrop throughout the tournament!
It was all Willstrop in the fourth, though, when he shot out to a 7-1 lead before clinching the game to claim his maiden Tournament of Champions title.
"I would have been really mad if I lost 3/0," a disappointed Ashour said after the match. "He just played better than me - he was more in the zone."
Alluding to the fact that he had played defending champion Gregory Gaultier in the quarter-finals and world No2 Nick Matthew in the semis, the 2008 title-holder continued: "I started thinking in between points that I have been doing this for three nights and it was just too much - it was like playing three finals in a row."
As the trophy presentation got underway under the majestic chandelier hanging over the glittering glass court in Grand Central Terminal, Willstrop's father and coach Malcolm watched with evident emotion as his son accepted the coveted Tournament of Champions trophy.
The champion seized the moment to recognise all those who had helped him reach this career-defining moment. "I don't know when I will have the chance again to be standing here with the winner's microphone, so I am going to take advantage of this opportunity," he said with a smile and, in an Oscar style acceptance speech complete with written notes, went on to thank his entire support team including his father, the coaches and trainers at the English Institute of Sport and his girlfriend Vanessa Atkinson, a former world champion and a top competitor on the WISPA Tour.
"I have got here with lots of hard work and a great support team - and this championship would not be possible without them," added Willstrop - the only player ever to beat the three Egyptian world number ones Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish and Amr Shabana in successive rounds in the same tournament!
When asked how this championship week stacked up against his other squash-playing experiences, the delighted and grateful champion replied: "I would have to say this has been the best week of squash for me ever. I beat three outstanding No1 players in four days and won the Tournament of Champions.
"It is not the biggest money event, but it is the most exciting and it is the tournament that every player wants to win."