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24 May 2024

James Willstrop Eager To Make Prince Ranking Event Debut In Birmingham

23 Aug 2007

James Willstrop, who leads English interest in next month's Prince English Grand Prix, can't wait to compete in his first PSA Tour ranking event using the revolutionary new Prince O3 Black squash racquet.

The England number one, who captained England to success in the recent World Team Championships after leaping to a career-high world No2 ranking, signed a three-year worldwide agreement - which includes racquets, bags, grips, strings and clothing - with Prince Sports this month.

Willstrop is the fourth seed in the inaugural 5-star Prince English Grand Prix - Birmingham 2007, which will take place at the Edgbaston Priory Club and University of Birmingham from 6-9 September.

"I haven't played a ranking event since April, so I'm really excited at the prospect of getting the new season underway - and getting a few more ranking points on the board," said the 24-year-old Yorkshireman from Leeds.

"You can do all the training you like, but there's nothing like the real competition of a match in a ranking event - and everybody's going to be fresh for the new Prince English Grand Prix, so I can't wait for the event to get underway."

Willstrop, the country's most successful junior of all-time, has fond memories of Birmingham. He won the first of his three British National Junior U19 titles in the city in 2000, and the following year - as a 17-year-old - qualified for the prestigious British Open for the first time at Edgbaston Priory.

"This was one of the most memorable times in my early career: I had a nightmare qualifying run that year (including beating my now England team-mate Nick Matthew in the second round) before finally getting through to face John White in the first round of the main draw," Willstrop recalls.

"I was totally in awe of everybody in those days - but I remember being really pleased with the way I played. It was a really special occasion," added Willstrop, who went on to reach the British Open final four years later.

"The crowds in Birmingham are really good - I've also had some great Premier League battles at Edgbaston Priory - so I'm really looking forward to playing again at the club."

As a youngster, James Willstrop won all four British National Junior titles (at U12, U14, U16 and three-times at U19), in addition to British Junior Open trophies at U14, U17 and U19. He followed his triumph in the European Junior Championships in 2002 by winning the World Junior Championship trophy later in the year.

After becoming one of the youngest players ever to play for the senior England team, Willstrop made a major breakthrough on the PSA Tour by winning the Pakistan Open in his first appearance in a Super Series final. Later, he reached the final of the British Open for the first time, as the seventh seed, then followed this by outplaying a top-quality international field in Doha to lift the Qatar Classic trophy in only his second Super Series final appearance!

A silver medallist in the Mixed Doubles in the Commonwealth Games in 2006, Willstrop confirmed his domestic status at the beginning of this year by winning the British National Championship title for the first time - beating fellow Prince player John White in the final in Manchester. Then in March, he won the Canary Wharf Classic in London to claim his sixth PSA Tour title.

"James has established a great reputation in the sport - and is one of its finest ambassadors. We are delighted that he has joined Prince to become the face for the brand worldwide," said Prince International Player Promotions Manager Andy Bunting.

"He is an extremely gifted player - and we are looking forward to a long and mutually-rewarding association in the future."

The O3 Black racquet joins the O3 Tour and the O3 Silver in the Prince squash range this year. Boasting the same 470 sq cm head-size as the O3 Tour, the O3 Black weighs only 135 gm - and retails at £150.

Prince's new O3 breakthrough is the first significant development in racquet technology since the late eighties when racquets changed from wood to graphite. The O3-engineered racquets provide a large sweet spot in a manoeuvrable and aerodynamic frame. Prince re-engineered traditional pin-sized string holes into giant O-Ports, providing total string freedom for a livelier response across the entire string bed. This expands the conventional sweet spot in racquets by up to 54%, turning it into a Sweet Zone!

Willstrop is delighted with his new racquet: "I love it - particularly as it gives me that extra edge on racquet head speed, enabling me to get extra acceleration on the ball with just a flick of the wrist. With the way the game is changing, this additional speed is really important. And the sweetspot is great too."

England's top player joins a select band of players on the international squash circuit who rely on Prince: England's former world number one Peter Nicol won two successive titles following his switch to O3 - and went on to claim two gold medals in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Nicol David clinched her first British Open title within a week of the switch, and went on build up a 50-match unbeaten run which included two World Open titles. Since moving to the O3 Tour, the 23-year-old Malaysian has competed in 18 WISPA World Tour events - reaching the finals on all but one occasion!

Earlier this year, on the day that Willstrop won the men's title, England international Jenny Duncalf won the women's British National crown in her first event using the new O3 Black racquet - and continued her form later in the year by successfully retaining her title in the European Individual Championship.