11:05 am
21 Apr 2024

Champion Willstrop In Swedish Boost On Eve Of Nationals

11 Feb 2008

Top seed James Willstrop has hit top form on the eve of the defence of his men's title in this week's British National Championships in Manchester after winning the Swedish Open squash title in powerful style on Sunday.

The British Nationals, which will take place for the sixth year at the National Squash Centre in Sportcity from 12-17 February, have attracted world class fields from throughout the UK. In addition to men's and women's open events, the tournament - in its 12th successive year in Manchester - will feature Masters championships in age-group categories ranging from Over-35 to Over-70.

Willstrop's Swedish triumph has capped the best ever PSA Tour run of his career. Winner of the Mamut English Open in Sheffield in December, the 24-year-old world No6 from Pontefract in Yorkshire went on to reach the final of the Bear Stearns Tournament of Champions in New York last month, before - in his third Tour event final in a row - he clinched the $55,000 Swedish title in the city of Linköping.

It was after triumphs over fellow Englishmen Joey Barrington and Adrian Grant - the eighth and sixth seeds, respectively - that Willstrop faced England team-mate Peter Barker, the third seed, in the Sweden final.

The match was one of high quality - in which the English pair were neck and neck until a run of points gave Willstrop the early advantage. The Yorkshireman had an answer for everything that Essex left-hander Barker threw at him - and went on to win 11-7, 11-4, 11-4 in 38 minutes.

"The first game was all-important with Peter having played so well all week. We both raised our games very early and I just managed to nick it. I've been working on a few parts of my game and feel that things are coming together well," explained Willstrop.

"I think this gives me a really good platform for retaining my British National title next week which will be tough in itself with such a strong field," added the British champion.

"The British Nationals is one of the best-run tournaments of the year - and I always look forward to it," added the men's title-holder who trains regularly at the National Squash Centre - which has almost become 'a second home' for the squash star.

"Being top seed and defending champion will give me added pressure - but I enjoy that. It'll be a tough tournament with people like Peter (Barker), Lee (Beachill) and Adrian (Grant) in the draw.

"But I'll stick to what I know and hope to play the best that I can in what is probably my favourite venue in the world."

With British junior titles at U12, U14, U16 and three-times at U19 - then the European and finally the World Junior crown - James Willstrop was England's most successful junior of all-time.

But the Yorkshireman quickly made inroads as a senior - becoming world number two within three years of his world junior triumph and leading England to two World Team Championships titles (in 2005 and 2007).

Willstrop established his domestic supremacy at the beginning of last year, winning the British National Championship title for the first time. He then went on to win three PSA Tour titles on home soil - first lifting the Canary Wharf Classic crown in London, where he ended a career-long tally of 12 successive losses to Lee Beachill, his Pontefract and England training partner.

In September, Willstrop won the Prince English Grand Prix in Birmingham, and finally the English Open trophy in Sheffield in December - immediately on retuning home from leading England to world title success in India.

Willstrop will face determined local opposition in his first round match tomorrow (Tuesday) when he takes Nick Taylor, the British Over-35 Open champion from Manchester.