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15 Apr 2024

World No1 Willstrop In Fourth-Time-Lucky British Open Bid

13 May 2012

England's James Willstrop is one of only three players in the 82-year history of the British Open to reach the final of the world's most famous squash event three times without winning the title.

But the world number one from Leeds is aiming to remove his name from this inauspicious list by fulfilling his top seeding in this week's Allam British Open, the fourth PSA World Series event of the year which will be staged at the O2 Piazza in O2 Arena in London, from 14-20 May.

England's most successful junior player of all-time, Willstrop has enjoyed a distinguished international career in the sport. But it was last November that the 28-year-old Yorkshireman began his most sensational run, winning three PSA World Series titles in quick succession and going on to make the final in his next four Tour appearances, picking up another victory - at the North American Open - on the way.

The success took him to the top of the world rankings for the first time in January.

It was in 2005 that Willstrop reached his first British Open final after defeating Canadian legend Jonathon Power in the semis. But, seeded seven, he went down in straight games to the higher-ranked and more experienced Australian Anthony Ricketts.

Three years later, Willstrop was again back in the final - where he fought back from two games down to take the match into a decider, and had two match-balls before going down to Australia's mighty David Palmer after 111 minutes.

Incredibly, a year later, he suffered the same fate - again unable to convert a championship ball in the decider before losing out to Yorkshire rival Nick Matthew in a dramatic 122-minute marathon.

"It was hard to take because it was so close," recalls Willstrop. "Despite the animosity that day, I didn't have any regrets about it. I did all I could but lost.

"I probably felt more disappointed the time before in 2008 when it all seemed to go out of my control.

"It's not the end of the world though. It could always be worse. It has still been wonderful to compete in British Open finals. Hopefully there is still time to grab a title! You must move on without delay."

How much would it mean to finally win the title and put the three final defeats behind him?

"A great deal. I would prefer not to look at them negatively, as 'defeats': Reaching the British Open final is an outstanding achievement. Just because they weren't wins doesn't mean they were failures.

"I am simply looking forward to going to London, hoping to play good squash and progress as well as I can."

Willstrop competes in his tenth British Open this week not only for the first time as world number one, but also as an author, after the publication earlier this year of his lauded book 'Shot and a Ghost'.

"Writing has made me a better player," Willstrop told Guardian journalist Donald McRae last week. "It's helped me put down some painful thoughts and, as I was reaching the culmination, I began winning one big event after another.

"The first tournament was in Hong Kong when I was in the final stages of writing and redrafting. I remember winning matches and, straightaway, heading off to a cafe to write."

Willstrop begins his 2012 British Open campaign against German number one Simon Rosner - and is expected to meet Egyptian rival Ramy Ashour in the semi-finals before a final clash with second-seeded Frenchman Gregory Gaultier.

Allam British Open 1st round draw:
[1] James Willstrop (ENG) v Simon Rosner (GER)
Alister Walker (BOT) v Qualifier
Adrian Grant (ENG) v Adrian Waller (ENG)
[7] Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY) v Qualifier
[5] Amr Shabana (EGY) v Tarek Momen (EGY)
Olli Tuominen (FIN) v Mohd Ali Anwar Reda (EGY)
Cameron Pilley (AUS) v Borja Golan (ESP)
[4] Ramy Ashour (EGY) v Daryl Selby (ENG)
[3] Nick Matthew (ENG) v Qualifier
Tom Richards (ENG) v Ong Beng Hee (MAS)
Stephen Coppinger (RSA) v Qualifier
[8] Laurens Jan Anjema (NED) v Qualifier
[6] Peter Barker (ENG) v Qualifier
Saurav Ghosal (IND) v Qualifier
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) v Qualifier
[2] Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v Nicolas Mueller (SUI)

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