Exclusive by RJ Mitchell
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He is a player known for his cerebral approach to life and his willingness to embrace new ideas and methods in order to enhance his performance on court and James Willstrop has revealed that he has taken up dancing as part of his lockdown training regimen.
In news that will be welcomed by his legion of fans, The Marksman has underlined that his appetite to return to the PSA World Tour when the COVID-19 suspension is lifted remains undiminished.
A big part of maintaining that hunger for the game, Willstrop has graced at the top level for almost 20 years, has been the introduction of a variety of new pursuits, which are anything but trivial, as the 36 year-old remains committed to staying relevant at the very top of the PSA World Tour.
So, it was while scanning the channels of YouTube that Willstrop became fascinated by the benefits of adopting and adapting dance orientated content which he believed would impact positively on his lockdown training programme.
But as he extolled the benefits of his newest training method, Willstrop admitted that despite “two left feet” he wouldn’t think twice about answering the phone if the producers of Strictly Come Dancing dialled his number.“I have been looking at dancing as something that can be a positive addition to my training.
“Mainly on YouTube, I have joined in on some video tutorials with a dance coach who is LA based and I think there is so much that can benefit someone like me with two left feet but it’s also just so fresh and different and that is also something that is good for you mentally,” revealed the former World No.1.
“When you look at dancing at the top level then on so many levels there can be similarities with squash. Obviously, footwork, timing, core strength and movement are vital as well as coordination, so I have enjoyed the dance sessions I have taken part in and there is no doubt I have benefitted both mentally and physically from them.
“Clearly, they are a small part of what I’m doing to stay fit but if that part offers something different, something fresh and stimulating and something that can prove beneficial then it ticks a lot of boxes.
“When you’ve been in squash for as long as I have then repetition in whatever you do can be your enemy. It can demotivate you and that is why I always try and incorporate different things into my routines and over this period of the tour’s suspension, dancing is something I’ve been happy to add to the mix.
“Maybe 10 years ago there was nobody over the age of 35 still competing at the top level but things have moved on and for me it is about being smart in my training and looking outside the box at different things that can help me and that will not damage my body.
“I’ve never watched Strictly [Come Dancing] to be fair, but given the time I’ve spent on YouTube viewing and taking part in these sessions I have only admiration for what professional dancers can do and what they put themselves through to produce these performances.
“As far as Strictly is concerned, if I got the call, well it would be great to try it. It’s the old adage of never say never!”
But while he does his best to maintain levels of fitness and preparation that will stand him in good stead for the PSA World Tour’s resumption, Willstrop has no doubt that there are positives to take from the benefits for a body that has already been through major hip surgery and will turn 37 next month.
The British National champion said: “Obviously you miss the PSA Tour and wish it was up and running as per usual but at the same time to get an extended period of being able to let your body recover, at my stage, is beneficial. I’ve put it through the mill so much over so many years that it has a been great to let it reset.
“I was interested to read Daryl’s [Selby] comments in his PSA interview last week. Obviously, I am slightly younger than him but still I’m 37 in August and in that regard the first thing you’ve got to ask yourself is basically how does your body feel?
“Right now, I can say that I’m in a fairly good place physically. I’ve been able to use a private court on an individual basis during lockdown which has been a huge help. The rest from the tour has taken care of the little niggles that were a frustration and without doubt I will be ready to go when the PSA Tour gets back up and running.
“I was happy with my performance against Joel [Makin] at the ToC in a very tight four set defeat but to overturn that result in the final at the Nationals did give me a lot of pleasure.
“I also felt pretty good at Canary Wharf and was happy with how I played in my win over Richie Fallows and in the first game I had with Diego [Elias] before he ran away with it.
“So my form was good before the suspension and I felt I was still more than competitive within the top-20 and it was obviously just a great frustration when the season came to such an abrupt end but public health and safety have to come first.”
Willstrop at the Canary Wharf Classic
When it comes to what he has missed most about squash during the suspension, Willstrop is optimistic about the shelving of the elite game and is taking positives from news like the National Squash Centre’s scheduled reopening on July 14, as he plots his way back to the game’s front line.
“I love to travel and the biggest disappointment about the suspension of the tour is that I have missed going to so many great places and meeting back up with so many great people. Really, I’ve just missed everything that is good about the PSA World Tour and about being a professional squash player.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and to just have it taken away from you and when you can’t do something that you love it impacts on you. I have wondered at times are we ever going to get back to New York for ToC? But you know you have to stay focused and look forward and all the time there are positive signs and other little steps forward in this regard.
“Hopefully, we are a lot closer to the Tour resuming now and that is something that I am certainly looking forward to.”
Squash fans everywhere will welcome the news that the Yorkshireman will be back when the PSA Tour returns, not least of all for the fact that they will once again be able to enjoy Willstrop’s unique calling card of the double or triple fake and the three-time British Open finalist admits that the joy his signature shot provides to so many squash fans is something that gives him real satisfaction.
Willstrop said: “I’m not sure how to explain it and it’s hard to say where it all came from but what I will say is that my father Malcolm, [Willstrop] who has coached me from the very beginning, always allowed and encouraged me to express myself and to believe in myself and my ability as he has done with all the players he has coached.
“But there is no doubt that there are years of working on racket head control, angles, deception and also judging the right time to play the fake that go into it and they all need to come together for it to be execute successfully.
“If memory serves then the first guy I did it against was Ramy [Ashour] and the second against Karim [Abdel Gawad] and the great thing is that as well as it being a very effective shot it just seems to give people so much enjoyment and that is something I take a huge amount of satisfaction from.
“Wherever I go, I’m always asked for tips on how to play it and the bottom line is that I just do it. Clearly there is a difference when you play it in an exhibition match compared to a tour game, but the fundamentals remain the same.
“The fake has to be deceptive but you play it to win the point, it is just that the fake gives both myself and the fans such a big buzz when it comes off and fingers crossed, so far, my success rate has been pretty high!”