Despite being a former World No.1, there are no expectations ahead of the Sumner Malik Memorial for James Willstrop, as the Englishman returns to the Tour for the first time since the end of 2020.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event, which will be held at K2 in Crawley, England, is allowing only those living in the United Kingdom to participate in the Challenger 10 and 3 level draws.
Alicia Mead will head up the women’s draw, which is the Challenger 3 level event, with the Englishwoman alongside compatriots Kace Bartley and Grace gear, along with Pakistan’s Faiza Zafar in the top four seeds.
There are three non-Englishmen in the men’s draws with. Portugal’s Rui Soares, Welshman Emyr Evans and Ireland’s Sean Conroy all in the top six seeds. Richie Fallows and Ben Coleman will be aiming for glory, with top seed James Willstrop as the favourite.
We spoke to the Englishman ahead of the Sumner Malik Memorial, and following a lengthy six-month break since his last appearance on the Tour, due to several reasons, Willstrop admits that there are no expectations this week.
“There’s a little bit of trepidation in all honesty. I have no idea what it is going to be like but I am looking forward to just having a game of squash to be honest. I am keeping myself quite light about it, I just want to enjoy having a game. There is no pressure, I am too old for that,” Willstrop said.
“Pressure is not part of the deal at the moment. After what we have been through with Malcolm [James’ father, who passed away earlier this year], it puts everything into perspective. I just want to enjoy playing the game.
“Dare we say it, we can try to get on with things and start playing squash tournaments agin, that is reason to celebrate and to be happy. I am not going to get wound up as I am untested and untried at the moment. I am not flying at the moment so just to get out there and play is precious for me. There aren’t any expectations to be honest.”
Willstrop is also in the draw for the Squash On Fire Open later this month, as he tries to get game time under his belt ahead of a busy summer period.
“To get over to Washington will be incredible really. It is all about playing at the moment really, but I enjoy playing squash and I would love to keep playing for a bit,” he explained.
“That summer patch looks good, and fingers crossed that those events can happen and I would love to be playing in them. I am not thinking too far ahead, in any way, I will try and build up this week and then look to Washington. Getting there and playing a good game or two will be a good result, whatever happens.”
The Englishman has good memories from playing at Squash On Fire in December 2019, as he was a part of his country’s quartet which finished as runners-up at the WSF Men’s World Team Championships.
Although he says he is not looking ahead to a possible trip to Malaysia with the England team later this year, Willstrop knows that it is coming up soon, along with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.
“We are projecting ahead to the Commonwealth Games, and we are doing some doubles training. I don’t take anything for granted and I just try and concentrate on keeping my body as sound as it can be. In all honesty, I am not looking ahead to it, but I know it is there. I would love to play for England again, of course I would! The Commonwealth Games and the Men’s World Team Championships are distant things that I have in the back of my mind and if I can keep sticking it out until then, then that would be great!
The event takes place from Tuesday 15 to Thursday 17 June at the K2 Crawley, where James Willstrop is the top seed for the tournament. Follow the PSA Challenger Tour on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates from the event.
Men’s First Round Draw: Sumner Malik Memorial
 James Willstrop (ENG) v Joe Lee (ENG)
Harry Falconer (ENG) v  Nick Wall (ENG)
 Sean Conroy (IRL) v Miles Jenkins (ENG)
[WC] Perry Malik (ENG) v  Ben Coleman (ENG)
 Rui Soares (POR) v Joshua Masters (ENG)
Curtis Malik (ENG) v  Emyr Evans (WAL)
 Connor Sheen (ENG) v Sam Todd (ENG)
Tom Walsh (ENG) v  Richie Fallows (ENG)
Women’s First Round Draw: Sumner Malik Memorial
 Alicia Mead (ENG) v Tayla Mounter (ENG)
Jasmin Kalar (ENG) v  Emilia Korhonen (FIN)
 Sanne Veldkamp (NED) v Sofia Aveiro Pita (POR)
Polly Clark (ENG) v  Grace Gear (ENG)
 Faiza Zafar (PAK) v Phoebe Colman (ENG)
Asia Harris (ENG) v  Torrie Malik (ENG)
 Georgina Kennedy (ENG) v Saran Nghiem (ENG)
Grace Clark (ENG) v  Kace Bartley (ENG)