The British Nationals begins tomorrow (August 3) and will be broadcast LIVE on SQUASHTV.
For four-time winner and defending champion James Willstrop, the British Nationals will always occupy a special place.
“It’s probably one of the first events I remember going to as a kid. It’s a great venue, big crowds come and it’s a big event for England Squash. It’s a blooming good tournament!” the World No.19 explains.
In 2007 Willstrop won the Nationals for the first time when he overcame John White 3-0 and fondly remembers the calibre of players the tournament has attracted.
“Some of the best players who have ever played the game have won it, Nick [Matthew] and Laura [Massaro]. It’s such a big deal.”
Among the star players to look out for at this edition are top seeds Sarah-Jane Perry and Joel Makin, whom Willstrop defeated in last year’s final 3-1. Speaking after the final, Willstrop highlighted Welshman Makin’s strengths: “He’s incredibly hard to break down. He goes for everything.”
James Willstrop (left) takes on Joel Makin (right) during the CIB Black Ball Open
Although Willstrop picked up back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008, it would not be until 2019 that the 37-year-old would pick up another, with the Yorkshireman repeating the feat the following year.
“To think I got my first couple of titles and then it took me a decade to get another one, winning a Nationals title is a great thing to do and is a marker of longevity which I’m quite proud of. To compete at that level for a long time has been good.”
Despite being the defending champion, Willstrop does not feel under any additional pressure. In fact, he says his attitude to squash has become more relaxed with age.
“I don’t think too much [about defending the title], except for when people mention it. Last year was one of the greatest memories I’ve had, managing a really big win against a top player and with my family there, but there’s no pressure added. I just try to enjoy the title,” he explains.
He adds: “When you’re older, you have a different perspective. Now I’m enjoying the game and being a professional more than I’ve ever enjoyed it and that’s why I’m carrying on. I’m not bothered about being the top [player] like I was, I’m just trying to enjoy these last years.”
Although Willstrop’s perspective may have changed, he still has his sights set on a competitive showing and feels that he is in good condition ahead of the tournament.
“Six or seven weeks ago I wasn’t really in the space that I am now. But I’ve been on the tour for a few weeks, have played the World Championships and had six or seven really good matches under my belt, with six or seven weeks of training. I feel much better than I did . I’ve got more confidence now in my body and am much more ready to be serious and have a really good go.
If second seeded Willstrop is to defend his title, the first obstacle to overcome will be fellow Englishman Miles Jenkins. Meanwhile, top seeds Perry and Makin will face England’s Jasmin Kalar and Scotland’s Rory Stewart, respectively.
All the action from the British National Squash Championships will be shown live on SQUASHTV (to users with a free digital subscription), the England Squash and PSA World Tour Facebook pages, as well as englandsquash.tv.
Tickets are available for purchase here.