The defending Commonwealth Games Men’s Singles Champion took the first game 11-1 before drawing gasps in the second with a trademark ‘windmill’ shot as he opened a 2-0 lead with an 11-2 win.
Despite the gulf between them, 44-year-old Christian Navas was clearly relishing his time on court and celebrated enthusiastically - and to raucous cheers from the crowd - when he took a 1-0 lead in game three.
Though the lead did not last, the two battled well, with the popular Gibraltarian limiting Willstrop to 11-6 in the third.
“I don’t think I’ve walked into an atmosphere like that for a long time, possibly ever,” said James Willstrop afterwards. “That was his first ever match on glass I think, so I’ve no idea how he handled it because I was nervous walking into that. It was an amazing reception, really.
“I’m under no pressure at all [defending the title]. The pressure was in getting here. I really wanted to get here, and the pressure was all season getting the points to get here and now I’m just trying to enjoy every day.”
The England No.1 James Willstrop was one of the stories of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia when he won a Gold Medal in the Men’s Singles at the fourth attempt and the 38-year-old made the ideal start to his title defence yesterday.
After receiving a first-round bye, James Willstrop was at his crowd-pleasing best against Gibraltar’s Christian Navas, putting on a typically smooth display to put away the 44-year-old.
James Willstrop pinned Navas to the back several times throughout the match, with the crowd showing particular appreciation for the trademark ‘windmill’ as Willstrop went 2-0 up with 11-1 and 11-2 wins.
To his delight and rapturous applause, Navas took a 1-0 lead in game three. While he was unable to hold on for an unlikely win, he left the court with plenty of credit after a hard-fought 11-6 defeat that sent Willstrop through to the last 16.
James Willstrop will today play Nasir Iqbal in the last 16 of the Men’s Singles.