James Willstrop relects upon his illustrious career as one of England's greatest ever squash players

August 02 2023

As he nears his 40th birthday, James Willstrop discusses his illustrious career in an fascinating interview with squashsite.com, offering many intriguing insights into one of the most respected squash players of his generation.

Known as the 'Marksman' in squash circles, James delves into his most unforgettable shots and matches, underscoring the artistry behind subtle holds to length and the complexities of executing his signature shot, the 'triple fake.'

One of the standout moments from a playinjg career spanning over 20 years, was an enthralling rally against Karim Abdel Gawad, a sequence that left both commentators and the audience captivated. While certain shots might evade notice, Willstrop underscored the significance of dying length shots, which eloquently showcase the true skill of a squash player.

James treasured noteworthy matches, notably his triumphant 2018 Commonwealth Games gold-winning clash against Paul Coll, along with a 2011 encounter with Gregory Gaultier that propelled him to the esteemed rank of World No.1. Another unforgettable showdown was the epic battle his arch-nemesis Nick Matthew at the 2010 Canary Wharf Squash Classic which, despite an early retirement due to cramp, remains etched in his memory.

As he contemplates his career's trajectory, James finds immense satisfaction in moments that leave audiences breathless, eliciting hearty applause. Despite not being inclined towards extravagant celebrations, the 'Marksman' values the opportunity to savour his finest shots and rallies, consistently leaving an indelible artistic and sporting impact on the dynamic world of squash.

Can James Willstrop continue his presence on the PSA World Tour beyond 40? This question has been on the minds of many squash enthusiasts as the seasoned player approaches a milestone birthday. Despite playing noticeably fewer tournaments last season, 'The Marksman' showed that he can still challenge the very best when he took on the formidable Mohamed Elshorbagy and nearly secured victory over him at the Canary Wharf Squash Classic in March.

The former World No.1 conceded that he is taking it “week by week” as he increasingly balances playing with his other interests such as coaching and acting.

James Willstrop's illustrious career spans over two decades, with an impressive 731 matches and 246 tournaments played on the PSA World Tour. However, like a squash version of Roger Federer, the 39-year-old is getting increasingly selective about how often he competes, as he appeared in just nine tournaments in the 2022/23 squash season. Despite the reduced frequency, he still manages to bring his A-game to the court and showcase his skills against the best in the world.

"I don't need to play squash. I'm doing it just for fun," Willstrop explained, highlighting that he is not driven solely by the competitive aspect of the sport at this stage of his career. Nevertheless, when he produces performances like he did in March, part of him contemplates why he would let go of such talent and skill just because he's turning 40.

"I do love it, but I'm a little bit conscious of the toll it takes and don't want to have a knackered body," he added. It's evident that the wear and tear of professional sports can take a toll on athletes, especially as they age, and Willstrop is mindful of maintaining his health and wellbeing.

James Willstrop also discussed how he no longer engages in eight hours of squash a day, acknowledging that the mental and physical intensity required for such rigorous training has evolved over the years. As he balances his career in squash with other interests, including acting, he finds himself in a space of harmony and balance.

Interestingly, his passion for acting has actually benefited his squash game. James shared that after participating in plays, he would often return to the squash court and play exceptionally well. Engaging in another activity that exercises a different part of his mind allows his subconscious to take hold, contributing to his overall performance in squash.

"It's something about exercising another part of the mind: engaging in that other activity that gives you time away from the sport allows your subconscious to take hold a little bit," he said. This holistic approach to his life and career has enabled him to thrive both on and off the court.

When discussing his coaching role, James revealed that it has taken a more significant role in his life following the passing of his father, Malcolm. Together with his partner, former World Champion and World No.1 Vanessa Atkinson, they are focussed on building upon the world-class coaching system that his father had established at Pontefract Squash & Leisure Club in Yorkshire.

"It's just how life has worked out," he explained. Despite the immense challenges of taking on coaching responsibilities, James has embraced this new chapter and juggles his training and coaching duties with finesse.

As for his future in the sport, James Willstrop remains pragmatic. While many athletes consider age as a significant factor in their careers, he doesn't dwell on it excessively. "People are obsessed with age, and I'm not really thinking about that if I can help it," he said. Instead, he focuses on how his body responds to training and competition.

"If I feel okay, the physio is happy with me, and I'm not getting too many aches and pains, I can maybe keep going and have one or two more occasions like March," he said with optimism. James cherishes the excitement of competing at the highest level and relishes the opportunity to face players like Mohamed Elshorbagy, a testament to his enduring love for the sport.

"I do enjoy training, so I'll try and train a bit over the summer. If the body responds, there might be a reason to play on a bit if I can get into some tournaments," he said.

James Willstrop's journey in squash has been filled with remarkable achievements, breathtaking shots, and memorable encounters. As he nears the age of 40, he continues to inspire and leave an indelible mark on the sport. Fans eagerly await his decision on his future in professional squash, hoping to witness more of his laser-like racket skills and masterful performances on the court. Regardless of what the future holds, James Willstrop's legacy as one of squash's greatest players is firmly secured.

For the full interview, visit: squashsite.com