James Willstrop wins fourth British National Championship title
February 16 2020
James Willstrop prevailed on finals day at the AJ Bell British National Championships after overcoming a titanic challenge from Joel Makin to lift the prestigious titles at the David Ross Sports Village at the University of Nottingham.
The defending champion saved eight game balls to successfully defend his crown in style by stunning favourite Joel Makin to claim a fourth title.
Second seed Willstrop battled hard to overcome Makin 12-10 0-11 12-10 14-12 in a gripping 76-minute encounter to ensure a successful title defence. Despite a losing 3-2 head-to-head record against his Welsh rival, the 36-year-old English No.1 showed no signs of fatigue after a challenging route to his 11th final but it was the 25-year-old top seed who started the brighter of the two.
Makin raced to a 10-4 lead in the opening game before Willstrop somehow reeled off eight straight points to clinch the tie-break in 19 minutes. The Welshman responded with faultless precision to win 11 consecutive points to level match and continued to show his class in the third, coming back from 6-1 down to 8-8.
However, energy spent in conversation with the officials gave Willstrop some crucial thinking time as he saved a game ball with his signature backhand drop shot before winning another tie-break in 22 minutes.
The heat turned up in the fourth and a despairing Makin dive at 9-9 to deny a Willstrop championship ball only adding to the drama. Makin twice extended the match, forcing the defending champion into saving a game ball of his own but the Englishman proved too clinical third time around.
“To sneak in there at the end against one of the top players in world, I’m not sure how I was able to do it really,” said Willstrop. “The British Nationals has prestige and history. Some of the greats have played it and to play and compete with someone like Joel who’s one of the top players at the moment is great.
“He’s incredibly hard to break down. The bagel in the second sums it up. That’s how hard it is to win a rally. He goes for everything and once I got 6-nil behind it seemed impossible.
“I came back though and it’s great to be able to compete at that level and win. It’s special anytime to win the Nationals but especially against a field like this!”
AJ Bell British National Championships
David Ross Sports Village, University of Nottingham
 James Willstrop bt  Joel Makin 12-10, 0-11, 12-10, 14-12
James Willstrop eyeing AJ Bell British National Squash Championship defence
England’s James Willstrop is relishing the chance to defend his crown when the AJ Bell British National Squash Championships return to Nottingham from the 13th to 16th February.
The former World No.1 will have to overcome some of the best squash players in the world including hot favourite & fellow UNSQUASHABLE player Joel Makin, the World No.12 from Wales, if he is to retain the title.
Welshman Joel Makin beat James Willstrop 3-1 in New York earlier this month at the Tournament of Champions which has provided James Willstrop with plenty more motivation to retain his national crown.
“Defeats are good because you always examine yourself more closely”, said James Willstrop, who ended more than a decade of hurt at the British Nationals last year to clinch his third title. “When you have that doubt, you’re always motivated to right the wrong as they’re upsetting, annoying & distressing. With a win everything’s in your favour, write-ups & so on, it’s all good.”
“I don’t know how things are going to pan out of course but Joel’s very physically strong, those are his strongest qualities, whereas mine are possibly the opposite “ I must use my racket. I’m never going to beat him on a club court because he’d run me into the ground, but on a glass court I’ve got possibilities no question. The form he’s in he’s got to be the man we’re going to have to get past.”
The main draw of this year’s AJ Bell British National Squash Championships will also include #teamunsquashable players George Parker, Patrick Rooney & Josh Masters.
“I’ve not got that much to lose now & these guys are going to beat me at some point”, said James Willstrop. “I want to encourage them but I’m trying as hard as I can to stick with them.”
With experience & age has come a newfound appreciation for the sport James Willstrop adores.
“A love of the game has taken over & it’s a really good position to be in when you’re of an age where you appreciate it. At 25 you’re thinking about winning, ranking, breaking records, whatever. You get overrun by that stuff. I feel ok & that’s all I can go on. I know I’ve got to train a bit differently; I can’t train like a maniac in my early 20s anymore.”
One potential carrot to keep him playing at the highest level until he’s nearly 40 however is the prospect of a home 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“I haven’t really been thinking about it but a year ago I was thinking I’d like to get to the 2021 World Team Championships (in New Zealand)”, said the 2018 Games Gold Medallist.
“There must be another one after the world teams, so right now I intend to play for the rest of this year. It’s doubtful whether I’d be good enough in 2022 but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
James Willstrop uses our UNSQUASHABLE JAMES WILLSTROP AUTOGRAPH racket which is available exclusively from www.unsquashable.com