Wharf EN BREF, Issue #3
Everything you never knew you needed to know ...
JAMES PART TWO
JAMES ON THE EVENT…
By Alan Thatcher
James Willstrop loves Canary Wharf. He says: “The atmosphere here is
great, the venue is one of the best in the world, the crowds
are always knowledgeable and make a lot of
noise, and the tournament has developed
into one of the best on the circuit.”
The fact that Willstrop has won the ISS Canary Wharf Classic three
times may help to explain the warmth of his sentiments, but
both he and the tournament are two modern
British success stories in squash’s long
and colourful history.
While the event has grown bigger every year, Willstrop is happy to
remain where he is, at 6ft 5in the tallest player on the
astonishing reach makes it difficult for any opponent to get the
ball past him, and, when he gets his racket on the ball, he
possesses the flair, vision and ability to
improvise that takes your breath away.
“Canary Wharf is certainly one of my favourite venues. It has the
feel and the atmosphere that you associate
with great places like Grand Central
Station in New York. That helps when players know they are
being well looked after, which is always the case at Canary
Wharf, and I love being in London anyway,
so it’s a week I always look forward to.
“This year it looks like a very tough draw, incredibly tough. To get
eight out of the world top ten is amazing. I can only hazard
a guess at the lobbying that Peter and Tim
must have done to get everybody to
by Alan Thatcher
Willstrop is a gifted musician and loves to finish each movement on
court with a statement – a spectacular, crashing winner or a deft,
He wears his energy, passion and love of the sport clearly on his
sleeve. And when all the notes are in the right place he is the most
open, entertaining squash player on the planet.
WHAT IS JAMES DOING AT THE MOMENT…
Willstrop now lives in Leeds but continues to train at the
Pontefract club where his father is coach. Despite the recent retirement of
regular training partner Lee Beachill, there are plenty of top-class
players based at the club, including a strong Indian contingent led
by Saurav Ghosal and Dipika Pallikal, the British Junior Open finalist
who is destined for Bollywood stardom alongside her squash career.
Willstrop adds: “There are still plenty of familiar faces around the
place and even Simon Parke pops in for a hit every now and then.”
Right now, he is taking the score back to the drawing board to try
to fathom out a recent loss in form that has seen him slip to seven in
the world rankings.
But, with England Squash’s coaching armoury
behind him, as well as his father Malcolm, one of the world’s most gifted
coaches, it will surely not be long before James has ironed out the
bum notes and got his game back in tune.
NOT ALL GOOD…
Willstrop admits that much of the trouble has been down to illness
and injury. He says: “It has been a difficult time, coping with a virus
and an ankle injury. Luckily I have recovered from the virus but I
might need an operation on my ankle.
“It’s made my whole life disjointed. I’m feeling OK now but I could
have done with a smoother build-up to the tournament if possible. I
hate pulling out of tournaments but that’s what I had to do with the
recent North American Open in Richmond, Virginia.”
Despite the negative impact of his recent health issues, Willstrop
remains extremely positive about the future of squash: “This is a
real bonanza for squash fans in London, with the Super Series followed by
Canary Wharf, and there are clearly exciting times ahead. It’s like
a turning point for the game, and a place in the Olympic Games could
do massive things for squash.
Give me three words to describe squash?
Hard, under exposed, spectacular
Least favourite word:
What other profession other than yours would you have liked to do?
Would have done something arty, singing or writing
And what profession would you have never ever done?
What do you expect God to tell you when you arrive at the Pearly
Now do you believe in me???
Where do you go from here, James?
I have still the same targets, being at the top of the world, and
get a World title. I came a hair breadth from the British Open, but
I’m not sure I was actually mentally or physically ready to be at
the top up to a year, 18months ago.
Last year, everything seem to go in the right direction for me, I
was in a great form, everything came together, I guess I was in a
zone like people seem to call it.
After that, I had to pull from
three tournaments, with the ankle and a virus, then the ankle again.
This year is really not working for me, without being awfully wrong,
it’s just very frustrating.
You don’t care that much about what people say, do you..?
The more I carry on, the more some people say some stupid things
about me. And I really don’t give a monkey about what they say, or
what they think they know about my life. I care about the opinion of
the people I trust, the rest, I really don’t want to know…
WITH THE HELP OF MY FRIENDS…
One of the great things about being a nice person is you get a few
friends to support you when you need. And Tim Garner, one of
the Eventis Trio, has got a few of those
Of course, M. Andy Bunting, for us all, M. Prince, who shined on the
circuit for years, nursing and supporting so many great
players, including the Boss of course. You
may remember a few en brefs about him, the
most famous would be his
plunging in the swimming pool during
the Worlds in Cairo.
And also, like last year, we have Pete Smith, M. Squash at Surrey
Esporta, where Tim has been playing for the National League
and organising BSPA’s. “Tim has been
helping me a lot over the years, and has
always been there for me. It’s only natural that I would be there
when he needs me”, simply said Pete.
How do you say in England, what goes round comes round… In the
nicest possible way….
GREG AND THE DUCHESS
the ending ceremony in Queens, we were honoured to have HRH
Duchess of Gloucester to give Greg his trophy. For most
of you out there who are not British,
you’ll find more details on that delightful
lady on wikipedia, but suffice to say she is a close member
of the Royal Family.
Trouble is, I don’t believe that anybody explained to Greg the
protocol that goes with meeting with such an eminent figure
of the British Establishment, and when her
HRH The Duchess of Gloucester gave him the
Trophy, our French lad just saw a lovely lady, and thanked her
by kissing her like he would have done with any other lovely
A gasp of stupefaction spread rapidly in the Queen’s crowd, well
aware of the protocol, but as HRH didn’t
show any surprise, Greg simply got away it
the kiss, only to be explained much later that he should have
refrained his enthusiasm!
But we were told that Her Royal Highness found he was charming
actually, and didn’t mind at all, which was very gracious of
Sorry, but we French are a bit rusty in the handling of Royals, we
lost ours more than 200 years in rather unfortunate
circumstances, as most of you know…
“No more discussions, Mr Barker”
”I’m not having a discussion, I’m having a chat…”
”Why a let, why?”
”Mr El Hindi, there was some obstruction on the way to the ball.
Wharf EN BREF, Issue #2
Everything you never knew you needed to know ...
TAKE ME TO THE TOWER, TIM…
You won’t make me change my mind that Paris is the most beautiful
city in the world. But I must say we are being spoiled by Eventis
yet again, as one of the Tournament Sponsors is actually the Gunoman
Hotel, right next to Tower Bridge.
As I was having lunch with Dig In James on the first day of the
tournament, I of course took my camera with me, and just looked
around the place through the digital eye.
And I loved it.
What a surreal place, where History resounds on all the stones of
the ground. And yet, just across the water, we are so much in the
future. Surreal all right.
And the hotel is nice, even if they close the bar a bit too early
for this event – we don’t finish before 12, and it’s closed by the
time we arrive. Well, that’s no good, as Mick Todd would say – that
what he said to me the first time he offered me a drink, and that I
told him I was Teetotal…
Apart from that, it’s a stunning location, with really helpful
staff, good size rooms, the internet is pretty fast, and room
service is 24/7…
What more do you want people….???
CATCHING UP WITH JAMES…
As Alan Thatcher and myself had the same great idea, that is to speak
with Young Willstrop, I decided to present you with the two articles
together, spread over two days. We start first with a long bio – Alan
did that one – and a few answers from James that I recorded on the
first day of the tournament. And tomorrow, well, you’ll learn even
more about Dig In James…
Willstrop enjoyed a glittering junior career ,winning British
National titles at all age groups U12, U14, U17 and U19, and British Junior
Open trophies at U14, U17 and U19. In his final year in the
category he won both the European Junior and World Junior Championships.
It was in his final junior year (2002) that he won his first PSA
Tour title, the Swiss Open, in March, followed by the Santa Barbara Open
The following year, he became one of the youngest players ever to
play for the senior England team, representing his country for the first
time at both the European and World Team Championships.
Up to 2005 Willstrop, England’s most successful junior player of all time,
became the world's top-ranked Englishman just two years after becoming a
'senior'. In December 2005, after reaching a career-high world No2,
he led England to victory - for the first time in eight years - in
the World Team Championships in Pakistan.
2006 - 2007
After a disappointing 2006 - in which he was hospitalised with food
poisoning in Cairo on the eve of the World Open in Egypt - the
Yorkshireman struck back with a vengeance in 2007, first winning the
British National Championship for the first time, then claiming his
first PSA Tour title for more than 16 months at the Canary Wharf
Classic in London.
It was not only a confidence-boosting Tour triumph, but one he
achieved after finally ending a career-long tally of 12 defeats by
Lee Beachill, beating his Pontefract and England team-mate - and close
friend - in a five-game quarter-final.
NEW RACQUET, NEW LIFE
But Willstrop's new-found form gathered pace after signing a new
racquet contract with Prince in August: In the inaugural English
Grand Prix in Birmingham, coincidentally sponsored by the brand,
fourth seed Willstrop forced himself into the final after overcoming
favourite David Palmer in a 95-minute five-game semi-final - then
clinched the trophy when he beat third-seeded Frenchman Thierry
Lincou 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 7-11, 11-3 in 77 minutes.
Later, he began his career-best Tour run when he beat his England
team rival and local hero Nick Matthew in the final of the English Open
in Sheffield to set up a series of five successive appearances in PSA
The fourth seed in the Tournament of Champions in New York, James
outplayed French rival Gregory Gaultier to reach the final where he
finished as runner-up to Ramy Ashour. Then it was three title wins
in succession – at the Swedish Open, the Virginia Pro Championship in
the USA, and, later in March, his successful defence of the Canary Wharf
Classic crown, his final victory over Australian Cameron Pilley
marking the 11th PSA Tour title of his career.
Within two months, he was back in the British Open final for the
second time – the fourth seed facing fifth-seeded Australian David
Palmer for the title in Liverpool. In one of the most dramatic
finals in the event’s lengthy history, James fought back from 0-2 down, and
had match-balls in the decider before Palmer finally clinched his
fourth title 11-9, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11, 13-11 after 111 minutes.
In September, an ankle injury halted Willstrop’s progress on the
Tour, and by the beginning of 2009 it was a virus which the 25-year-old
from Leeds was unable to shake off. James failed to progress past the
quarter-finals in the Tournament of Champions in New York, and was
stopped at the semi-final stage (for the second time in successive
events by Nick Matthew) in his defence of the Swedish Open title in
JAMES TALKS ABOUT SOME OF THE
PEOPLE HE LOVES…
MICK TODD, HIS MANAGER
Mick was always a good friend to me, very supportive, with a sound
head on his shoulders, and had helped me when I bought my first
house, a thing I was dreadful at. When he became my manager, our
friendship got stronger, and I can feel he is 100% behind me, and
probably more concerned and worried about things than I am. But most
of all, he is very honest. And that’s what I need and want in my
life. I need people that tell me the truth and
not beat around the
When I started working with him, my career took a new direction, I
got a new contract with Prince, and he has definitely made my life on
tour easier, especially now that he is more present at events. With
him, it’s all about the personal touch that is magic, not to mention
he is always there for me…
Right after her death,
her influence was enormous on my life, and she was an inspiration to
everything I was doing. Of course, as time passes, you learn to move
on, you gradually learn and live with the absence, but she is still
an inspiration. I'll always have her influence…
I’m a bit shy, I guess like my mum was, although she was pretty open
when she got to know people. And like her, I’m not that
much of a
My dad, contrary to what people perceive of him, is extremely
romantic, a very good listener, and very compassionate. Lots of
people only see him as strict, firm and grumpy – well, I say that!.
My dad has probably become my best mate now. He always let me
develop my own opinion, have my own time, nurtured me, and let me
develop. I know that a lot of youngsters are moving away from their
parents, but I guess that because I live on my own after my mum
died, around 16, 17, our relationship with Malc actually got
stronger and closer.
We socialise very well together, we see each other when we feel like
it, I know he is not going to get upset if I don’t see him, and when
we see each other, we have some cracking times, we get on like
I’m know that the boys, Shabana, Karim,
they all praise marriage, as something that helped them settle down, that it
helped them in their career.
But in fact, in my case, it’s not
marriage, or living with somebody that I find great, it’s because
Vanessa is Vanessa. She is always there, always there for me, and
especially when I’m low, after a loss, when my ankle goes wrong yet
again, and that I’m so depressed, she is there, supportive,
positive. She has had a great impact on my life.
THE WEIRDEST OF COMPETITION…
I know my players are not all there bless them, but that one beats
I was wondering why Daryl Selby looked so old with that beard that
honestly doesn’t suit him WHATSOEVER.
Well, according to his dad – thanks Paul – Welshman
Peter Creed and
Daryl have a bet to see whose beard will grow the longest. And the finish
line, the 12th April.
A beard growing competition… No freeking comment….
IN THEIR EYES
not love them. We have kids everywhere here
who keep asking
all the players for autographs. But the best line came from a little
boy, Jonas, who came to the press room with his mate Neil.
After the older one, Neil, got his program signed, the youngest was
petrified with emotions. He just couldn’t get over the fact he
was actually face to face with Greg.
”Do you want me to sign your ball then,” says Greg with an adorable
smile. No movement or sound from Jonas. “Or maybe you don’t think
I’m good enough to sign it?” he adds.
And the boy “Oh yes, please, I want you to sign it, you are the
best, you are my favourite player in the world…”
After Joey twisted his ankle, it’s around 11.40pm…
“Self inflicted injury”, says Tony Parker, central ref. “Mr
Barrington has three minutes.”
Wael: ”Three minutes?? What am I going to do, for three minutes???
It’s late man…”
|GREG, A CŒUR
Strangely enough, this was the first real long interview I've
made with Greg. Us two had our differences in the past, but
we’ve learned to know each other better, and one of the reasons
we didn’t get on that well to start with I believe is probably
because we look a lot like each other in a lot of ways…
Now I’ve been given the chance to know the boy, I’ve come to
care a great deal about him, and I’ve got a lot of time for him.
And he replied to my questions in all honesty, and I hope you’ll
discover a bit of his personality, that made him such a special
asset to the World of Squash…
Aussi en Français
Being world number one has always been my dream. But once there,
you need also to make it last as long as possible! I guess that
once you reach your goal, other goals appear, like, making a
family, or turn your attention to other departments of life .
But at this point in time, I’m 99% on my squash. And I have one
objective only, becoming the best player in the world.
From a very young age, I was told, ‘you’ll be the best, you’ll
be number 1”. So when I got close, it was always at the back of
my mind, like a constant weight on my shoulders. And that’s in
my opinion one of the reasons I’m not World number 1 or/and
DISCIPLINED, YET RELAXING…
love to relax and paint the town red, blue and other colours
sometimes, or spend quality time with my long term girlfriend,
or sometimes just chatting with my friends, watching DVDs, just
having a good time.
I have a side of me that likes having fun, but the other side of
me is extremely disciplined. I’m strict with myself, whether
it’s from a training point of view, or diet, and I’m thinking
about only one thing, moving forward, getting better, and never
do I look at what I may have achieved, but always what still
needs to be done and improved…
I like to relax during breakfast, and have a good laugh with
other players, but from three to four hours before the match I
need to be on my own, or only surrounded by the people I’m
In the morning, I try and manage to get a hit, not too hard,
cool, just to get the legs moving, a good way to get the blood
flowing in the muscles, but not energy wasting. Then, a little
Then comes the mental preparation. I’m watching some extracts of
my previous matches with my opponent of the day, with a quick
review of what went right, what went wrong. We define what needs
to be achieved, and determine a game plan, things to avoid or
make sure to do. If I’m on my own, that is done by texts or
|AFTER A LOSS
Might as well admit it straight, I don’t like losing, I really
don’t, I really don’t feel like talking, and I’m perfectly aware
I’m a bad loser. But lose or win, I always send texts to my
girlfriend and team.
It’s very hard for me to see the positive out of a defeat, right
after it happens I mean. It will take me hours, sometimes days
before I can learn and take something away from a failure. But
sometimes, it just happens, or you play against somebody who is
better than you, or you were just on an off day. And you can
learn a great deal from both…
LONELINESS, NO THANK YOU
never been on my own. I arrived at a very young age in Aix, in
the CREPS – [a boarding college specialised in Sports in
general, and in that case, the “Pole France” for male Squash
players in France]. In that context, you are never alone, you
always have people around you. So I don’t care for loneliness,
it just doesn’t agree with me, I like to be with people all the
But on the other hand, I’m very careful who I’m hanging around
with, and I chose people that I can learn from, like the team
that has been taking care of me for a while now. If you take
people like Pierre Canto or Mathieu Benoit for example, who come
with me on tournaments, they are not only friends, who support
me, but they are also technically working with me, and feeding
me with the infos and infrastructure I need. People do not get
to see the work that is being done behind the scenes, and that’s
a lot, trust me… We are committed, extremely dedicated, and at
the end of the day, that’s what makes the difference…
I know that in the past, I’ve been said to be arrogant. I don’t
think I was really, but more that there were people I care to
talk to, and people I didn’t. And I didn’t make any effort to be
more pleasant when I didn’t feel like it. That I’ve changed…
I’m trying to be more open now, I hope I’m less cold toward the
world around me. I try to respect all the people I meet, and the
people I’m working with. I’ve also learned to say what I feel,
to express what I have deep inside me.
But you know, one can only change that much. I’m doing my best,
I’m working hard to improve who I am, but at the end of the day,
if one doesn’t like who I am, what I am, and the way I live my
life, well, there is nothing I can do about it…
There are people you don’t know from Eve, and with whom you feel
extremely comfortable. And that’s the case with John Milton. His
calm, fairness, intrinsic honestly and clarity of the game are
quite astonishing, and I really appreciate the man.
Not to mention he must know a fair bit about squash. Tonight, he
had two of his players on “display”. The first one on, Borja,
who he started coaching when he was 14 years old, with a break
of a few years during his Sweden adventure (John coached there
for four years I believe), and who is back training in Holborn whenever he is in the UK.
is an emotional and passionate player,” says John, “but he is
also totally disciplined, and I can see him shooting to the top
eight within the next two years,” he adds with a discrete smile.
The second one of course, is Ali, and there again, the story
goes way back when, when the boy was 14, as John was his
guardian for about six years. “He used to stay with me for end
of terms, holidays, etc. I’m more his mentor as his coach
actually.” And when asked to describe Ali, the first thing that
came to his mind was “very determined and talented”.
I’ll second that…
and THERE ARE
Here she goes again, you are bound to say, but from the Press
point of view, from my point of view, let’s be honest, you’ve
got two kind of events.
You’ve got the ones where you are forced to shout, scream, rave,
cry, beg, to get anything, from internet connection to a
suitable seat, or even a cuppa. And despite all the pleading,
stress, you still don’t get anything…
And then, you’ve got tournaments like this one. Where everything
you need to work in good condition is offered to you. You don’t
have to ask, because it’s there. Ready. And with a smile.
Example: We are provided with four side wall seats with little
tables, to put our computers on. Only thing, no power plug. You
just mention it. Sorted…
Example: Tim Garner organised free wi-fi at the great hotel we
are staying in near the water. The wireless was actually not
working for some technical reason. Within minutes, Tim has
sorted the problem, and you’ve got BT vouchers slipped under
your hotel door by the time you come back from breakfast....
Your seat is booked, in a perfect spot, full view, easy access.
The loos are, on a practical basis, only 35 steps away. Wireless
of course working perfectly. A few meters from the glass court,
tea, coffee, water bottles available for press, refs and
players. You are made to feel useful, you are made to feel
valued, you are being cared for… And you really want to bend
over backwards for the tournament.
Thanks for that, Tim, Angus and Peter. You just reconciled me
with squash. Just thanks.