Canary Wharf EN BREF, Issue #3
 
Everything you never knew you needed to know ...
JAMES PART TWO
J
AMES 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 world tour.

His 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 commit!”
JAMES
by Alan Thatcher

James Willstrop is a gifted musician and loves to finish each movement on court with a statement – a spectacular, crashing winner or a deft, sublime touch.

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:

asinine

Favourite colour:

black grey

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?

Accountancy

What do you expect God to tell you when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Now do you believe in me???

AND FINALLY…
By Fram

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 around.

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

During 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 lady.



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 her…

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…

They said

“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. YOU!!!”
Canary 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…
JAMES PROFILE

JUNIOR YEARS

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 in October.

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 finals.

2008

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.

from 2008 into 2009 ...

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 Linkoping.
  


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 bush…

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…
HIS MUM

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 romantic.
MALC

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 a house of fire.
VANESSA

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 the lot…

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….


SQUASH BALLS
IN THEIR EYES


You cannot 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…”

Awhhhhhhh…
THEY SAID…

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…”

Canary Wharf EN BREF, Issue #2
 
Everything you never knew you needed to know ...
GREG, A CŒUR OUVERT…

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

CHILDHOOD DREAM

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.

PRESSURE…

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 World Champion…

DISCIPLINED, YET RELAXING…

I 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…

PREMATCH ROUTINE

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 working with.

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 nap.

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 emails.

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

I’ve 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 time.

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…

ARROGANT, MOI???

Yes, 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…
 


JOHN MILTON


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.

“Borja 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…


THERE ARE EVENTS,
and THERE ARE
EVENTIS EVENTS…


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....

Alan Tatcher, my personal waiter for the day...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.