England’s James Willstrop is relishing the chance to defend his crown when the AJ Bell British National Championships returns to Nottingham from the 13th to 16th February.
The former World No.1 will have to overcome some of the best in the business including hot favourite and 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 Willstrop with plenty more motivation to retain his national crown.
“Defeats are good because you always examine yourself more closely,” said 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 and distressing. With a win everything’s in your favour, write-ups and 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 have to 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 years AJ Bell British National Championships will also include UNSQUASHABLE players George Parker, Patrick Rooney and Josh Masters.
“I’ve not got that much to lose now and 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 and age has come a newfound appreciation for the sport Willstrop adores.
“A love of the game has taken over and 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 and 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 has to 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 the UNSQUASHABLE JAMES WILLSTROP AUTOGRAPH racket which is available exclusively from www.unsquashable.com