JAMES WILLSTROP is under no illusions as to the task ahead of him as he gets his British Open bid underway in Hull today.
The former world No 1 from Harrogate has been handed a tough first round draw in East Yorkshire as he takes on Egypt’s world No 3 Marwan Elshorbagy, seeded four for the event, while three-time runner-up Willstrop has outsider status.
Gone are the days when Willstrop was able to play his way into one of the biggest events on the PSA world tour as a consistent top-six performer, with the 34-year-old aware he will have to be at his best at the very start to stand any chance of progressing.
But, buoyed by his gold medal success in the Commonwealth Games in Australia – and a series of impressive performances against top seeds during the course of the season – Willstrop is relaxed about what lies ahead of him this week.
“Marwan has been flying this season and he beat me pretty well in the Windy City Open in Chicago in February, so this draw is totally against me ranking-wise and I’m not expected to win,” said Willstrop, whose main competitive action since his triumph Down Under saw him take part in the recent European Team Championships in Poland.
“I’m not going in thinking ‘I’ve got to win the British Open’ and having any kind of pressure.
“The form will be there and the confidence is there. Marwan was a world finalist last year when he lost out to his brother and he’s flying pretty high, so it will be pretty tough.
“I’ll treat it as a final really, because it is a big ask.
“But if I can put things together I know that I am still capable of beating many players in the world at the minute.”
Willstrop said he hoped the recent exposure given to the sport at the Commonwealths would result in a wider interest in events at Hull this week.
If I can put things together I know that I am still capable of beating many players in the world at the minute.James Willstrop
“I hope the interest of people in squash has risen given the exposure that it got in Australia,” he added.
“Whether the British Open can ride on the coat-tails of that I don’t know, but I really hope it does.
“Aside from the world championships it is the biggest event we have in the sport – and it is always nice when it just down the road in Hull.”