Willstrop and Duncalf eye surprise in squash World Open

James Willstrop is in action in Rotterdam this week.
James Willstrop is in action in Rotterdam this week.
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LEEDS’S James Willstrop heads into this week’s World Open in Rotterdam hoping recent performances will lead him to landing the biggest prize in the men’s game.

The 28-year-old world No 4 has already proven his staying power by reaching the final of last week’s Qatar Classic where he was eventually beaten by long-time rival Gregory Gaultier 3-1.

And while there was obvious disappointment for the Yorkshireman, he still took satisfaction from again reaching the latter stages of a major event, something expected though by no means easy for one of the world‘s leading players.

Seeded fourth for the PSA World Tour‘s most prized title, Willstrop opens his account in the Netherlands on Monday against an as-yet-unknown qualifier.

Should he progress as hoped he should expect to meet Egypt’s world No 2 Ramy Ashour in the last four, with fellow Yorkshireman and world No 1 Nick Matthew, top seed for the event, possibly waiting in the final.

Willstrop - runner-up to Matthew last year - is quick to point out, however, that a hectic week-long schedule for players means nobody can afford to look too far ahead.

“This is the one tournament we all have an eye on to be honest,” said Willstrop. “It is the biggest on the Tour and the one where you want to produce your best squash.

“But, with so many top-drawer events nowadays it’s almost impossible to try and get everything timed just right for this one event.”

While Willstrop admits to feeling the effects of his efforts in Qatar, both mental and physical, he has no worries as to his readiness to compete in Rotterdam.

“It was a tough week in Qatar and it has taken its toll a bit as I guess it takes a bit longer for those reaching the latter stages of tournaments to get over it,” he added.

“But I know I’d rather be getting to the latter stages of tournaments and winning more matches than going out early. Yes, I lost in the final but I still got there and lost to a top-notch player in great form so you have to put things in perspective.”

In the women’s draw, Harrogate’s world No 2 Jenny Duncalf will be looking to put recent disappointments behind her by at least justifying her tournament ranking and reaching the final.

The 28-year-old has been a surprise early exit in the second round of both the Qatar Classic and US Open but, like Matthew, cites her early exit in Doha last week as a chance to prepare harder for Rotterdam.

She opens her campaign on Tuesday against Denmark’s Line Hansen, the world No 24 who she beat in the two’s only previous meeting on the WISPA World Tour last year.

“The last two tournaments obviously haven’t been the best for me,” admitted Duncalf.

“It’s given me a bit more time to prepare for the worlds which his good, but I should still have been winning the matches I lost.”

As ever, Nicol David enters the women’s draw as favourite with her rivals hoping to prevent her from lifting a sixth World Open title, only Australia’s Rachael Grinham has interrupted her run of success stretching back to 2005.

David, world No 1 now since August 2006, suffered a surprise quarter-final exit in last month’s US Open, but isn’t expected to suffer any kind of similar setback in Rotterdam.

“It was a surprise to see her lose in Philadelphia so early,” said Duncalf. “But she has a habit of bouncing back quickly which she did in Qatar.

“It reminded you that she is human after all. She has lost three times this year, which doesn’t sound a lot but, for her, it is.

“It’s the biggest event going and I would be thrilled to win it. But my first aim is to make my seeding by at least reaching the final. There are going to be some tough matches along the way, but anything less than the final is a disappointment.”


Twitter: @philarra