Still time for leading man Willstrop to land elusive British title

JAMES Willstrop has hailed the return of the British Open as he looks to clinch the prestigious title for the first time.

In the past, world No 1 Willstrop has arguably come closer than anyone possibly could do to winning the tournament without actually lifting the trophy.

Three times the 28-year-old from Leeds has reached the final of the sport’s most prestigious tournament – three times he has left the court as the runner-up.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In his two most recent final appearances – in 2008 against David Palmer and a year later against fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew – he had match ball on each occasion, only to be denied in crushing fashion.

But despite previous disappointments, it is the here and now that Willstrop is focusing on as he enters the first British Open since that memorable defeat to Matthew as favourite.

Played out at London’s O2 Arena this week, the sport couldn’t hope for a bigger stage to announce the event’s return after an absence of two years due to lack of finances.

“I quite enjoy being top of the list on the draw, it’s a perfectly satisfying position for me to be in,” said Willstrop.

“I don’t go round thinking about being under too much pressure. I know how good the other players are and how good I am.

“It has been wonderful to compete in British Open finals. Reaching those finals is an outstanding achievement. Just because they weren’t wins doesn’t mean they were failures.

“Hopefully, there is still time to grab a title.”

It will be a tough week for the Yorkshireman as he is faced with a difficult opening-round encounter tonight against Germany’s Simon Rosner, ranked 19th in the world.

“It’s a lot tougher draw than a lot of first-round draws,” he added. “He (Rosner) has got to the quarter-finals of some big events and has pushed the top four players close before, so being ranked 19th in the world isn’t really a fair reflection for him.”

After this week’s high-profile exploits in London, the event is scheduled to head to Hull for the next two years, with the event being brought back to life thanks to the backing of the Allam family, owners of Hull City FC.

“I can’t stress how important it is to have this event back on the squash calendar,” he added. “Other events across the world don’t capture the imagination quite as much as the British Open does. It was sad for the sport that it wasn’t on for a couple of years, but now it’s back and it’s exciting to have it at the O2 Arena.”