VIDEO: Familiar territory could give Willstrop welcome advantage
JAMES Willstrop hopes ‘home’ advantage will help propel him towards a first World Squash Championship title.
The 30-year-old was runner-up to fellow Yorkshireman Nick Matthew in 2010 and has reached the semi-final on four other occasions.
And the former world No 1 – who goes into today’s first round in Manchester seeded third – knows he will more than likely have to beat undisputed world No 1 Ramy Ashour in order to lift the sport’s most coveted trophy.
The two are not scheduled to meet until Sunday’s final should they both progress, with world No 2 and second seed Gregory Gaultier, winner of the recent US Open likely to be waiting in Willstrop’s half of the draw at the last four stage.
But being on familiar territory at the National Squash Centre – the quarter-finals onwards will be staged at Manchester Central, formerly the G-Mex – is a comfort that Willstrop believes will be pivotal to his chances of landing that first world crown.
“I would much prefer to take this, a home event, than anywhere else in the world,” said Willstrop.
“You’re at home, you feel comfortable and anyone you need and who is important to your life is just a drive away, so that’s a huge bonus.
“You’re not jumping on aeroplanes and flying halfway around the world, so there’s no jetlag or anything like that. But most of all you have a home crowd behind you which is a great thing to take into the big, big matches we have coming up.”
The prospect of facing Egyptian Ashour on Sunday excites Willstrop, who warmed up for the event by reaching the semi-finals of the US Open where he was beaten by long-time rival Matthew, himself expected to meet top seed Ashour in the last four.
“It’s definitely justified that Ramy is clear favourite because he’s been world No 1 for 10 months now and is 16 months unbeaten which is a phenomenal achievement and statistic and something very unusual in any sport at any level,” said Willstrop, who has lost his last eight meetings with Ashour after denying him the North American Open title back in February 2012.
“Anyone who watches him play will see that he’s one of the most entertaining and exciting racquet players around. Even if you don’t like squash you’re going to like watching this guy play. I’ve had some great tussles with him over the years and I’ve had my share of wins over him as well.
“Yes, 16 months is a long time but we can beat him, definitely. The other players here are not ruled out of winning the biggest title of the year – no question.”