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Author Archive for James Willstrop

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Fitter, healthier, more productive: the data that shows squash is in good nick

The players at the Commonwealth Games make it look easy, but data scientists have proven just how tough this sport isBy James Willstrop for Willstrop’s WorldSquash has struggled to reach a wider audience for some time but its governing association, the…

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The husband and wife who won their first major squash titles on the same day

Neither Ali Farag nor Nour El Tayeb had won a top-tier World Series event until they became US Open champions in the same venue on the same afternoonBy James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkWhen Nour El Tayeb and Ali …

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How it feels to play sport in the world’s most iconic train station

With 22 million visitors each year, Grand Central Terminal is among the 10 most visited tourist attractions in the world. It is also the best venue in squash

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Some railway terminals have a way of tapping into our imagination. They are architecturally rich, hark back to a long lost past and a few of them even end up as tourist attractions in themselves. None more so than Grand Central Terminal in New York City, where John Nimick has fashioned a sensational World Series squash event, the Tournament of Champions, or TOC. Moving the event to Grand Central was an ingenious idea at the time and Nimick has shown remarkable persistence to keep that dream alive over the last two decades.

Not only is Grand Central a magnificent building but its imperfect walls allow incredible sounds to meld together: the hum of busy passengers, the unmistakable announcements over the Tannoy and, when the rubber of the squash ball crashes against glass, it all coalesces together to produce a unique buzz. Once the ebullient New York audience is added to the mix, you have something tantamount to electricity.

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Nick Kyrgios is rebuked for bringing sport ‘into disrepute’ but fans love a rebel

John McEnroe enraged some stuffier tennis fans but it hasn’t hurt his career. A little bit of bad behaviour can be a delicious thing in sporting combat

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Tennis is currently struggling with its latest superbrat, Nick Kyrgios, whose half-hearted performance at the Shanghai Masters earned him a suspension and a £34,000 fine. It’s no surprise that he has been sanctioned by the authorities as his behaviour is at odds with tennis’s self image as a sport that espouses gentility and good manners; think of that white-kit rule at Wimbledon and the exclusivity of tennis clubs. Kyrgios’s antics look more extreme when set in the context of his sport.

Each sport handles it rebels differently. Cricket is considered a “gentle” game but, like any sport, it has had its subverters. Tales of sledging are retold through the years and a lot of players wait to be dismissed when we all know they should be walking to the pavilion.

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People should understand how drug tests work before they condemn athletes

As an athlete who has been involved in doping procedures for years – and who came close to missing tests – I feel compelled to defend cyclist Lizzie Armitstead

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

It might not be an ideal moment to speak up in support of an athlete who has been viewed suspiciously by her fellow Olympians but I’ve been spurred into action after reading so many people, many of whom love to sensationalise, offering their opinions on Lizzie Armitstead’s missed drugs tests. A depressingly dark cloud lingers over the sporting world at present – and many athletes and associations are cheating more than ever – but it’s worth considering another side of the story before reaching a suspicious conclusion.

As a professional athlete who has been involved in doping procedures for many years and has been tested untold times, I have to say, without knowing Lizzie, I feel compelled to defend her. If nothing else, she deserves to have someone show another side to it all. My own hunch is that she is not a doping cheat and that she made a mistake. Something that has not often been noted in reflections of commentators over the past weeks, is that in 2016 alone Armitstead faced 16 tests and all of them were clean.

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The golfers don’t care, but the Olympics meant everything to us squash players

Squash players would give their other arms to be in Rio this summer so it’s galling – if entirely predictable – to hear such apathy from the world’s top golfers

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Rory McIlroy was unusually blunt when explaining why he won’t be travelling to Rio this summer, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the world’s top four male golfers – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and McIlroy – have withdrawn from the Olympics. In 2009 and then again in 2013, having bent over backwards to impress and convince the IOC, us squash players were snubbed for the Games. In some respects I didn’t blame the committee for going with the big timers, but the odds were always going to be against the golfers turning up.

For McIlroy to say so flippantly that he “didn’t get into golf to try to grow the game” shows that some sports, and the personalities who front them, exist in completely different stratospheres to the rest of us. The Olympics barely registers as an exhibition tournament for the top golfers, but we would give our other arms to be in Rio, something we have repeatedly uttered to anyone who listens.

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Five ways to improve your squash

Find a friendly club; take solid advice from a smart coach; watch and learn from the best players; invest in a physio; make the most of every session; and enjoy it

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The best place to start is by finding and embracing a thriving squash club or community. You will meet players, glean inspiration and be able to join a league structure where you can compete and improve. You can find training partners and perhaps a good coach who will motivate you to practice and put in the hours required.

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In praise of squash fans, who are graceful from Grand Central to London to Egypt

Squash crowds are different in every country but, unlike fans of other sports, they never let their passion for the sport turn into ugly and hateful invective

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The big venues in the world of sport bring intrigue and excitement to fans and athletes alike. Wimbledon, Lord’s, Wembley, Old Trafford, the MCG, the Stade de France, Twickenham, those exclusive golf courses that exclude women, Elland Road. Sorry, I lost my way there. I’m from Yorkshire.

What often helps is the history and tradition of the place, sometimes more so than the aesthetics or modernity of the venue. The most unlikely places can make for the most captivating sporting arenas. The audiences not only wonder at the sporting occasion they have come to witness, but hark back in their imaginations to sporting events of yesteryear.

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Laura Massaro’s rise to world No1 is another exciting development for squash

For the first time in 15 years, the world’s best women’s squash player is English. These are happy – and emotional – days for the sport as it conquers new markets

By James Willstrop for Willstrop’s World, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The first half of the Professional Squash Association season concluded at the Hong Kong Open in early December, with Mohamed El Shorbagy and Nicol David taking the spoils. David won her tenth Hong Kong crown and El Shorbagym pick up his second. David has been the greatest achiever in squash in her generation and possibly of any in the game. Only recently has her record 108-month stranglehold on the world No1 position been seriously threatened. She was usurped by Raneem El Weleiley in July and has since been pushed into third place by England’s Laura Massaro. So in light of this, her latest win in Hong Kong was a highly emotional one, as she confirmed her mettle once more.

But let’s focus on Massaro for a moment. She will be the new world No1 come January, the first English women’s No1 since Cassie Jackman in 2000. She has won the game’s biggest titles, the World Championship and the British Open, and held the No1 position. She won the Qatar Classic, Macau Open and US Open this season. The BBC should have made more of an effort to feature her at their Sports Personality event earlier this month.

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How would the world’s best squash players fare at Wimbledon? Not well

World champion squash players would be embarrassed by Wimbledon qualifiers. The skills required for both sports might look transferable, but if you want to play a racquet sport professionally you need to specialise in it from an early age

• By James Willstrop for the Guardian Sport Network

It’s always about this time of year when I get the pangs. When the tennis is everywhere and the Tests are on and I’m just embarking on another summer of training for squash, indoors, as the sun blazes away outside. I can’t help but imagine what might have happened if I had picked up a tennis racket or a cricket bat rather than a squash racket when I was four years old. Presumably I could be at Wimbledon now if I had done this or that, or if my family had been tennis nuts. If, if, if.

But then, on the evidence of my tennis nowadays, perhaps I wouldn’t be competing against Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. What do I have going for and against me? Well, I’m a giant, so I would have served well. There’s a lot of resting and switching ends in tennis, which would suit me, but the matches are very long. Three and a half hours might be too much without any coffee breaks. Squash matches are over faster, but tennis players can towel themselves down after every two rallies. As a heavy sweater, that would be welcome – and you can send people for towels and drinks at will.

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Wimbledon 2015: Grigor Dimitrov’s coach split reminds of need for patience | James Willstrop

Following his third-round exit at Wimbledon, Dimitrov cut ties with Roger Rasheed in a bid to return to his 2014 form. But snap decisions are unwise after disappointing results, writes the former squash world No1 James Willstrop

News came through on Monday of Grigor Dimitrov’s decision to split with coach Roger Rasheed. After a strong 2014, highlights of which were winning Queen’s and reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, his form levelled off somewhat and he feels he needs change.

Related: Grigor Dimitrov parts with coach Roger Rasheed after run of bad form

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Nick Kyrgios’ Wimbledon antics show that composure wins against character

Volatility is watchable but there’s more to passion than screaming and shouting. As I’ve found in my squash career, a calm head helps in the big moments, writes the former world No1 James Willstrop

We’re hearing a lot about characters at this year’s Wimbledon. Perhaps it’s because the event holds to its gentlemanly traditions and, against the prim white and greenness of it all, any colour provides the perfect contrast for any sort character to emerge. Dustin Brown has been labelled a character since his win over Rafael Nadal last week, and it’s confusing to fathom quite what makes him liable to be lauded as such. Is it because he beat Nadal? Is it because he has dreadlocks?

Related: Nick Kyrgios’ Wimbledon ends amid controversy against Richard Gasquet

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The UK’s unfair immigration rules have exiled one of its world champion athletes

Cassie Thomas, an English squash player who became a world champion in her sport, is being kept in Australia by the government’s strange immigration policies

• By James Willstrop for the Guardian Sport Network

Praise the day when we may once again enjoy pure sporting stories about contests, uncontaminated by corruption, bureaucracy and the rise and fall of powerful and power-hungry individuals. No drug scandals, no politicians pulling fast ones. We can but dream. It’s clearly the season for depressing stories of foul play and injustice in sport, so let me offer you another.

The following is perhaps one to add to the list: a head-scratchingly unfair case. Cassie Thomas is a former world No1 squash player from Norfolk in England. She has lived in Australia for the past five years with her Australian husband, Matt, and their two daughters, Erin and Lola, who were both born in Norfolk. The family recently decided to move back to Norfolk. Both of Cassie’s parents, Pat and Mick, have been recovering from cancer recently, and so you can only imagine what this move might have meant for them.

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The long and slow journey towards equal pay and attention for women’s sport

Squash is awarding equal prize money, Britain’s best tennis player is coached by a women and the U17s Women’s World Cup will have more female medics and coaches than ever, but most sports have a lot to learn about equality

• By James Willstrop for the Guardian Sport Network

In 1920 a women’s football match attracted 53,000 spectators to Goodison Park. It was not unusual for women’s teams such as Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC in Preston to have similar attendance figures as men’s teams. Not long after this, the Football Association released a statement that said they had received complaints about women playing football and “felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged”.

And so a surge in popularity of the women’s game around the time of the first world war was quashed by a board of directors. Women’s football is still recovering from that frightening bit of rhetoric.

Related: Beryl review – Maxine Peake’s freewheeling tribute to a cycling legend

Related: How it feels for professional athletes when they are criticised by amateurs

Related: What professional athletes think about while they recover from serious injuries

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How it feels for professional athletes when they are criticised by amateurs

Why do people who have no experience of top-level sport feel compelled to advise professional athletes? If you have a smart idea that could improve their game, it’s probably not something they haven’t already considered themselves

• By James Willstrop for the Guardian Sport Network

England’s cricket team, after finding themselves in a mess in Australia over the past few weeks, have had to endure rapacious media reaction, which comes as no surprise. Much of the recrimination has come from outspoken yet knowledgable experts such as Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan, who tend to give uber-critical appraisals. Boycott especially enjoys firing in, and it’s entertainment value, but he and Vaughan seem to have repudiated the team’s attempts to embrace certain forms of analysis.

A year or two ago Boycott comically belittled a document on nutrition that was being handed around the England dressing room. Of course in Geoff’s day they could get by on a pie, a pot of Tetley (tea probably, perhaps bitter) and a vanilla slice at the break, which he might still believe should suffice; no doubt this is the fuel of proper men who play proper cricket who didn’t worry about silly little things things like food.

Related: James Willstrop: from career-threatening injury to Commonwealth Games glory

@HomeboyHotel but I also did that 2 times last week after matches.. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean I’m not doing it

@HomeboyHotel it’s nothing to do with that… You have a problem with amelie and blame alot on her but you have no idea about the work we do

Related: What professional athletes think about while they recover from serious injuries

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James Willstrop: from career-threatening injury to Commonwealth Games glory

When I was told that my career as a professional squash player could be ended by a hip injury I wondered if I should visit the local Job Centre. Twenty-five years of this punishing sport had taken their toll, but the end was not in sight just yet
• By James Willstrop for the Guardian Sport Network

It’s not unusual, as a professional squash player, to wake up the morning after a week-long tournament and find that walking is hard work. On the Saturday morning after the final of the Canary Wharf Classic in London in March 2014, when the difficulties were slightly more pronounced than usual, I still wasn’t thinking the problem would be significant enough to change the whole outlook of the next year of my life.

There was no snap, no fall and nothing major whatsoever, but this acute-ish hip soreness wasn’t to be another short-term niggle. The mental perspective was about to take a change, and any athlete or amateur whose sporting career has been threatened by injury will attest that is an odd feeling.

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