England’s No.1 men’s player and defending Commonwealth Games singles champion James Willstrop is looking forward to fighting for his place at next year’s Commonwealth Games and says competing in the Games is a wonderful feeling.
The 38-year-old, who has competed in the last four Games, upset Paul Coll – last month’s British Open champion – in the final of last edition’s Games on the Gold Coast. Speaking about that monumental win, the Yorkshireman said: “It was so unexpected. I wasn’t there that week thinking about winning necessarily and in the moment you win it you realise all those years of work and effort came together on that occasion.
“I think the good thing about it is I did it in a way that was healthy and happy as well. I just enjoyed being at the event and I think at a lot of big events in my career I hadn’t found that.”
Despite having bagged singles gold last time out – in addition to the silvers earned in 2010 and 2014 – Willstrop is as hungry as ever to compete in the Games again. He explains: “To win a Commonwealth Games medal and to be there is a huge deal. There’s no question in a squash player’s world that it should be a big thing. To me it certainly is. I think because of the experiences I’ve had and the enjoyment I’ve had every time. They’ve just been incredible trips and at the end of every single one I’ve felt like it’s been the end of the world!”
He adds: “It’s one of those experiences that are lovely for any professional to enjoy. Apart from the adulation that came with winning it or getting a medal or just being a competitor there was a wonderful feeling. And now it’s in Birmingham, how good is that!?”
When asked what is is that makes the Games so special, Willstrop’s answer is simple.
“It’s not the same as the other events. You’re going into a different realm. The spirit of the thing, the way it works with the village, it’s all about [being there] among other sports, there’s a team thing. All those things make it so different and exciting.”
Should Willstrop be there in Birmingham next year – he says he “might be able to squeeze in there if I can keep healthy” – the World No.26 will relish being able to enjoy an event that’s as special for his loved ones as it is for him.
He concludes: “The best bit about it is ringing home and sharing it with those people who’ve helped you and given you everything to go and do it. It’s about them really.”