Malcolm Willstrop

presents his views and reports
from the world of squash ...



 

  

Willstrop's Words Archive

Recent Words:  Raising the Profile ... Looking Ahead ... US Open ... Becky Botwright ... 11-point scoring ... Pontefract's Young Guns ... The England Camp ... League star sings praises of squash ... Soundness ...

27-Oct:
Gerrard Super 8
A retrospect

Anyone who attended the Gerrard Super 8 will know that it was a success.

A venue transformed

The venue had been transformed by Jim Quigley and his merry men and women into a warm and intimate setting and its compact nature meant that spectators were close to the action. The crowds were large all four days, and knowledgeable at that. Everyone working at the Centre was friendly and helpful and the whole atmosphere was to the organiser's credit.

Steve Evans, the former Rugby League international, representing Gerrard, was instrumental in making it all happen.

Players out to Impress

The players, as they rarely do these days, let no-one down. Disappointingly Peter Nicol sustained an unpleasant-looking injury in his first match and Lee Beachill a less severe one in his second, so they bowed out. But the organisers did well to get in-form pair Simon Parke and Peter Barker as replacements.

The champion, Thierry Lincou, showed his durability, winning two massive matches against David Palmer and the final with John White, both lasting over 90 minutes, on successive days. He also survived the award of a conduct game against him at a crucial stage of the Palmer match - and it was a harsh decision. So nobody can deny him his success - he earned it!

White is threatening to win, and sometimes, with the new scoring, he looks unplayable. But he has yet to see it through.

James Willstrop contributed plenty. His match with White was another exceptional one and he put Parke aside before finishing third after an excellent performance against Karim Darwish, two genuine racket players.

Palmer will be disappointed with fifth place, but it all hung on a thread - 11/10(2-0) in the fifth to Lincou and he played well against Beachill to lead 2-0 before the world no 1 retired. So he can be consoled by that.

Far from Heaven

I suppose not much in life is perfect and the M62 to Manchester is no-one's idea of heaven. On Friday night it needed three hours to get from Pontefract to Sportcity, not much over forty miles.

I didn't understand the 11am start on Saturday morning, especially as Manchester City were not at home and a late start on finals night meant a very late finish, with spectators presumably working the next day. I got home at 1.45am. But then I don't work much! I wonder too, if Monday is a good night for finals, or would Thursday to Sunday be better.

Just suggestions, and I'm sure there were good reasons for things as they were.

An oddity was Tournament Director Paul Walters' decision to promote himself as compere, whilst the capable and experienced Andrew Nickeas acted as his sidekick. He certainly gave the word 'huge' new significance in the English language, and having failed, he should restrict himself to the things he does well - compering is not one of them.

Here to stay we hope

The whole venture, however, was a success indeed and one which everyone will hope will become a feature of the Squash Calendar.

Well done Steve Evans and Gerrard and well done Jim Quigley, as ever.

Gerrard Super 8
FULL DETAILS



 





Gerrard Super 8
FULL DETAILS

 


Final:
Thierry Lincou
bt John White
11/10(3-1), 5/11, 11/9, 8/11, 11/7 (98m)

  

05-Oct:
Raising the Profile


LEE ON TV

Lee going to one in the world has enabled the game of squash to obtain some welcome publicity.

An appearance on BBC TV Look North at peak viewing time gave Lee the chance to show that , although he is not an effusive type, he can certainly put himself over. And although nobody, except perhaps footballers, get too much time in such programmes, Lee was accorded his share.

Harry Gration, who was instrumental in setting up Lee's appearance - thanks to him for that - asked most of the right questions, but one less pertinent one: "Why Pontefract?"

There is no particular reason why world champions or no 1's can't come from anywhere. All that is needed is the right circumstances for players to prosper. Peter Nicol (Aberdeen), David Palmer (outback Australia) and Cassie Jackman (rural Norfolk) are immediate examples of places that perhaps wouldn't suggest themselves as ideal for the production of world champions.

ON THE COVER

With the delectable Becky Botwright on the front cover of The Squash Player and Becky, Lauren Siddall and Kirsty McPhee on the cover of the excellent French equivalent Planete Squash, progress has been made in raising the profile of the game, at least immediately.

Not for one minute am I suggesting that the glamour be confined to girls only. Readers will be aware of the picture of Peter, Lee, John and James open-shirted taken at Pontefract on the Charity Night last May. That has featured on the Squash Player website and nothing would please me more than to see that on the front of the magazine.

SQUASH: BE PROUD

We have a game to be proud of: it involves top class athletes, who stand comparison with any sportsmen/women. They are invariably articulate and personable and conduct themselves in a proper manner.

We have courts that can be and are placed in the most spectacular settings imaginable. Raising the sport's image is most necessary to improve the material lot of the tour players, to stimulate clubs and encourage youngsters.

LET'S HAVE A BET

The other thing that needs developing is betting. Any game you can name can be bet on and they are all featured in the Racing Post. Squash is one of the very few remarkable for its absence.

A start was made with Stan James, but when the Eye Group deal, with its promise of eight televised tournaments, fell through the interest of such a big company waned, understandably.

However I have not given up and a bookmaker friend, who is a squash interested person, is hoping to set things up very shortly, so watch the Squash Player website for details.

So let's all get with it and wherever there is a chance to publicise the sport, let's do it.

And a final well done to Becky, Lauren and Kirsty for putting themselves on the line, and to Peter, Lee, John and James for opening up their shirts.

 

Pontefract Celebrates Lee's Success ...

Pontefract Squash Club is well known for its sociability and doesn't need much invitation to stage a party. So Lee's elevation to world no 1 was as good an excuse as anyone could wish for. I have to say I noticed a massive difference between him being no 2 and no 1. I suppose the lesson is that there's not much room in life for runners-up or no 2's.

Originally scheduled for October 1st, the day the official rankings were released, Lee had to be in Warwickshire for a promotional exhibition with David Palmer. So it was re-scheduled for Sunday 3rd.

Lee (very generously) although enriched by his achievement, provided a free bar between 7.30pm and 9.30pm and Gerrard, sponsors of the forthcoming Super Eight at the end of the month, provided the champagne.

As Lee said in his speech, whether because of the free bar or in celebration of his achievement, he was impressed by the size of the turnout there to greet him.

I had the pleasure of recounting Lee's achievements through my 17 years' association with him at Pontefract. The recommendation of Tim Heeley, who clearly recognised his potential, that he join me; the month's ban, after a show of petulance after losing a match and from there a lesson learned.

Lee had an outstanding junior career, winning British titles at every age group and leading England to World Team success in Cairo, beating the World Junior Champion, Ahmed Faizy. Although European U19 Champion, he did not win the world title, though those who were there considered that his defeat in Cairo had very little to do with fair play.

His injuries and illness in his early twenties have been well chronicled and after a couple of years in the top ten, he made the final breakthrough. Beginning with the Qatar Classic late in 2003, followed by the Bermuda Open, the English Open and, crowning all, the US Open which took him to no 1, a level of consistency at the highest levels which earned due reward.

He has one or two special achievements: he became the first player to win successive British titles and he won the last PSA event players PAR to 15 when he took the English Open at The Crucible.

There is not much chance of anybody, not even the world no 1, getting too big for his boots at Pontefract and Lee's eloquent speech made it clear how he feels about the club that has fostered and nurtured him.

He paid tribute to those close to him and to all the members, who had contributed in any way to his success, stating how much more pleasurable shared success is.

The party went on long into the night, Lee being one of the last to leave because, sober, he had the responsibility of guiding club owner Michael Todd, not sober, home.

Top Elvis impersonator Alan Norrish was still there at 4am and two neighbours of James Willstrop, Diane and Pam, did their best to lower house prices in Tennyson Way.

Late on, or in the early hours, Lee sang 'Angels' to remind us that not only can he play squash and talk, he can sing as well. He will be performing again at the Club's Christmas Dinner in December when Sylvan Richardson and his top class musicians will be making a welcome re-appearance.

 

 

01-Oct:

Looking Ahead ...

America is the scent of the PSA Tour in October in St Louis and Detroit, but action resumes closer to home with the Gerrard Super Eight at Manchester's Sportcity from 22nd to 25th October.

Gerrard are a major wealth management company who have sponsored at the famous Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, so their involvement in squash is much to be welcomed.

The invited eight are in two groups: Peter Nicol, John White, James Willstrop and wildcard Nick Taylor make up one, and Lee Beachill (the new world number one), David Palmer, Thierry Lincou and Karim Darwish form the other.

Beginning on Friday, there will be four matches each night, which will lead to play-offs for all eight players on Monday night.

The first night sees Beachill, the US Open champion, pitted against Lincou, who won the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open impressively. They met in the semi-finals in Hong Kong, but prior to that hadn't met for a long time, so it is a match full of interest between two in-form players.

White, in need of a strong performance, faces Willstrop, and remembering their exceptional match at The Crucible in August, the crowd should be well entertained, whatever the outcome.

Palmer and Darwish will be another fascinating match and deposed world number one Nicol seems to have an easier task against Taylor, now in semi-retirement - no longer on the world tour but busy coaching, which he may find equally demanding!

With the prospect of four nights of entertainment of this quality and the added factor of 11 scoring, it is hard to imagine that spectators are in for anything other than a treat.

There will be nothing of the exhibition at this event, since the prize money differentials are such that all eight will be eager for success. Add to that the fact that the British Open follows soon after, so players will be eager to test their form.

Tickets for the final are in a high demand, but every night promises much, so my advice to any squash enthusiast would be to get there without fail.



Gerrard Super 8
FULL DETAILS

 

An Evening with
the Willstrops ...

James Willstrop and Nick Taylor will provide your club with an evening's entertainment, managed by Malcolm Willstrop.

If you are interested, please contact Malcolm on
01977 793333.

The Willstrops at Wimbledon

"As a general rule, I don’t like exhibition matches. But I must say, the Willstrops know how to entertain."

              
Framboise Gommendy

 

25-Sep:
The US Open ...

    

in distant retrospect

Malcolm looks at the the US Open and its ramifications at the top of the game ...

Lee Beachill's win in Boston, which gave him the World no 1 spot, was obviously a great pleasure personally, since Lee is a model professional, gifted, hard-working and steadfast. He has been rewarded for consistently applying himself in the face of difficulties and the lesson is, I suppose, that endeavour and persistence are often rewarded.

The welcome return to form of the world's outstanding player, Peter Nicol, was another feature of the event. Having just resisted Anthony Ricketts, also on his way back after injury, in the first round, he beat the improving Nick Matthew 3/1 and Joe Kneipp more comfortably 3/0 in the semi final. Peter's resilience is legendary and he is clearly not finished by any means.

Jonathon Power's enforced absence was disappointing, since he is very popular in America, and there were signs in Hong Kong that the new scoring would suit him. Let's hope he gets over his injuries soon.

Simon Parke continued his run - final at the Crucible, 1st round in Hong Kong and quarters in Boston, having to qualify in all - with an outstanding win over Thierry Lincou, who must have fancied his chances after Hong Kong where he won convincingly. Simon also dashed the Frenchman's hope  of a return to number one and Lee owes him a drink or two.

John White made an early exit at the hands of the skilful and easy-on-the-eye Dan Jenson. By no means under-rating the Aussie, John may not have been helped by his travelling programme: Hong Kong -  Bratislava - Boston with little time in between. He might have been better off at home with the twins!

Amr Shabana is not finding the World crown easy to live with - a loss to Thierry in Hong Kong and now put out in Boston by the competent Graham Ryding, who himself looked in good form in Hong Kong.

There is no doubt that refereeing has become more crucial than ever with the increased value of points with 11 scoring. Not being privy to the refereeing situation, I am not sure how the standard can be improved, but official bodies need to know how significant they and their decisions are.



 


 

 

14-Sep:
Becky Botwright:
EUROPEAN CHAMP!

Malcolm Willstrop reflects on the European success of a Pontefract favourite

The field of the revived European Women's Championship in Bratislava may not have been the strongest, but Becky's win gave me great pleasure.

She has been part of the Pontefract set-up for four years or so and she has been a joy to coach, since I know of no player who works harder or who is more receptive. A fine athlete, I am sure there is a lot more to come from her.

Universally popular, all Pontefract will share in her win in Bratislava, as will her friends in Lancashire.

Nor will her popularity decrease after she appears on the front cover of the next issue of the Squash Player magazine!
 




Becky with fellow champion
Gregory Gaultier in Bratislava



Semi-final v Sarah Kippax



Advice from Big Sis Vicky

 

FINAL:

[2] Becky Botwright (Eng) bt
[1] Vicky Hynes (Eng)
      8/10, 2/9, 9/4, 9/4, 9/5 (72m)  

 

10-Sep:
PSA 11-point scoring
 
In my approval of the new scoring system (see below), I omitted to say how the tie-breaks had added to the excitement. Two points clear produces highly-charged rallies, with match balls and game balls often alternating.

The more distant 15 produced less crucial rallies and took too long to reach.

Another factor which emerged was that players were able to recover against unfavourable scorelines, surprisingly perhaps. But it happened too often to be ignored.

Another undesirable aspect of the 15 point game was the willingness of players to let a game go if they fell well behind. That was not acceptable and I am happy to bid that goodbye.

07-Sep:
Hong Kong Afterthoughts

Back in Pontefract after the Cathay Pacific Open,
Malcolm reflects on Hong Kong ...


Unable to re-arrange my flight home, I was unable to be with Lee in the semi-final and unable to complete my coverage of the championship. I was unhappy to have missed the match, and if anyone missed my account of events - probably doubtful [oh, I don't think so, Ed.] - I apologise.

The dignity of losers: Peter Nicol, John White, Anthony Ricketts, Azlan Iskandar, two of whom led 2-0, is a credit to them. James Willstrop struggled a bit after leading 2-0 and losing to Amr Shabana. He disappeared into the Hong Kong night!

The world no 1 spot is looking likely to change again, though the US Open will clearly affect matters. Thierry Lincou and Lee Beachill are principal contenders and Peter Nicol will need to score in Boston, since he goes there as champion.

Perhaps the dark spot of what was a quite exceptional event, was the refereeing. How you solve the problem I have no idea, but the quality of the play and the players deserved better. Several matches were very badly handled and when points are worth 15/11ths more than before, and when the finishing line is 4/15ths closer, points become more and more crucial.

Congratulations to Heather Dayton and Tony Choi and the tournament committee on a job well done. They both made everyone feel very welcome and nothing was too much trouble.

With the Hong Kong Open behind them, the players will arrive in Boston next week better armed. What they produced last week was great to watch, so those at the US Open are guaranteed excitement and attack of a high order.

I can honestly say I have never been so well entertained at a squash tournament. There were many excellent matches, few disappointing ones, and there can only be one reason - the 11 points a game scoring. For those who think the game may be devalued by the reduction from 15 to 11, have no fear. It's the best thing to have happened for ages.

Clearly coaches and players will need to adapt, but apart from Nicol, the seeded players all made the last eight. Lincou's persistent precision, White's power, Power's racket skill, Palmer's all-round game and Beachill's control and delay will all reap rewards and there are plenty of others with enough to their game to be a threat. Nick Matthew is proof of that.

Full Hong Kong coverage from Malcolm
 

 

18-May:
National Club Championships - Ladies
Pontefract's Young Guns On the Up

Pontefract's ladies team have been hitting the high spots, recently having been featured in the Sunday Newspapers for their looks and they showed that they can play squash.

Bidding for a record third consecutive win, the all-international team with an average age of 20, dismissed hosts Nottingham 5-0 in the semi-final to set up a final with the experienced New Eltham side.

Experience could not counter youth of this quality and Pontefract's young guns shot the opposition to pieces 5-0 without yielding a single game.

As holders, Pontefract go to Austria to defend their European title in September and with such a classy, young side they are sure to acquit themselves with credit, under the managership of Terry Dudley.

The travelling Pontefract support returned to the club for celebrations and were joined by squash legend Sarah Fitz-Gerald, five times World Champion, and looking at her in the National League final still the best woman player in the world. Fitzy played for Pontefract when they won last year's European Championship and she remains a great favourite at Pontefract.

The future has to be bright for the young Pontefract side and they are already European, British and Yorkshire League champions, as well as Yorkshire Cup holders.

The appearance of Becky Botwright, Laure Siddall and Kirsty McPhee, suitably attired, in The People and The Daily Star has already brought challenges from Hollywood, the LA Club, Bishops Stortford and Monton.
 


Pontefract's winning squad

 


National Club Champs,
Ladies Results

 

NATIONAL CLUB
CHAMPS FINALS
full details

 

08-May:
Charity Night at Pontefract
Malcolm reports on "the night of all nights"
at Pontefract ...


Pontefract Squash Club staged the night of all nights when Peter Nicol, John White, Lee Beachill and James Willstrop provided the squash and Sylvan Richardson directed a star cast of musical talent from the squash world.

A crowd, sold out weeks in advance, saw Peter and Lee challenged by John and James at singles and doubles, with David Campion as master of ceremonies.

The outcome of the matches was of little consequence as the four stars of the squash world shared their skills and humour. John revels in such situations, Lee was high from the birth of his son Ben, and Peter and James were determined to make a night which commemorated their mums, Sigrid and Lesley, an enjoyable one.

Sylvan had left no stone unturned to match the squash and the band consisted of himself on the drums, the brilliant keyboard player Andy Kingslow, Daryl Clarkson guitar, supported by Stafford Murray, who, able performer though he is, confessed that he felt humble in such company, all supported by top class sound systems.

Anne Jones, a classical mezzo-soprano, topped the bill with George Shearing's Lullaby of Birdland and Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. Andy Procter has an outstanding voice and his offerings of Baby Grand and Never Saw a Miracle brought the house down.

Alan Norrish, in full regalia, gave his unique Elvis treatment to
Trouble and The Wonder of You and James Willstrop, despite never having sung live before and confessing to being very nervous, responded with Somewhere only we know and Tender, much to the delight of the crowd.

Martin Sunderland from Queen's Halifax, Dave Walker and stepdaughter Claire, Hayley Nevins and Willis Rushton were the remainder of an outstanding bill and to witness superb performances, much aided by Sylvan and Andy, was a privilege.

The whole cast came together to end the programme with Lou Reed's Perfect Day and deservedly Sylvan, his band and singers were given a tumultuous ovation.

The auction with 4 badges for Timeform's Charity Day at York in June, hairstyling, and therapy massage by the club's resident stars Susan and Sarah, shirts signed by the players as well as signed photographs, taken by Andrew Box, and other items helped towards an outstanding total of £3,500 to go to Cancer Research and Raynaud's Scleroderma.

Peter Lonsdale followed with his disco and there were several left at 6am, including Mick Todd, proprietor, Susan, Sarah and would you believe it the World no 1 Peter Nicol.

Longstanding members of the Pontefract Club said that it was the best night in its history, praise indeed for a club renowned for its
sociability.
 
 

 

06-May-04
The England Team
A Happy & Successful Camp ...


Nick Matthew, whose dramatic progress up the world rankings has, I am sure, been helped by international recognition, made the point that he would rather have the England team cheering for him than the 2,200 French supporters in the magnificent Le Liberté in Rennes.

Having been a peripheral part of the England team during the week of the championships, I have been very aware, as I was in Vienna, that the England camp is a very happy one. Everyone knows that a happy team in any sport is likely to produce results, which is what happened in Rennes.

No doubt the semi-final in Vienna had left scars which needed to be healed and the English response was evident to everyone in Rennes.

In truth, on paper, French prospects were negligible. The England youngsters Matthew, Grant and Willstrop have all improved rapidly since Vienna and with Nicol back at world no 1, where he still belongs, and Beachill steady at 4, the team has a balanced look.

From the moment Matthew and Willstrop bestrode the court, French optimism diminished. They both had a focused, “thou shall not pass” look and played accordingly.

Nicol then captured the necessary game with the same approach and proceeded to entertain the crowd with an amazing display of skill and shots. What a remarkable player he is and how England has profited from having him.

With the Australians in disarray from injuries, the England team is arguably as good an international team as currently exists and, being young, it has a future.

It was interesting to hear the views of many experienced squash men outside the England camp recognising the quality of the side and that it is a happy camp.

The World Class Performance strategy will always have its critics, many of whom may have a personal agenda - indeed I have just lost two players, both of whom work very hard, Lauren Siddall and Kirsty McPhee - but in the last analysis results speak for themselves and England’s World Class Performance players are achieving results.

The selection policies have become more aware of future needs and the choices of Vicky Botwright, Jenny Duncalf and Adrian Grant are to be applauded. They all performed well and fitted in readily - they are classy players who work hard and will benefit from the Rennes experience.

Malcolm Willstrop
 

 


Another Euro win for England

 



Malcolm reports
from Rennes

 

Full Euro Teams Details

16-Apr-04:
League Star sings the
Praises of Squash


Rugby League legend, Ellery Hanley, who, since last year’s English Open has been present on many squash occasions, is proving to be a major asset.

His friendship with John White is well-founded and John – the world number 1 – was quick to acknowledge Ellery’s contribution at the British Closed. Being around Ellery is most definitely a learning experience, since his knowledge of world class sport, coupled with his philosophical outlook, makes him compulsive listening.

He is quick to acknowledge the top professionals in squash and, as a player, he knows what it takes to become top-class. What is more he misses no opportunity to tell people what a demanding game squash is and how good the players are.

Recently he took John White and James Willstrop as his guests to Headingley for the Leeds v Bradford match. Speaking at the pre-match dinner and then again at half-time in an on the field interview he was quick to sing the praises of his guests.

Full story, with more photos & mini-video
 


FULL STORY

08-Apr-04:
Soundness
With several top players suffering long-term injury problems, Malcolm looks at what it takes to stay sound in today's game ...

The apparent loss through injury to the world game of Stewart Boswell and the knee which threatens Anthony Ricketts are, for the individuals concerned, too catastrophic to contemplate.

It is true, too, that several of the world's top ten players have also had lesser injuries. This has contributed to the ever changing scene at the top of the world rankings. John White seems to be amongst the soundest and Lee Beachill is sound enough, now that he is no longer accident-prone.

Several of the very best players are around the thirty mark, so it is reasonable that wear and tear is a factor.

The game, too, has altered drastically with the lower tin, reduced scoring and the emphasis on attack, assisted by glass courts with a greater awareness of the need to entertain.

Those who were at Canary Wharf were well entertained as the players there revelled in the conditions and they, the players, need to bring these attitudes onto the PSA circuit to keep and improve the game's appeal.

But the body is going to be pulled around more than ever before and the demands on top squash players put whingeing footballers and their managers to shame with their two matches a week, especially with the money they are being paid.

In days of yore when Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt plied their trade, it was inevitable that they would finish up with problems. They did not have the benefit of Sports Science and expert advice.

Today's players work in a much more enlightened age, as they need to do. They can come off the back of PSA events, with all they entail, straight into the demanding domestic competition of National and Super League, as well as high-powered County League.

The time for resting and practice is at a premium, as is the time to see physios. All the facilities available will help players to stay sound, but principal factors in my opinion are the ways in which players have been raised. It is a dangerous and easy route to over-train players physically when they are young. This may well bring instant results, but the consequences may be unsoundness.

There is, too, the genetic factor.

So rather than looking at players in terms of height and build it might be better to examine how they have been managed physically, how good they are at looking after themselves and, where possible, at the genetic connections.

My own preference has always been to go gradually with players, waiting till their bodies are strong enough for a heavier workload. I have seen nothing to make me change that opinion and it is quite reassuring that, after appropriate time, there may well be a lot more to come when serious training is undertaken.
 


 

Charity Night at Pontefract
Sat 8th May


A charity night will be held at Pontefract to remember Sigrid Nicol, mother of Peter, and Lesley Willstrop, mother of James and David Campion, where all proceeds will be divided between Backup Cancer and Reynaud's Scleroderma.

Peter and James will be supported by World no 1 John White and Lee Beachill in providing squash entertainment, with David acting as Master of Ceremonies.

The squash will be followed by a musical evening, directed by Sylvan Richardson, formerly of Simply Red, and will bring together some of the best musical talent in the squash world.

Peter Lonsdale, Pontefract player and well known in Teesside will provide the disco and Karaoke and a long night is expected, with breakfast available for those with stamina!

For tickets
tel: 019 777 93333

 

26-Mar-04:
Canary Wharf Classic
Great crowds all week were topped by a sell-out on finals night and Peter Nicol and world no 1 John White, which sounds like a final, played the third/fourth play-off.

They were determined to entertain, which is a part of what these players need to do, and that was no problem to two of the most popular players in the world. They swapped shirts, ran like demented dervishes, talked to anyone who would listen and gave the crowd, freed from their City Labours, an hour's worth of pure skill and comedy.

The serious stuff was about to happen however, since Thierry Lincou, rediscovering some form through the event, and ambitious James Willstrop were not too concerned with the lighter side ...

Willstrop on the Wharf - Malcolm reports from Canary Wharf

Malcolm prefaced his final report with "sorry to have to write about James". 

23-Mar-04:
PROFILE:
RAISING THE GAME

by Malcolm Willstrop

I doubt if anyone with the welfare of squash at heart would disagree with me when I say that raising the game's profile is of paramount importance.

After those seemingly heady days over twenty years ago, when the game became public property, we are probably at our lowest ebb in terms of newspaper and television coverage, despite the efforts of such journalists as Colin McQuillan, Dicky Rutnagur and Richard Eaton. Nor am I undermining Sky's splendid offerings, but in the days of the Hi-Tec British Open we had terrestrial television coverage.

The quality of the world's leading players, the positive way in which the game is played these days and the glamorous settings in which the glass court can be placed are surely assets, which could earn more recognition.

Do not pretend, either, that publicity is unnecessary, since the financial lot of the professional player is not always a happy one. I am amazed how little players in some major events earn even when they have reached the later stages. They deserve more and publicity is the main way of achieving that.

The National Bodies who represent squash have not always, if ever, seemed cognisant of the need to attract publicity and few employ the necessary specialists for that purpose. That should be a first requirement.

It is never enough to offer criticism without suggesting how matters may be improved.

My own experience is that coverage, even at advanced levels can be achieved but not without persistence, and as with all things, it is the glamour aspects of the sport which will appeal to a more general public.

Some of the world's leading players are not too good at promoting the game themselves, but there are several that are. Peter Nicol is a prime example and he and those like him must be maximised.

At the considerable risk of being branded sexist, there is a host of attractive girls playing the game at high levels. Not only could they raise the profile, but they would appeal to younger girls who may be attracted to the sport.

Whatever people think most younger girls want to play a sport that makes them feel comfortable and look good. Squash fits that bill.

I may be appearing to talk about top players, but they are the means by which the game can attract publicity, from which everyone can benefit: youngsters and new players will be made more aware of the sport and more inclined to give it a try.

Local coverage is much less of a problem, I believe, and certainly in the area I live Fred Willis has done over the years, and still does, a marvellous job for squash in the Yorkshire Evening Post, and the local Pontefract paper is very receptive. My experience of other areas is similar.

But useful and worthwhile though that is, it is not sufficient on its own and national coverage is what is required.

The other factor which would influence profile is betting. Look in the Racing Post and you can bet on any sport you care to name, except squash. The misguided notion that it would lead to fixed matches is bound to be raised, but if tennis and snooker can handle it, as they have done with not much trouble, then there is no reason to suppose squash cannot do so.

Certainly with the men's game as it is, any bookmakers would be happy to be involved. They could hardly have lost this year.

If we had nothing to shout about, there would be no point in these thoughts, but I think the game is as good or better than it has ever been.

We can all welcome the Canary Wharf Invitation Eight, staged by Eventis which begins tonight.

Set amongst London's wealth, in glamorous surroundings, here is an event guaranteed to raise the profile.

Well done Peter, Tim and Angus and everyone connected. I hope it is a great success.

[Malcolm will be reporting daily from this week's
Canary Wharf Classic
]
 

 


 

 


Making a start:
The 2004 British Open
will feature in a BBC TV Grandstand highlights programme on 7th Oct.
FULL STORY


 


The Glamour Aspect:
Willstrop in the Sunday Times
FULL STORY

 


 
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27-Feb-04
Men's World Scene
Nobody would dispute that the Men's World Tour is the most fascinating it has ever been. 2003's results proved that and what has since happened in Kuwait, Sweden and New York has done nothing to change that view.

Thierry Lincou's hold on the no. 1 spot did not appear to be a secure one and we now know just how short-lived, since John White goes to no. 1 in March, having squandered previous opportunities. Everyone, except maybe Lincou, will be pleased for the popular Aussie.

Peter Nicol, who loves being knocked down so he can get up again - a bit like British Heavyweight boxers of yesteryear - seemed to have recovered from his pre-Christmas virus when he won in Kuwait. But worryingly he had to concede to Lee Beachill in the British Closed, feeling breathless.

Defying the Doctor, he went to New York and what did he do? He won again, beating the in-form White, who won the British Championship, in the glamorous Tournament of Champions.

Lee Beachill lost to White in a splendid British final and then lost again, more easily, in the semi-final in New York, where the draw gave him every chance.

Amr Shabana's win in the World Championship looked suspect form, despite his undoubted talent, and he has been shot down in Kuwait and Sweden. He is not going to find life easy.

David Palmer is a big time operator: a World Title and two British Opens to his credit, but he had a seriously troubled 2003, and, back and apparently firing on all cylinders, he suffered a reverse in New York. He is definitely not to be written off though, since he is strong and bloody-mindedly determined.

Jonathon Power, one of the great players, is not finding consistency too easy. He can still compete with the best, but doing it day after day seems another matter. He may become a less frequent winner at the highest level, but will remain a major attraction.

Anthony Ricketts has had a knee operation and his surge has been halted, presumable only temporarily. Stewart Boswell, sadly, seems to have been beaten by his back.

Injuries have certainly played a part. Nicol, Palmer, Power, Lincou and Ricketts have all had problems of various sorts, some minor others major.

Oddly enough Beachill, who had a chequered career in his early twenties, seems now to be sounder than most, though that's where White is scoring heavily at the moment. We have all seen him do the splits!

I doubt if any of these main players have lost their desire, but some are over 30 and others are close to it, when the motivation may wane.

None of them are going to dominate as Nicol and Power have done, which makes every event full of interest.

Bermuda is next and then the very significant Qatar Masters when the world's top 32 will be in action playing for big points.

 


Nicol & White in New York


Lincou loses #1 spot in NY


Shabana finds it hard going in Kuwait

2004 So Far ...

16-Feb-04
British Closed: Men's Final

John White, whose form is becoming enigmatic and who had not impressed in his matches with Alex Gough and Adrian Grant, put those behind him with a convincing display in the final.

Attacking from the outset, hitting the ball low and hard, which is what he does best, he was clearly in a different frame of mind than he was in the semi-final, when he did none of that.

Beachill, having had less to do prior to the final, had looked in good form and he was up to what White was offering. White edged the first game on merit, but Beachill had the better of the second until inexplicably and wantonly he hit four successive shots down to go behind 2-0.

It was White who regained a narrow initiative in the third and at 14-12, the title looked to be his. But no, Beachill, reluctant to leave his favourite setting prematurely, saved three match balls and took it 15-14.

Resistance continued until midway through the fourth when White drew clear to win his first British title. 15/8 after over 80 minutes.

White has formed a close friendship with rugby league legend Ellery Hanley and he was quick to acknowledge the benefits of the guru's advice. He had stayed throughout the week with the Hanley family at their house in Manchester.

The championships were a great success thanks to Jim Quigley and his merry men. The venue is fantastic, the large crowds were knowledgeable and appreciative.

For what Manchester does for squash those of us involved in the game would like to thank them.

More from Malcolm on the Nationals



Beachill can't keep White at bay


John White is congratulated
by Ellery Hanley

01-Feb-04
James Willstrop in Kuwait

Risking the wrath of those who think I only write about James and English players, I feel sure there are some who will be interested in his thoughts about the sensational performances he managed in Kuwait City.

After a much-needed break during the holiday period, it was clear that James was in good shape for Kuwait. I particularly enjoyed his match with Simon Parke in the National League, when I could see his racket was working and he was thoroughly enjoying himself. The fact that the match was extended was very helpful.

I was therefore confident that James would play well in Kuwait, though with such a quality field and a qualifier to get through there was no point in expecting too much.

In the final qualifying round he faced the gentlemanly Omar Borolossy, whose recent form had been good and a 3-0 win in 40 minutes augured well, especially as James told me he had played well, something he rarely says.

One qualifying slot in the main draw looked appealing: Ong Beng Hee, who has been out of form, to play John White, and fortunately that's what he got.

After a very tough first game which James sneaked 17/16 he beat Ong 3-0 to give him a quarter-final against John, already exceeding expectations.

We have both long felt that of the top six players in the world, John was the one he might have a chance against, if things went well. This is no disrespect to John, but a matter of styles. Obviously if John was at his very best James could forget it.

From what he says he didn't see the ball in the first game, but as the storm abated he gradually eased his way into the match, won a crucial third narrowly and the fourth convincingly. He was euphoric when he rang Pontefract as were his fans there, but I reminded him that the tournament wasn't over and if he wanted to give himself a chance in the semi-final he needed to refocus quickly.

Jonathon Power has been, and still is, a player who has influenced James with his immense racket skills, and Jonathon has always been ready to acknowledge James's promise.

They played a wonderfully watchable match at Nottingham in the British Open, but James is much stronger physically now.

He decided to take the game to Jonathon and felt that he played exceptionally for him to lead 2-0. He was close to a 3-0 win at 11-all, but Jonathon has done it all before countless times and took the next two, both 15/12.

Odds on the Canadian now, but from 5-all James took control and won 15/9 for more euphoria. Observers reckoned the match had just about everything - fluctuations in score, stroke-making of the highest order, Jonathon's sense of theatre and ultimate sporting acknowledgement of his young pretender.

The final of the Kuwait Open with Lincou, Palmer, Beachill, Shabana and Power all departed - scarcely believable - pinch yourself and wake up in the night to see if it's true.

Come the morning of the final and yes, it definitely is true. Another flight to rearrange, sore feet to repair, head to sort out to make sure the final suits the occasion.

James began well against Peter, led 12/8, couldn't capitalise, lost it to 13 but attacked forthrightly to win the second to feel he was back in the match.

In the third weariness set in and Peter was quick to seize the initiative, but in the fourth James staged an acceptable recovery before bowing out after 63 minutes, hardly a decision for the officials to make and the capacity crowd of six to seven hundred well satisfied, as was James.

He thought that had he been fresher, he could have got a little closer, but was quick to acknowledge Peter's superiority and marvelled at the champion's ability to come back again. As he stated after the match his success in Kuwait doesn't mean he's there, but he will gain in confidence and hope to consolidate.

The Swedish Open next week, after several domestic engagements, will be a test and he will hope he has recovered in time.

 


John White in the quarters


Jonathon Power in the semis


Peter Nicol in the final


James leaves his mark
on new-found fans


A man of many talents ...