James Willstrop refuses to call it quits despite medal disappointment

·4 min read
James Willstrop refuses to call it quits despite medal disappointment

Squash veteran James Willstrop admitted he probably should have retired ten years ago after losing his bronze medal match at Birmingham 2022 to close friend Saurav Ghosal.

But the 38-year-old champion from the Gold Coast stopped short of calling it quits following his 3-0 (11-6 11-1 11-4) loss to India’s number one at the University of Birmingham.

It’s only the second time England’s all-time most capped player, who was born in North Walsham but lives in Yorkshire, has lost to 35-year-old Ghosal in their 13th meeting.

Yet despite his body letting him down after a punishing week at his fifth Commonwealth Games, 'The Marksman' was undecided when asked whether the end is now near.

“I don’t know, I have no idea. I’m taking it day by day,” he said. “I’m 38 years old and I should have been finished five, ten years ago maybe. I had hip surgery in 2014 for God’s sake.

“To even imagine that I would be here. If you’d said to me in Glasgow, 'you will be standing here in eight years in Birmingham trying for a medal' I would have absolutely laughed in your face.

“There is just no chance I thought that would happen as I was just about to go for hip surgery, my hips were knackered, so just being here is amazing, it’s incredible and I’m proud of that.

“The physios back home have worked so hard with me. The coaches work so hard for me, and I just managed to keep going. It could well be (the end), I’ll just have a look over the next few months.

“I can never take anything for granted at this age - I don’t know about age - but it is a factor in squash, it’s too hard a sport so I’ll have a rest now and maybe see what happens in September. If I want to and the body is all right, I love playing and if I can keep playing on the tour I will.”

This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.

Willstrop, who has made more than 200 appearances for England, had to come through a five-game epic with Scotland’s Rory Stewart before losing his semi-final to Wales’ Joel Makin.

And he conceded that the toll of his previous matches left him with nothing in the tank.

“It was physical, I don’t know what it was, every lunge was harder than it usually is,” he said. "Squash is tough because you’ve got to do it day in day out.

“It’s a bloody horrible sport for the limbs and the joints. You know I train all my life to back these days up but sometimes it takes too much out of you.

“The quarterfinal was massive, it was a big, big match. I had a lot of heavy movements for an hour and 20 minutes, or 15 minutes, so it takes its toll.

"You have to come out the next day and play Joel and Joel’s a physical animal, so it just piles up on you and today it was just gone, the tank was gone. “

Willstrop lived down the road from Ghosal for years and both were coached by his father Malcolm, who passed away last year, leading to an emotionally charged clash.

“It’s quite weird really because as I’ve pointed out we’re very, very close. We lived two minutes from each other for years, we trained at the same squash club,” said Willstrop.

“My dad coached us both for years and we’ve travelled the world together so we couldn’t get closer really, it was a very strange but exciting thing to try to go into a bronze medal match with him after all these years.

“We’re both towards the end of the career rather than the beginning so it’s amazing we’ve managed to do it, but I’m gutted really with the performance.

“It wasn’t there but I’ve had plenty of wins and I can’t ask too much more of myself, I gave it all I could, and he was too good. I wanted to do it because bronze medal is crucial.

“The support we’ve had over the years from England Squash and the funding and the National lottery and Sport England, I’ve had so much off them, and I was desperate to really give it a go but there was just nothing in the tank, I couldn’t give it physically.”

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