James Willstrop, the first winner of the Canary Wharf Classic in 2004, returns this year as world number one for the first time in his career.
London’s premier squash tournament takes place from March 19-23 and Willstrop is looking forward to continuing his recent spectacular run of form as he bids for a fourth title at the East Wintergarden.
Triumphs in Hong Kong, Kuwait and Delhi propelled him to the top of the PSA rankings ahead of England’s world champion Nick Matthew, the reigning Canary Wharf champion.
Should they remain at one and two in the world rankings next month, the two Yorkshiremen are likely to be seeded to meet each other in this year’s Canary Wharf final.
Their epic semi-final two years ago was rated by many as one of the greatest matches in squash history, with Matthew triumphing in a marathon battle full of high-quality and physically punishing squash.
Willstrop recalled: “That match against Nick was a very special piece of sport from both of us. The match lasted more than two hours and I felt we were both playing well all the way through. Whatever happens in your life you never forget those moments.”
The contest finished with Willstrop lying injured in the back corner of the court but, with three tournament wins to his credit, he has nothing but happy memories of competing in a tournament that he rates as the premier event on the world tour.
Willstrop, 28, said: “I love coming to Canary Wharf. It is a brilliant event and definitely the best tournament on the tour. I love coming to London as well and I am looking forward to it. The tournament has given me some of my fondest memories over the years.”
As a 21-year-old, Willstrop won the very first Canary Wharf title in 2004 in a ground-breaking tournament featuring par-nine scoring and a best-of-seven games contest in the final against Thierry Lincou.
He also won the 2007 final against John White and followed that up the next year by beating Australian Cameron Pilley. He reached a third consecutive final in 2009 but, suffering from injury, he lost 3-1 to David Palmer.
Willstrop says he is learning how to be more ruthless on court, aiming to win matches quickly in the early rounds to make sure he preserves energy for the bigger battles that lie ahead.
He said: “It helps if you are playing better squash. If you can win 3-0 you spend less time on court. You preserve your body and your energy levels. I used to be a bit freer with attacking play, which got me into trouble. There is now more maturity in my game and it comes from years of understanding the game’s nuances.
“Reaching number one is an incredibly hard thing to do reaching and winning in Delhi, in front of family and friends, and all of the people who had helped me to get there, was very special. It was the best day of my life.”