ISS Canary Wharf Classic 2008     


England’s James Willstrop will be bidding for a hat-trick of titles when the world’s leading squash stars return to London to show off their dazzling skills in the 2008 ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic.

Willstrop, 24, won the inaugural event in 2004 by beating France’s Thierry Lincou in the final, and triumphed against Scotland’s John White last year.

Pontefract-based Willstrop is the No.2 seed behind French star Gregory Gaultier. The stylish 25-year-old from Aix-en-Provence is currently ranked No.3 in the world and is the reigning British Open champion.

Gaultier has been runner-up in the last two World Open finals, losing to Australia’s David Palmer at the spectacular open-air amphitheatre at the foot of the Great Pyramids, and to Egypt’s Amr Shabana in Bermuda.

Peter Nicol, the former world No.1 (who is co-promoter at Canary Wharf), said: “We are delighted to have a potential final featuring James and Greg. They are two of the most entertaining players in the game.

“It was great to see James triumph at Canary Wharf last year. He has worked so hard since turning professional that he deserves every success that comes his way, and he was a very popular winner. The crowds really got behind him and all the British players and we are expecting a fantastic atmosphere again this time.”

Willstrop prepared for the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic in stunning fashion by overcoming French rival Gregory Gaultier to win a major tournament final in America.

Willstrop beat Gaultier 11-6, 6-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-4 to clinch the Davenport Professional Championship at Richmond University, Virginia, in a marathon match lasting 83 minutes.

It was Willstrop’s third victory in his last four tournaments following successes in the Swedish Open and the National Championships in Manchester. The win was Willstrop’s tenth PSA World Tour title and his third Super Series success.

The reigning Canary Wharf champion, Willstrop also won the Mamut English Open in 2007. His success in Richmond will give him a massive confidence boost ahead of the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic, in which he is seeded to meet Gaultier in the final once again. The Frenchman, from Aix-en-Provence, is seeded one and Willstrop two.

Willstrop puts much of his remarkable run down to signing to use Prince rackets. Since doing so last August he has claimed five major titles over the seven-month period.

Gaultier was a thorn in Willstrop's side throughout their junior days. Willstrop lost to Gaultier in countless British, European and World clashes - most of which were finals. But the Englishman finally stopped the rot in the Super Series Finals last year - in his first match with a Prince racket in his hand! Since then, Willstrop has won three of four further Gaultier encounters.

The Virginia triumph caps a sensational 12 months for the 24-year-old who failed to reach a single PSA final in 2006! Within weeks of adopting the Prince O3 Black racquet, the England number one won the Prince English Grand Prix in Birmingham, then the Mamut English Open in Sheffield, and also reached the final of the US Open in New York.

After leading England to a successful defence of the World Team Championship title in India in December, Willstrop switched to the new Speedport Black racquet - the latest advance in the brand's revolutionary new O3 technology - at the turn of the New Year.

He immediately progressed beyond his seeding to reach the final of the prestigious Tournament of Champions in New York in January, before heading back to Europe where lifted the Case Swedish Open crown last month.

It was also in February that Willstrop fought through a world-class field at the National Squash Centre in Manchester to win his second British National Championship title - becoming only the second player in history to retain the men's title.

"James's new level of excellence and consistency since joining Prince is something quite outstanding," commented Prince's recently-appointed Global Tour Manager Peter Nicol, also a former England team-mate of Willstrop and co-promoter of the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic.

"James is showing the sort of consistency that is seeing him move from being a world top ten player to challenging at the very highest level."

Nicol was in Boston last week to see Willstrop win the final of the Players Cup, where Willstrop admitted in his own online blog that his relationship with French rival Gaultier has all the rivalry of Anglo-French sporting contests.

"Greg is as French as they come, gestures, accent and all.

"And even in the States the Six Nations rugby union match was mentioned in interviews. They are aware of the intense rivalry that exists between the two countries and that is evident whenever we play them at squash.

"Gregory and I played against each other in many matches as juniors and our relationship has never been straightforward. The last couple of matches we played were niggly to say the least."

The two have been rivals since junior days and there is clearly no love lost between them. Before beating him in Richmond, Willstrop was fired up by the England rugby team's win over France in Paris.

Willstrop has won four of their last five clashes and is clearly in hot form building up to the Canary Wharf tournament, which begins today. Friday's final is clearly going to be a battle royal if the top two seeds make it through but reigning champion Willstrop is guaranteed the support of a noisy home crowd.