06 June 2012


It's been a couple of months that James Willstrop's book - Shot and a Ghost - is out now, available as well as a hard copy as a digital file at amazon.co.uk. 
The book is about a year in the brutal world of professional squash, but there are also a lots of personal impressions and memories in the book, which seem all honestly written, and Willstrop is not even shy to paint himself in dubious colours at times. For example, talking about his manager, Mick Todd, he says at one place:"...He is confident and positive. I can be shy and negative. He likes pubs and blokes, I like poetry and music. He likes people, I like hotel rooms..." Willstrop also describes in detail how the loss of his mother has affected his life, or his ethical and philosophical reasons to being a vegetarian.
On the more specific squash front, it was intriguing to read about Willstrop's conciousness of having not an ideal body structure, being way too big, too tall for squash. He realized this early, still in junior times, and he has ever meticulously adapted his training regime to this fact. 
You will find chapters talking only about the divers number of physios Willstrop is surrounded with, how often he frequents them, how they 'torture' him and how he follows their advises on and off-court. 
You will also find the description of diverse brutal training regimes. I particularly remember the chapter depicting a training camp in some American mountains where hill climbing (running and cycling) is being employed to an extreme extent and a brutal on-court feeding session with his half-brother and coach David Campion. 
It is also very interesting for the squash fan to read Willstrop's relationship to fellow players. He writes very openly about his divergence with Nick Matthew ("we are two very different animals"), and his true admiration of Egyptian squash gods Amr Shabana and Ramy Ashour. 
Regarding Egypt and Egyptian players, an intriguing chapter is the flashback of a junior world team championships event where Willstrop lost to Karim Darwish in the deciding rubber. 
It is also very interesting what he says about the outstanding Egyptian dominance in the junior field. At one of the tournaments held in Egypt Willstrop had the opportunity to observe junior training sessions; he was shocked to learn that the parents of the kids stand outside the court and literally scream with them if they miss a shot or don't try hard enough. 
The same applies to the intensity and the overload of training schemes that the Egyptian kids are forced to deal with at such young age. Before the age of 18, the body, the bones are still growing, and according to the current standings of physiology, you are not supposed to overload your body in this phase of life. Willstrop concludes that if this is how the Egyptians manage to dominate on Junior levels, they shall just keep winning all these trophies, sooner or later they and their bodies will have to pay the price anyway, by either getting gutted or injured on senior level. Willstrop's points sound very much plausible, one only wonders how come then that Karim Darwish and Amr Shabana both attest a pretty convincing longevity on the very top of the game.
There is a lot - really a lot - more to read about in the book, but am going to stop here. I would like to encourage everybody who follows to some degree the PSA tour to give it a go and read it. It's worth it.
I have a brand new, untouched hard copy of the book*, signed personally by James Willstrop for the No Let! readers. This copy is up for grab for anybody (who has read until this point ;) All you need to do is just to leave any message in the comment box below the video. It can be an empty message or anything related to James Willstrop. If you write something nice, I will forward it to James, of course. The winner will be drawn from all entries on the 13th of June and announced both in the comment box and on the main Facebook wall of the blog. You might participate from anywhere around the world, we will do our best to deliver the book to any country you reside in.
*Update 07.06.2012: we now have even a second signed copy which will go to the person whose comment under the video receives the highest number of likes by midnight  13th of June 2012 (UK time). 
And to finish, just a few words about the below video: even though the rally is way to short to symbolize the complexity level of James Willstrop's game, I still feel it is a relevant snapshot of the very high intelligence- and skill level that characterizes his play style: Willstrop - in opposition to the majority of the players - never plays a backhand serve; he prefers hiding his intentions with his body and mostly ends up hitting a lob-like forehand serve. As this pushes his opponent back and towards the sidewall whilst waiting, he occasionally comes up with this to-the-body-serve. Given the surprise factor, they often end up playing the wrong shot, like in this case Mohamed El Shorbagy choosing to go cross-court. The return wasn't though totally loose, Willstrop still had to bend deep and keep his balance in order to make sure he gets his winning volley-drop into the nick with a delicate touch.