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Norfolk-born squash star negotiates tough opening hurdle at Commonwealth Games

PUBLISHED: 15:28 05 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:28 05 April 2018

England's James Willstrop made it through his first test at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA

England's James Willstrop made it through his first test at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Norfolk’s James Willstrop revealed his mental fortitude above anything else ensured his safe passage past a dangerous opponent and into the next round of the Commonwealth Games.

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Drawn against Pakistan’s Farhan Zaman – the world number 87, ranked 17th at these Games – Willstrop was all too aware he could ill afford a slow start on the Gold Coast.

Putting jet lag and inactivity aside, the 34-year-old produced a strong display to win in straight games 11-5, 11-1, 11-7.

But without the peace of mind to channel his focus into producing a consistent performance, Willstrop believes things could have been a lot trickier first up.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system and you know it will be,” said the North Walsham-born Willstrop. “It’s your first round so you know you’ll need to recover from the travel and you’re starting from a blank slate so often the first rounds can be a bit problematic, to be honest, for a lot of players.

“I knew I had to be absolutely ready, I probably had the hardest draw of anyone, I think, by quite a way.

“ I know how good he is, he’s got to first rounds of World Series events so I was really ready to play, I had to be on it.

“I had to just be very, very sharp mentally and I couldn’t let it slip. I couldn’t start thinking about other stuff.”

Willstrop, appearing at his fourth Commonwealth Games, has always talked of his love for the event with squash receiving just that little bit more recognition for a fortnight every four years.

And despite shouldering a slight disappointment that the sport hasn’t built perhaps as much as it could on the success of Glasgow 2014, Willstrop is hopeful another strong showing from Team England may lead to some more sustainable popularity.

He said: “We had a great time in Glasgow and a lot of people enjoyed it. We’ve got a great tour and things like this perhaps count to make it a bit more mainstream than it is.”

npower is the Official Partner of Team England and is giving our athletes the power of support by recording a brand new version of their anthem, Jerusalem. To listen to the track visit npower.com/teamengland

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