Squash: Willstrop claims British Open is "just a shoot-out"

Title contender James Willstrop has criticised the uniquely cold conditions at this week's British Open, claiming that these have made it "not really squash" and turned the famous event into "just a shoot-out".

The world's oldest tournament is being staged for the first time in its 80-year history out of doors - on Hull City's football ground - just as Britain has experienced weeks of its most unseasonably cool temperatures in decades.

Thursday evening's temperatures were forecast to fall to six degrees Celsius - more than 15 degrees lower than a recommended minimum for testing squash balls, which are made of easily expanding rubber.

Referees have sat wearing gloves and woolly hats, spectators have huddled in many layers of clothing, and Gregory Gaultier, the former world number one from France, asked to borrow the master of ceremonies' coat during an on-court interview - although that may have had something to do with the fact that the MC is a woman.

"It's easy to say, but it's not really squash," claimed Willstrop, who was world number one for most of last year. "This here is a completely different game. It's so cold. There aren't any rallies.

"It's like Pontefract squash club in 1997 in December and January," he added, referring to days when a now-upgraded club had more courts with outside walls exposed to the elements.

"It's really brutal on the body. The game is played so short and fast. It's absolutely not an endurance game. It's a bit frantic and you don't have much time to gather your thoughts.

"At the moment I don't think any of us is used to it in these conditions. So it just becomes a shoot-out," Willstrop said, referring to the fact that repeated quick winners can sometimes take over a match.

"I try not to worry about it too much. It's still been really exciting having the biggest tournament in the world coming to Hull.

"I try to focus on what I am doing, and focus on the game plan, and if I do that I can't do anything more," concluded Willstrop, who has twice had match points in British Open finals. At the age of 29, he may have set his heart on going just one good shot further before he retires.

Although Willstrop's comments may have created more local impact because the British Open is being held in his home county of Yorkshire for the first time in more than 40 years, not every player agreed with them.

The opinions of Nicol David, the record-breaking seven-time women's world champion, did not go nearly as far, even though she was raised on warm tropical courts where the ball bounces high and rallies are often long.

The Malaysian did however comment on how much more effort was required to hit a colder ball - in which the rubber expands less and therefore remains unresponsive - to a good length repeatedly.

David also pointed out that the women were at more of a disadvantage than the men, because they had had to play their first round matches at Pontefract, where the courts are these days much warmer, making the contrast with the outdoor temperature in Hull even more testing.

However, another former British Open finalist who comes from Yorkshire, Jenny Duncalf, did not appear to agree with Willstrop.

"It doesn't matter whether it's played in a desert or the top of a mountain, it's still the British Open," Duncalf said, referring to its longevity and pioneering status. "We all still want to win it, just the same."

"It's still the tournament which means most to a lot of players, and you want to win it whatever the conditions."