By Mark Sleightolm
British Nationals hopeful Declan James is looking forward to what promises to be a fiercely contested championships in his home town of Nottingham next week.
The AJ Bell British National Squash Championships, held from 14-17 February will mark the start of a new era of the tournament when it moves to the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Squash Rackets Club after being held in Manchester for the past 22 years.
The England No.4 believes the tournament will be one of the most open in recent years but is looking to use his home advantage to boost his own chances of winning the title.
“Obviously there’s been a period of dominance in the last decade by Nick Matthew,” he says.
“Now there are at least five or six guys that can realistically win it, and I think that’s one of the fascinating things about this year’s event.”
Matthew, who beat James in the semi-finals in 2017, won a record ten titles between 2006 and 2018, and 2019’s final will be the first in a decade without him.
England No.1 James Willstrop met Matthew in six of those finals and will be looking to win his third title, and someone who James believes is “always capable of producing world-class squash.”
But, as James noted, Willstrop is facing some tough competition.
“You’ve got Daryl, who’s won a big tournament towards the end of last year, myself and a few of the other boys.
“There really is a handful of players who can win it, and I think that’s what going to make the week so interesting.”
James reached a career-high world ranking of 16 in November after winning the Nantes International against Willstrop, as well as reaching the third round of the U.S. Open and the second round of the Channel VAS Championships in October, where he proved to be a stern test for World No.4 Tarek Momen and World No.2 Ali Farag.
James spent the winter period preparing for the Tournament of Champions in New York and now turns his attention to the Nationals.
“It’s one of those goals that you set yourself at the start of your career, and the Nationals would be up there with one of my finest achievements.”
James is feeling positive about his game and is particularly looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd in Nottingham.
“You always want to do well in your home country, there’s pride at stake, so there’s a different feeling to playing in the Nationals” he said.
“It’s really nice to have it in my home town. I’m sure there’s going to be wicked support there for myself, so I’m really looking forward to it.”