Squash: OE steers Williams to career best form

By Shane Hurndell

Kiwi squash no3 Evan Williams is no James Willstrop.

James Willstrop?

The English No 1 and world No 4 who raised the sport's profile big time back in March with his "double whammy" - or double fake shot - when playing world No 1 Ramy Ashour of Egypt at the North American Open in Virginia. It become a huge hit, if you'll excuse the pun, on the internet.

However, Williams, who has been coached by Willstrop's father Malcolm when in England, has raised eyebrows and got tongues wagging among the squash fraternity in New Zealand with his progress during the past 12 months.

By playing and training in South America and England for 12 months before returning home to Wellington three weeks ago Williams, 23, climbed more than 40 places on the world rankings to 85.

"I learnt a lot while overseas and now I'm putting it all into play," Williams said before taking on Kiwi No 2 Martin Knight in an exhibition match at the Havelock North Squash Club last night.

"I've learnt to be more relaxed. Kiwi players tend to be frantic and run around a lot. I've learnt to slow the pace down, not be so hard on myself and be calmer when on the court," he explained.

Williams displayed the benefits when he beat Knight, who boasts a world ranking of 48, in straight sets in the final of the Southland Open in Invercargill last week. He has known Knight since he was 10 and has played him more than 30 times in competition games over the years as well as in seven exhibition matches.

Last Tuesday night Williams beat Knight in an exhibition match in Alexandra and Knight got his revenge in Thursday night's exhibition match in Invercargill.

"We always go to five sets in exhibition matches so the spectators get their money's worth. But the outcome of the fifth set is never pre-arranged ... it's a case of who delivers on the night," Williams said.

The Tawa club player, who has been a professional since 2008, was thrilled to be selected in the New Zealand team for a second world teams championship to be played in France next month.

"Hopefully some top performances there will enhance my chances of being selected for next year's Commonwealth Games. I was keen to go last time but missed out.

"Being left handed, I can provide a second forehanded player in doubles play. With being overseas and watching how the top players prepare and having had experience playing against them, I've come back even more keen to be included," Williams said.

As part of his buildup for France he will travel to Australia next week to play in three Pro tour tournaments before returning for a Kiwi team training camp prior to the France trip.

Unlike Knight, 29, who will be too old to still be playing at international level and at the Olympics in 2020, should the sport's inclusion in the Olympics be given the thumbs up later this year, Williams, said he will be at his "physical peak" in seven years.

"You look at the players ranked among the top 10 in the world and the majority are in their late 20s or early 30s. Come 2020 I'll be 30 ... almost the perfect age to be playing at the Olympics."

Having travelled a bit in the past 12 months, I've seen what a fantastic job countries are doing to promote squash and enhance its chances of making the Olympics. If we can get more tournaments on television around the globe there will be an even better chance," he added.

Knight had won the first set when Hawke's Bay Today went to press last night.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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