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Top-ranked James Willstrop details life on and off squash court in new book

It has been a long and arduous road to the top of the men’s squash world for James Willstrop.

The endless training sessions, demanding travel schedule and physical and emotional hurdles are described in painstaking detail in his book, “Shot and a Ghost — A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash.”

The top-ranked Englishman weighs in on his successes and failures in 2010 with a diary-like approach of his year on tour. Willstrop also mixes in flashbacks of some significant moments on and off the court.

Life as a top squash player is more grind than glamour. It can be described as a relentless labour of love mixed with absolute disdain.

The lanky 28-year-old often questions whether it’s all worth it. The grind on the body, wayward sleep schedule and punishing on-court work never seem to end.

Willstrop starts the 211-page effort with his “finest hour on a squash court,” a victory over Ramy Ashour in the final of the Tournament of Champions after earlier wins over other former top-ranked Egyptians Amr Shabana and Karim Darwish.

The buildup to the final is marked by everything from sleep issues and injury concerns to finding some open floor in New York’s bustling Grand Central Terminal to warm up before match time.

Despite the hurdles, Willstrop tries to savour the enjoyable moments along the way.

He soaks up the electricity in the air while looking out at the crowd under the famous chandelier in the Beaux-Arts Vanderbilt Hall. Before long he is on court at the venue, providing a vivid description of the match and all the lung-burning effort it required.

For every satisfying turn, Willstrop also looks at the many frustrations that come with life on the pro squash circuit. They include fierce battles with compatriot Nick Matthew, stomach-churning training sessions at altitude and draining post-loss low periods that are just as fascinating as his high points.

One need not be a squash fan to enjoy Willstrop’s banter and breezy writing style.

His interaction with coaches, family, friends and fans make for a fascinating look inside the mind of one of the sport’s most intense and successful players.

“Shot and a Ghost — A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash,” by James Willstrop and Rod Gilmour is available for C$27.82 at http://www.willstrop.co.uk.