Nick Matthew aims for a high five in the bearpit setting of Canary Wharf
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Nick Matthew is the most successful English squash player in history. The reigning champion, Nick has been in fine form ahead of the 2015 Canary Wharf Squash Classic.
Matthew, a three-time world champion, has been busy adding to his trophy haul since claiming the Commonwealth Games men’s singles gold medal in Glasgow in August.
The super-fit 34-year-old from Sheffield won the British Grand Prix in Manchester in December, was runner-up in the Tournament of Champions in New York and then broke the record books by winning a seventh national title back in Manchester before lifting the Swedish Open title for a fifth time, beating French rival Gregory Gaultier in straight games in Linkoping.
If anyone doubted he could still operate at the absolute highest level, Matthew dispelled that notion in phenomenal fashion, beating Gaultier and top seed Mohamed Elshorbagy with fast, precision squash to win the Windy City Open World Series event in Chicago.
Now he is after a fifth Canary Wharf success after beating long-time rival James Willstrop in last year’s final to draw level at four titles apiece.
Every ticket for this year’s event sold out before Christmas, and Matthew always enjoys playing in front of a full-house crowd at the imposing East Wintergarden venue in Bank Street.
He said: “It’s definitely one of the best tournaments in the world and the players always love the big, noisy crowds.
“It’s like a home match for the two Essex boys, my England team-mates Peter Barker and Daryl Selby, and the noise levels always go up a notch when those two are on court.”
Matthew shows no signs of easing off and added: “As you get older it’s a question of training smarter, not harder, and taking more care when you plan your tournament schedule so that you can peak for major events.”
After winning a gold medal in the singles, beating James Willstrop in a final of phenomenal artistry, quality and commitment, Nick teamed up with Adrian Grant to reach the final of the men’s doubles in Glasgow.
Here are his thoughts on a range of squash topics as we approach the 2015 Canary Wharf Classic.
As professionals, we hardly play doubles. When we played the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 we were possibly a little naïve in thinking that, as professionals, we could just turn up and play.
However, since then we have embraced it and given it the respect it deserves. In Glasgow we were just two points away from another gold and Cameron Pilley unleashed two winners of absolute quality to win it for him and David Palmer.
Adrian and I have developed a good understanding, and, however we play, we always try to cover for each other, especially on the bigger court used in Glasgow. We have known each other for a long time and have complementary styles.
MEETING EDDIE CHARLTON IN THE FIRST ROUND:
We train together regularly and Eddie and I have the same physical trainer. Eddie also gets on court a lot with one of my coaches, Neil Guirey.
You never know who might draw in the first round so you have to be prepared for everything. In Chicago I met Borja Golan of Spain. As he was the No.9 seed it was the toughest draw possible, so I was glad to get through that one.
Borja has been five in the world so in events like that you have to come in to the event and be straight up to speed. You have to be sharp, match-fit and earn your day off before the second round.
CANARY WHARF IS A MINEFIELD THIS YEAR
It looks like a typically tough draw. Simon Rosner (right) is playing well and has just reached a career-high position of nine in the world. With him seeded four and Borja Golan three, there are some interesting match-ups right through the draw.
Adrian Waller is playing well and has achieved some good results recently. As a Londoner, he is always looking to play well at Canary Wharf.
In the past you have had James Willstrop at the top, Peter Barker in the middle and Daryl Selby floating.
But this year, with James having been out for a while recovering from injury, the draw looks a little different. Peter is at two and James is lurking in the middle of the draw and seeded five.
It will be very interesting. LJ Anjema is coming back from injury and Peter Barker always plays well at the East Wintergarden.
I saw James return to action in Sweden and he played very well to beat Chris Simpson after some obvious insecurity at the start of the match.
He must have been sore the next day and lost to Steve Coppinger but once he’s fully fit again, and playing consistently, there’s no reason why he can’t get back towards the top.
He and Ramy Ashour have both been out for long spells and in the past year and you know that the fans want to see everybody fit and playing in all the big tournaments.
AT 34, PLANNING YOUR SCHEDULE IS VITALLY IMPORTANT
As the years go by, you need to plan your schedule as carefully as you can. You certainly don’t want to over-play. After New York I felt pretty wiped out. It was an incredibly tough draw.
You need to be clever with your schedule.
“As you get older it’s a question of training smarter, not harder, and taking more care when you plan your tournament schedule so that you can peak for major events.
“After Canary Wharf I will have my sights on the British Open in Hull in May. I want to win every tournament I enter and it’s a case of making sure that you are in the best possible shape each time.
“You have to strike a balance between your short-term goals and long-term goals. As well as sticking to the tried and trusted methods, you need to keep things fresh and remember what you are good at.”
WINNING IN SWEDEN AND CHICAGO
Gregory Gaultier was not at his best in Sweden, and had a bit of an ankle niggle. But he beat everyone 3-0 in the early rounds and was looking good to me. Having said that, I was playing really well.
I won the final 3-0 (11-9, 11-8, 11-7 in 63 minutes). I also won the Chicago final in straight games against Mohamed Elshorbagy (11-7, 11-2, 11-7) in a similar time.
You always go into a match with a game plan but it’s another thing being able to execute it against someone like Mohamed because he plays at such a fast pace and takes away your thinking time.
But I felt I played well when under pressure. I was patient and picked my times to attack well and I’m just delighted to get another World Series win.
I may be in the twilight of my career but I am really enjoying my squash at the minute.
LOVING THE VENUE
In his column in the Sheffield Star Nick wrote:
Over the years, I have played in some amazing venues, in front of the pyramids in Cairo, the harbour in Hong Kong, and Grand Central terminal in New York. The East Wintergreen may not have the glamour of Grand Central, but it has the same feel and atmosphere.
It is the perfect venue for squash, and along with Grand Central, is, for me, the best tournament to play in atmosphere-wise.
I have won at Canary Wharf four times but had bit of a shocker in the early years, losing in the first round on a couple of occasions.
It is one of those events where you can’t ease your way in. You have to hit the ground running.
There is a bear-pit atmosphere at Canary Wharf as the crowd are in close proximity. You sometimes feel they are right on top of you. The closer the spectators are to the court, the better the atmosphere.
It’s a really warm court and the ball flies around. You have to adjust your game because of the heat that the number of bodies lose to the court provides. I struggled with that for a few years.
Canary Wharf is an intimate venue. It’s not easy to find a place to warm up because there are people everywhere.
Most tournaments finish on a weekend but Canary Wharf runs from Monday to Friday. It is in the heart of London’s financial district, so we get people coming in straight from work. They get quite vocal, especially in the latter stages of the event.
The set-up is excellent so it has been a great place to showcase innovations in the sport. It was the first tournament to use video replays and bring in two extra referees.
Canary Wharf is a level below a World Series event so we used to gauge the technology before introducing it into other events.
We get great coverage there and hopefully, in years to come, it will become a World Series event. It would be great if it could attract the top players like Mohamed Elshorbagy, Ramy Ashour and Gregory Gaultier.
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com), MARIAN KRAUS, STEVE CUBBINS (SquashSite) and BRYAN LINTOTT