Interesting time to look back on an interview last year when Nick Matthew finally made it to number one in the world rankings
From Squash Player
Nick Matthew has finally made it to number one in the PSA world rankings and a chorus of congratulations is echoing round the squash community.
He finally overtook Ramy Ashour after the Egyptian was knocked out in the semi-finals of the Sky Open in Cairo by Karim Darwish, whom Matthew overcame in the final.
At 29, Matthew has left it slightly late in his career to hit the top. But that’s an irrelevance. His achievement is a phenomenal one in an era of strong competition at the top of the rankings where any one of half a dozen players is capable of winning major tournaments these days.
Alongside Matthew, Ashour and Darwish, Amr Shabana, James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier make up the Super Six.
Right now Matthew will be savouring this moment and reflecting on the tremendous strides he has made in the past year since returning from a shoulder injury that kept him off court for many months.
He has added a ruthless efficiency to his high-paced, attacking game and will be keen to extend his career, and his period at the top of the rankings, for as long as he can.
He is generous to acknowledge the help and support he has received from family, friends and a variety of support systems down the years.
A more recent development has been his involvement with the English Institute of Sport in his home city of Sheffield, where he has worked alongside athletes from a variety of disciplines and learned how to cope with the frustrations of dealing with a long-term injury, and absorbed the knowledge necessary to programme his recovery.
Like James Willstrop, he has emerged a better player after returning from injury.
Both players have returned to the competitive arena following these setbacks as more hardened professionals, learning how to strengthen both mind and body in the process.
For Matthew, the return to top form after a back injury has given him a new perspective on life.
He said: “I’m feeling good right now and I have learnt throughout my career that when you have a good win you can’t stay on that high for too long. There is a gap between tournaments when you come down and at some point you have to get yourself up for the next one. Sometimes, if events are back to back that doesn’t happen until the middle of the next tournament!”
I enjoyed a long chat with Matthew ahead of the recent ISS Canary Wharf Classic, and he is clearly chalking off a lot of ambitions this year. His first Canary Wharf followed, beating Gaultier in fairly straightforward fashion after his brutal two-hour semi-final battle with Willstrop.
After a well-earned summer rest he will be aiming to get himself fired up for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
He said: “Getting up for tournaments, I am grateful to have such a fantastic team behind me, starting with national coach David Pearson who has been at my side for so long. I am also indebted to Mark Campbell, my physio, and Mark Bawden, a psychologist based at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. I am now working with him on a more regular basis.
“I want to thank them for giving me all the help they can. Ultimately it’s all down to me but the EIS has been a massive part of my life. There are athletes there from all walks of life. Jessica Ennis, the heptathlete from Sheffield, is a leading light and a good friend.
“It’s great to be part of it all and you can’t help but learn from all the different influences that are available. You absorb things from other sports and it is so nice not to exist purely in a squash bubble.
“You are always watching other athletes in action, and watching how they prepare for events. It is great to be part of it and to see how they handle the different stresses that arise in all the different disciplines, and especially those sports that attract more publicity than we do.
“Normally squash players just exist in a squash community but being part of this kind of sporting community leads to good habits.”
Matthew has certainly taken those habits with him on court in recent months as he has added tournament triumphs in Qatar, Sweden, Virginia, Canary Wharf and now the Sky Open to his tally of two British Open victories and another national title in Manchester.
The threatening cluster of so many powerful Egyptians around the top of the rankings is a constant presence but not something Matthew chooses to worry about.
He said: “This is not a conscious rivalry that we think about all the time. You just have to take each match one at a time and try to beat whoever you are drawn against, wherever they are from.
“This is a very good time for English squash. We have lot of players who are now approaching their peak years, and they can’t be called promising players any more. They are right at their peaks and delivering some excellent results. This is a very prosperous time for English squash as a whole, with tremendous strength in depth in both the men’s and women’s games.
“It would be nice to leave a legacy to the next generation coming through and hopefully they can learn from us and carry the torch at the top after we have gone. I don’t see that happening at the moment but there are players around like Jon Kemp, who has yet to hit his peak, so a lot of things can happen in the next few years to prove everyone wrong about the next generation.
“A lot is made of the Egyptian thing and rightly so, but as players you have got to do it for yourselves. So, yes, they are exciting to watch but it’s not something we think about all the time.
“You simply have to beat the next guy in front of you wherever you are playing and wherever they are from.”
Matthew admits that he has learned a lot from two experienced campaigners, Frenchman Thierry Lincou and Australia’s David Palmer.
Both are still playing superb squash well into their 30s and I asked Matthew, who is 30 in July, if he had a similar long-term plan.
He said: “Me? A five-year plan? I don’t have a five-minute plan! Five hours is about as far as I go these days!”