Exclusive Interview by Kristi Maroc: French ace Gaultier aims to take it to the Max in ToC first round
By KRISTI MAROC – Squash Mad USA Editor
World #2 Greg Gaultier will play his first PSA match of the year on Saturday night against Hong Kong’s Max Lee in the first round of the JP Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York.
The 2009 champion Gaultier admits it’ll be a tough first round match-up against Lee (right), who had a strong year in 2014, quickly rising through the rankings to his current position at world #16, but says he’s always up for the challenge.
“I always prefer to have quite a tough first round to get into the tournament, right from the first point, rather than having easy matches,” said Gaultier. “Usually, if you get through these first few tough matches, then you are in a good dynamic for the later rounds.
“I’ve never played him on the PSA tour, I’ve played him a few times just in practice. He’s been improving quite a lot this year, so it’s a tough first round.
“It’s the first tournament of the year, and I’m excited to play on the court there. I’ve played maybe 12 years in this tournament…the first time I played I was 18 or 19 years old.
“It’s probably the best place to play a tournament, and it’s always a great atmosphere with the crowd and always packed from the first round, so it’s nice to see an event run that way. All the players love this tournament,” he added.
The 32-year-old Frenchman has been runner-up at the ToC the past three years, and will be eager to get to the final, where he is seeded to meet Egypt’s Mohamed Elshorbagy, who only months ago took Gaultier’s place in the world #1 position.
“There’s a few rounds before playing him, and a few tough guys, so I’m not really thinking of the final yet,” said Gaultier.
“Mohamed has played well this year…he beat me three times. I had a good one with him in Hong Kong, but then the last one was not the best and I didn’t play well at all. But I’m always ready to compete, that’s why I’m coming for tournaments.
“Sometimes you can play well and not win, sometimes you play well and you win…sometimes you don’t play well and you still win! It depends who you play as well, and how your opponent feels.
“Sometimes you come to a tournament and you didn’t really prepare well, for whatever reason, and yet you play better because you’re more relaxed because of no pressure, and you feel like you’re not really ready,” he said.
Gaultier says it’s an increasingly cut-throat challenge to get to the final, with a host of talented competitors rising through the ranks.
“There’s less of a gap between the top players and the lower ranked players nowadays, so everybody’s improving and they all have better preparation than they used to have in the past,” he said.
“Everybody has more knowledge about the sport, about the game, and how to get fit for an event, and more knowledge about the mental aspect also. For example, Max Lee is from Hong Kong but he’s training (in the USA) with David Palmer, who’s been world champion and world number one, so has a lot of experience. All these guys, they get experience through their coaches, so that’s probably why he’s been improving so well this year.”
“Yeah it’s a shame for the tournament,” said Gaultier. “Ramy played only two or three tournaments last year, it’s really unlucky for him.”
“We’ve been exchanging a few emails, I feel sorry for him what has happened and I hope he can recover and then be okay for the rest of his career…that’s all anybody wishes for him.”
“It’s tough moments that you live, but sometimes you come back stronger. Nick’s been injured in the past, he was out for eight months, and then the year after he had his best year.”
“I’ve been injured a few times in my career, but I wasn’t out for too long, maybe three months…but I remember when I was injured I always came back hungry and I really played better afterwards,” he said.
Asked whether he’s extra hungry for a win at this year’s ToC, given that he’s made it all the way to the final in the past few years without taking the title…
“I’ve won this tournament before (in 2009), so it’s not like I’m playing for the trophy…but if I can get it I’ll take it!”
Main image courtesy of Tournament of Champions