‘If I was fit I’d play till I was 100’
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Nick Matthew returns to action after an ankle injury when he competes in the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai. It will be his first match since losing to Egypt’s Ali Farag in the second round of the British Open in March.
The three-times world champion from Sheffield was in an upbeat mood as he discussed his return to action in the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai.
The 35-year-old is in the same qualifying group as Colombia’s Miguel Rodriguez, France’s Mathieu Castagnet and world number one Mohamed Elshorbagy, who has won six World Series tournaments this season.
Assessing Elshorbagy’s form, Matthew quipped: “It’s not like he’s on top of his game or anything is it? Seriously, he is clearly in very good form.
“I am playing him third in the group matches but first up would have been good. It would have bee n nice way to ease into the week!
“He has won the last six World Series events in a row. When you analyse his form, everything speaks for itself. Frighteningly, he has achieved so much at his age and there is obviously so much time for him to achieve more.
“He never seems to settle for what he is doing. There is no resting on his laurels. He is always striving and working harder to do everything that little bit better. He figures out where he could be better and that is a dangerous combination when you are already that good.
“If you took myself, Gregory Gaultier and Ramy Ashour out of the mix, you can see that Mohamed is head and shoulders above everybody else. James (Willstrop) had a spell at the top and then dropped down, and Ramy can be unpredictable, but Mohamed’s run of results is almost much like Jahangir Khan at his peak.
“I know we are talking about something like five and a half months as opposed to five and a half years but it is an incredible spell and lends itself to that kind of comparison.
“Greg and myself are the wrong side of 30 and at the back end of our careers. Other people will have to step up because Mohamed will only get better.
“Greg said to me recently that when we both retire there is no-one left to challenge him from outside Egypt. It will be up to other countries to produce something special because all the other genuine challengers look like being Egyptian players.
“There are some very good English players around and Chris Simpson has finished the season strongly to be on the verge of the world top 20. He is a dedicated professional and it’s nice to see him getting his rewards, albeit at the age of 28.
“There is certainly something of a generation gap in the English game. James, Daryl Selby and myself are all over 30, Tom Richards is 29 and Chris Simpson is 28. In the women’s game it’s the same with Laura Massaro, Jenny Duncalf and Alison Waters all in their 30s.
“We do have some good young players coming through and individuals like Declan James, George Parker and Richie Fallows all know there is a void to fill.
“They are all members of the England Squash Academy and there is a bit of pressure on these guys to deliver.
“It’s not an exact science and perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for perfect results from the players in the first cycle of the scheme. Perhaps it would be more realistic to expect those results in cycle three or four.
“This is our first time with a central system and although we have looked at how things work in other sports there is no guarantee that it will work in squash.”
Matthew opens his Dubai schedule against Colombian Cannonball Miguel Rodriguez on Tuesday at 9.45 local time. They are last match on and Nick is looking forward to the match.
He said: “For a period it was like he came from nowhere and took the game by storm with his flamboyant style and all those amazing dives.
“He has since brought a structure to his game and you can see the work he has done with David Palmer is paying off. You have to have something that sets you apart and he now has that solidness all round. He is working hard to get the balance right and when he achieves that he is very dangerous.
“When that happens he is a potent mix and he can beat anybody in the world. At the moment he is still learning how to achieve that consistency.”
Nick’s second opponent in Dubai, Mathieu Castagnet (right), has been one of the PSA’s high achievers this season.
Rising this month to a career-high position of six in the world rankings, he won the Canary Wharf Classic in March and achieved global notoriety with an astonishing piece of retrieving against Daryl Selby in Chicago.
Matthew added: “He has shown tremendous consistency to reach that position. It’s interesting because he has climbed so high and there are people who have never herd of him.
“It’s all down to how hard he works. He was never a top junior but he had great role models in French squash and was able to learn a lot from working with Thierry Lincou and Gregory Gaultier.
“When you play him in a match you know that he will never disappear. He never gives up. He is a great professional and thoroughly deserves the success he has had this season.”
Nick Matthew’s return to action in Dubai follows a two-year period when his career has been interrupted by injuries, operations and necessary spells of rehabilitation.
At 35, he knows that injuries can take longer to heal and he revealed: “I have been having problems with my right ankle since playing El Gouna in April last year. It has been an ongoing problem. It has been frustrating because last summer I had the knee operation and the problem with the ankle was pushed to the back of the queue.
“I have managed it in between tournaments but never quite had the time frame to get the work done on it that the injury needed.
“It knocked my confidence and momentum in the first half of the season and forced me to adapt my training methods.
“Certainly, when I look back to winning the Commonwealth Games in 2016 and the World Championship in 2017, if I had not taken the time out that I did, I would have done well to have reached the end of this year let alone achieve those long-term goals.
“When you are not playing, it is hard to watch everyone else out there competing in tournaments.
“It has meant a lot of soul searching and looking at what comes next after my playing career. I asked myself ‘What if the ankle never got better and I had to retire at the end of this year, would I be ready for that?’
“Without injuries, I would like to play until I’m 100. But this has been a tough year, such is the nature of an athlete’s career.
“You sometimes wonder ‘Will I ever come back?’ And you know the real world is lurking nearby and hanging over you like the grim reaper.
“However, a lot of things are now in place for the next phase of my career. With Neil Guirey coming across to work at Hallamshire, the Nick Matthew Academy is up and running. The plans are all in place and we are making good progress.
“I am also a sports ambassador for the Hallamshire Club and that involves events, schools and other sports in Sheffield. For example, the Sheffield Sharks, who have won the national basketball league. My role also includes setting up links and partnerships with universities.
“Planning what comes next involves looking to the future. I am sometimes accused of living in the past, but my wife (Esme) wants me to live in the present.
“She will be joining me in Dubai and I am travelling there with no great expectations. After a few weeks off it will be nice to be back on court.
“The first three matches at the group stage are all best of three. Anything I achieve will be a bonus and give me confidence.
“Then I can look forward to a nice summer holiday afterwards. I have missed playing in the Bundesliga finals, the PSL and the Euopean Teams. It would have been good preparation, but my ankle is a lot better now than it was in January and February.
“I made the finals of the ToC and Chicago, and won the Nationals, and I was match-hardened then. But when I go back on court I will have to put the injury to the back of my mind and get on with playing.”
Nick has been working with the medical team at the English Institute of Sport located at the Manchester Institute of High Performance, with treatment arranged by Jade Leeder, Head Physiotherapist. He has also been continuing to work with his team in Sheffield on fitness and physiotherapy and has for the past few weeks has been able to resume training on court.
As he prepared to travel to Dubai, he added: “The venue looks amazing and I am really looking forward to playing.”
World Series Finals, Dubai.
Match Schedule (All times are local GMT+4)
Tuesday May 24: Day One – Group Stage:
14:00  Camille Serme (FRA) v  Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY)
14:45  Omar Mosaad (EGY) v  Cameron Pilley (AUS)
16:00  Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
16:45  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
19:00  Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
19:45  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
21:00  Nicol David (MAS) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
21:45  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
Wednesday May 25: Day Two – Group Stage
14:00  Camille Serme (FRA) v  Raneem El Welily (EGY)
14:45  Simon Rösner (GER) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
16:00  Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY) v  Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
16:45  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Cameron Pilley (AUS)
19:00  Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Nicol David (MAS)
19:45  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
21:00  Nouran Gohar (EGY) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
21:45  Nick Matthew (ENG) v  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA)
Thursday May 26: Day Three – Group Stage
14:00  Raneem El Welily (EGY) v  Omneya Abdel Kawy (EGY)
14:45  Cameron Pilley (AUS) v  Simon Rösner (GER)
16:00  Nour El Sherbini (EGY) v  Camille Serme (FRA)
16:45  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) v  Omar Mosaad (EGY)
19:00  Laura Massaro (ENG) v  Amanda Sobhy (USA)
19:45  Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
21:00  Nicol David (MAS) v  Nouran Gohar (EGY)
21:45  Mathieu Castagnet (FRA) v  Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
Friday May 27: Day Four – Semi-Finals
19:00 Women’s [Group A Winner] v [Group B Runner Up]
follow on Men’s [Group A Winner] v [Group B Runner Up]
follow on Women’s [Group A Runner Up] v [Group B Winner]
follow on Men’s [Group A Runner Up] v [Group B Winner]
Saturday May 28: Day Five – Final
19:00 Women’s finalists
follow on Men’s finalists
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON (www.patricklausonphotography.co.uk)