Two-time squash world champion Nick Matthew is hoping he can complete his hat-trick of titles on home soil when the AJ Bell PSA World Squash Championship gets under way in Manchester next week.
Matthew, whose previous triumphs came in 2010 and 2011 in Saudi Arabia and Netherlands, goes into this year’s tournament seeded fourth and on a high following an appearance in the US Open final last week, where he was runner-up to Gregory Gaultier.
“The World Championship is a magnificent occasion and the goal for every player during the season,” said Sheffield-based Matthew.
“I had a great week at the US Open and played some very good squash to get all the way through to the final and that’s been a huge boost for me.
“I got beat in the final by a player on the very top of his game and sometimes you just have to take those results on the chin and roll with it but the challenge for me is to learn from that and come back stronger during the World Championship.”
Matthew took an extended break from the game at the end of last season during a period when he admits his enthusiasm for the sport waned, but having re-found his passion for the court he’s now relishing taking center-stage on home soil.
“I had a long break when I struggled a bit at the back of last season for passion and motivation and I’m delighted to be back and enjoying playing again,” he said.
“If I had to retire tomorrow I’d be happy to hang up my racket being able to say I’m a two-time world champion, but I want to be greedy and I want to get another title and to win in Manchester would be very special.
“There’s a long way to go before that can happen however and you have to make sure you go into every round in these types of competitions fully focused as you can’t take anything for granted.
“I had a good week at the US Open and now I just need to re-group and concentrate on playing my game and hopefully the results will follow.”
Matthew discussed his long-time rivalry with fellow Englishman James Willstrop in The Metro today and revealed: “It’s not like we can’t bear to be in the same room as one another. We’ve been on very successful England teams together. We’re just different people in our personalities. He’s a lot more of a deep thinker: softly spoken, a quieter person. And I probably do his head in because I’m always talking.
“I guess our personalities just clash. It’s always accentuated when there’s adrenaline involved and prizes on the line, I guess.”
If the two Englishmen are to meet it will be in the final.
Willstrop is seeded three and in the other half of the draw to Matthew, who is scheduled to meet top seed Ramy Ashour in the semi-finals.
Willstrop’s path is threatened by the presence of the in-form Gaultier.
These four possess so much big-match experience, and Ashour comes into the event protecting a long unbeaten run that goes back to his defeat by Matthew in last year’s British Open final.
The Egyptian decided to give the US Open a miss, preferring to concentrate on the World Open and Qatar, where he has strong links.
Manchester will provide a melting pot for the game’s leading players and the result could well be a career-defining moment, especially for Gaultier, who has gone close before and now tackles his challenges with greater focus.
There are plenty of mini-dramas lying in wait in the early rounds as the squash world, well, the male half, tunes in to the action in Manchester.