|Nick Matthew in a match against a big rival recently, Amr Shabana|
Nick Matthew is easily one of the best English professionals in the history of the game of squash, a sport invented in the country of his birth. He was PSA world number one for all of 2010, has been world champion twice, has two Commonwealth individual gold medals and has led his English compatriots to the World Teams title twice, and the European Teams title seven times. On American soil he has won North American Open twice and the US Open once. Unfortunately though, he has never won the Tournament of Champions (ToC) in New York. This could change in the next week and he could potentially add this title to a long list of tournament wins during his illustrious career. I asked Nick Matthew a few general questions yesterday in New York. You can read his answers, some of which may surprise you, below.
BE: Mr. Matthew, after returning strongly from a career threatening shoulder injury, you have been number one in the world for most of the last eighteen months, but recently injured your adductor (groin, basically) and have been out of action for about two months. That must have hurt, especially considering that during that time you have lost your number one spot to countryman, James Willstrop. Would you agree that this was a pretty tough break, given how hard you have worked to get to number one (and the fact that you have not lost to James in the last three years)?
NM: I think it was my body telling me something and I feel fresh after the break. Only time will tell if it has done me good or not. Last year I was incredibly fortunate to spend the entire twelve months as world number one and I won the title that is most important to me, the World Open, so I can’t complain too much.
BE : Are you over the adductor injury at this point and are you fully ready for ToC over the next week? If you win you go back to world number one, right? How do you rate your chances of winning ToC? This would be your first victory in the event. I know the New York crowd would love to see you do it.
NM: I have been a Tournament of Champions finalist three times previously, so have played well in the past, without quite getting past the finish line and actually winning the event. But I love playing here and the body feels in good shape now. Hopefully once I have a couple of matches under my belt I will be back close to my best.
BE: We heard you pretty much broke up an on court fight recently at the British Junior Open (as a spectator during a match between two youngsters). This does not surprise me. You are very fair on court and often take matters into your own hands with your opponents when the referee decisions become, how shall I say, questionable. You are a good ambassador for the game. Have you always taken a leadership role like this, does it come naturally to you?
NM: Not at all, it was at my home club and I was trying to set an example to the juniors that this is not the way you behave when you lose. I’m not pretending to be perfect, far from it, but have learned from experience in these matters.
BE: Who designed your t-shirts? They are pretty unique and you certainly stand out in them. I did not like them initially but they are kind of growing on me, they somehow seem more formal than the usual attire. You are playing Wael El Hindi in the first round and given his fashion sense you two will make for an interesting match-up in the clothing department.
NM: It was an entire accident that my kit ended up that way, we just tried to put those colours together in a different style and, like it or not, it gets people talking, which is a good thing I think. Wael is a good friend and colourful character. But, first and foremost, I hope people will see a good game of squash between us this Saturday.
BE: We understand you see the same massage therapist, Richard DeVito, every time you come to the US to play in tournaments. How much would you say it matters to have someone like Richard available to you during events? I am guessing it is invaluable, as your superb physical condition is something that distinguishes you from many of the other top players in the world.
NM: Yes, I worked with Richard for the first time in the US Open in 2007, which I won that year. So, ever since then, I have been seeing him whenever I come to New York. He is a top therapist and helps me to get over the jet lag and the long flight. I am lucky that Richard has gotten to know my body now, which takes time, even for a fantastic therapist, as every athlete's body is different. It is great to have a therapist of Richard's quality close at hand.
BE: Congratulations on your recent World Open win. What does it mean to you to have two world championships under the belt? You are one of only five English world number ones in history, and are certainly the only English player ever to have successfully defended a world championship title. That is a phenomenal achievement of which you must be very proud. Given the perspective of history, has what you have done here actually sunk in yet?
NM: It has probably not really sunk in yet. I think there is still a lot more to achieve and as much as you need to enjoy these moments when they happen, you find yourself naturally and quickly moving on to the next goal.
BE: We understand you are still a student of the game, even whilst at world number one, and are constantly looking to improve and are therefore prepared to listen to the opinions of anyone bold enough to give you advice on how to be better. Is this true? Do you really listen to everybody? More importantly, do you still anticipate getting better?
NM: You never know when a really good nugget of advice will crop up, so I try to listen to everyone. It does not mean I will try to implement everything I hear, that would be impossible. I am fortunate enough to have a great team around me who gives me fantastic advice and guidance every day.
BE: Since Dave Pearson left England as national coach and moved to the US, have you noticed the change. Is he missed, do you think?
NM: Actually, I see more of DP now than when he was national coach so the change has worked well for me in the end. He visits the US with Chris Gordon a fair bit but most of his time is still in the UK.
BE: What do you see for yourself in the future, after your squash playing career? Will you stay fully connected to the game, as a coach for instance, or do you have some other dreams and desires you wish to fulfill?
NM: I will always be connected to the game of squash, I’m sure of that. I see myself being based in the UK with an academy and helping to nurture the next generation of top English players. Of course, I would love to come to the US for a month here and there, but home is always home for me. I am also fortunate enough to have ambassadorial roles with Dunlop and Hi-Tec in the pipeline, which I will be remain passionate about when I retire.
BE: Later this year London will host the Summer Olympics. Sadly, squash will not be a part of it. Will you be there to watch irrespective and support the English athletes? What would it mean to you - and to the game generally - if squash got into the 2020 games during the IOC vote later this year?
NM: I read that Nicol David recently said that she would trade her six world titles for an Olympic gold medal. I think I would do the same with my two world titles, especially with the Olympics being held in London. Though, I do have mixed feelings about the Olympics. Obviously I am gutted that squash is not there, but I do have friends in other sports competing in the upcoming Olympic Games, all of whom I would love to see do well.
BE: Finally, if I may be so bold as to ask, who is the squash opponent you fear most today, and why?
NM: The guys at the top today are all so strong. I am not sure fear is the right word, but Ramy has a ridiculous amount of weapons at his disposal, and Shabana has been there, done it and now sells the t-shirts. So, I respect those two probably above all.
BE: Nick, thank you very much for your time, and best of luck for your ToC matches, you will no doubt do very well over the next week.
Nick’s first ToC match is against Wael El Hindi, New York based Egyptian professional who recently signed with the PST. Wael is having one more go in a PSA tournament before he switches tours. Their match is scheduled for 12.45pm Saturday January 21st in the Vanderbilt hall at Grand Central Station in New York. If you can make it there to watch, you should, you won't be disappointed.