#SJA2011: Telegraph sportswriter ROD GILMOUR makes the case for Nick Matthew, the world No1 squash player, to get your vote
Since the halcyon days of the Khan dynasty and the titles won by Peter Nicol, world-class squash players have craved a return to the big stage and the column inches the sport once merited.
Like a cold yellow dot on a damp court, regular paper coverage has all but died with pagination cuts, save for the odd colour piece. Squash’s cause has also been hampered by the International Olympic Committee, who have twice denied the sport inclusion to the Games.
So, forgive me if I surmise my contender’s achievements for one minute. The name at the top of the world squash tree is Yorkshire’s Nick Matthew, who must surely rank as one of Britain’s finest-ever rackets players alongside Nicol and the 1970s great, Jonah Barrington.
Matthew’s dream was realised in June last year when he became the first Englishman since Lee Beachill in 2004 to reach world No1. He then took home Commonwealth Games gold in Delhi. In December in Saudi Arabia, Matthew became the first English-born winner of the World Open. In those two finals, he beat fellow Englishman James Willstrop.
In 2011, Matthew has contested every world tour final going (that is 10 and counting). That’s remarkable consistency. Then again, he has won 15 out of 27 tournaments since last January.
All that in a sport where it’s harder to reach the multiple heights of Jahangir (555 matches unbeaten and all that) and Jansher Khan, mainly because squash is now point-a-rally to 11. It’s frenetic stuff and great to watch live too, but Matthew’s fitness – forged in Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport – and patience-building rallies keep doing the trick. He’s continually quelling the threats of the Aussies, French and Egyptians, his main rivals.
Moreover, he’s got as much grit as the Brownlee brothers, his Yorkshire compatriots. One EIS physio, a former marathon runner, will also tell you that the workload of a squash player is probably harder than any other sportsman. When you factor in that Matthew has played back-to-back matches nearing two hours over the last 12 months, that’s some feat.
It’s little wonder that Barrington told me that Britain should sit up and take notice of his “incredible achievements” on court. And Matthew’s doing it in front of growing crowds across the globe, unbeknown to most of the British public. Surely it’s time for a change?
Every so often, along comes someone who gets people talking. A player who creates a thrill, that added spark in a crowd. In squash, that someone is Egypt’s Ramy Ashour. The way he puts the racket through the ball and his shot-making skills are jaw-droppingly electrifying.
Yet, Matthew is still world No1 despite Ashour’s continued brilliance. The test will come at the end of the month when the pair – Ashour is world No2 – are seeded to meet in the World Open final in Rotterdam. It should be some spectacle.
- Who will you vote for as Britain’s Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year? See Ian Cole’s overview of the leading candidates by clicking here.
- Follow news of the SJA British Sports Award on Twitter with the hashtag #SJA2011
- Mo Farah’s historic claim on your votes By Randall Northam
- Mark Cavendish keeps his promise in his race of his life By Richard Williams
- England’s Ashes-winning cricket team are top of the world. By Ian Cole
- Laura Davies gets back on song with Solheim. By Patrick Kidd
- Alastair Cook’s tour helped drag England from the brink. By Ian Cole
- Chrissie Wellington is an Iron Lady who deserves your vote. By Steven Downes
- SJA members can cast their votes by clicking here.
- The awards will be presented at our gala annual lunch in London on December 7. Don’t miss out on being there – click here for a ticket booking form, with SJA members entitled to buy two tickets at half the usual price.