SJA member ROD GILMOUR says time is long overdue for Nick Matthew, who won the world squash title for a third time last Sunday, to win some wider recognition for his achievements
I first stated my case for Nick Matthew two years’ ago. After he won the world squash title on Sunday, the third time he’s won it in four years, his profile in Britain still remains average at best. This is a shame.
The Yorkshireman’s victory at Manchester Central was, he said, the one he cherished most. He did it in front of the BBC cameras and 1,500 raucous fans – a measure of how far the sport has raised its game in recent years, despite the continued exclusion from the Olympic Games.
In a mesmeric final, he beat Gregory Gaultier, a player at the top of his game and favourite for the title after Ramy Ashour, Egypt’s squash sensation, was forced to retire from his semi-final against fourth-seeded Matthew.
Gaultier had lost in three previous world finals and has thus developed a reputation for perhaps being mentally fragile in the biggest games. In the near two-hour hour final, the Frenchman clawed back a two-game deficit to take the match the distance.
The decider saw Gaultier brought to a virtual standstill. He could offer no more. The Briton’s physical brilliance – his gritted expressions on winning big points should be witnessed! – was sealed.
Having conquered the “biggest mental battle of my career”, Matthew’s long-time coach, David Pearson, admitted that he should now be cast alongside the greats of the game, including the two Khans, Jahangir and Jansher. He is certainly now one of the greatest Englishmen to have played the game.
Aged 33, it is Matthew’s meticulous dedication off-court that saw him to a third title. He trains alongside Jessica Ennis at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, who believes him to be one of the fittest sportsmen in Britain. Matthew also sees psychologist Mark Bawden, currently working with the England cricket team in Australia, as a crucial cog in maintaining mental focus.
He will admit to never being blessed with natural racket talent. Pearson even said after his second world title win that he was “technically poor” aged 20. On Sunday, Pearson revealed that players had even laughed at him on court when starting out on the pro circuit.
A decade on, Matthew holds Commonwealth, world and British titles thanks to an unwavering dedication to fitness, technique and will to win. A victory next year would see him become the oldest world champion.
In the meantime, Matthew will most likely feature in his home city of Sheffield come awards’ season, having already been inducted into the city’s Walk of Fame alongside Ennis and Michael Palin in the summer.
Matthew appearing on the odd Question of Sport panel isn’t enough for me. It’s time he was propelled further on a national scale.
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