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Ananova

01/06/2010
MATTHEW TRIBUTE

By Rod Gilmour

A previous occupant at Nick Matthew's hotel room in Cairo during the 2010 Sky Open had added " ... contemplating my future" beneath the 'Do not disturb' sign hanging from the England No 1's door.

Matthew 30 in July, fit, healthy and happy travelling the world had expressed little concern. Come the end of the week in Egypt, Matthew had become the 16th world squash No 1 and only the second Englishman, after Lee Beachill in 2004, to top the rankings.

The Yorkshireman beat Karim Darwish, the defending champion, in the final and landed the coveted No 1 position after Ramy Ashour, the talented 22 year-old Egyptian lost to his compatriot in the last four. It ended a prolonged, intense spell chasing Ashour.

"I was so tense in the semi and was exactly the opposite in the final where I was able to relax," Matthew said. "There was no urgency to my game but half way through I found the fighting qualities. A lot of people might have thought that I rested on my laurels but I wanted to put down a marker."

Having turned pro in 1998, the Yorkshireman has spent only seven months outside the top 10 since 2004. It has included a dramatic turnaround after a hectic playing schedule caused a major injury to his right shoulder in 2008 and he was subsequently out of action for eight months.

Tentatively, Matthew returned to the world tour after the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, home to Jessica Ennis, nurtured him back to health. So far in 2010 he has won 28 matches in a row and landed six of eight titles on offer.

Matthew said: "It's a case of keeping up what I have been doing, namely being successful, and a chance of succeeding in other areas. It's a good time be at No 1 because I am guaranteed to have it for a few months without doing very much which is nice.

"It's time to reflect and enjoy the moment as the last time the world No 1 has changed hands tournaments have come thick and fast."

Lee Beachill, the former world No 1, believes his fellow Yorkshireman has the right blend of mental toughness to stay at the top of the rankings.

Beachill, who retired in 2009, said: "He is very professional in the way he goes about his business and has made himself into a very tough player. He fully deserves world No 1 as he has worked bloody hard to get there.

"Consistency was always a big part of my game and my success and my game. It is now Matthew's game down to a T."

Matthew's status as the world's best player is akin to Beachill's rise to the top six years' ago when the Pontefract-based player reached the US Open final against Peter Nicol. The then-world No 1 Thierry Lincou had lost in the first round and for Beachill to overtake the Frenchman he had to beat Nicol - who had held top spot five times previously - in the final. Beachill won in straight games.

"Becoming world No 1 was all I ever wanted to do since I was aged 10," said Beachill. "I am sure it is the same for Nick. I never really targeted specific events as it was always about getting to the top.

"To win a world championship there is always someone who can have a great week, whereas to become world No 1 it happens over a period of a year or more.'

Beachill, now chief operating officer of the men's tour after retiring in 2009, was also on hand in Cairo to give Matthew some good advice, namely "to get off my phone off before the semi-final". No sooner had he come off court than his social media world was inundated with congratulatory messages.

But despite Beachill and Matthew's achievements the advent of the world rankings came after the great Jonah Barrington's career ended in the last six years, English squash has had little to shout about over the last decade. Dwindling media exposure, constant Olympic exclusion and the British Open, which has twice come close to folding, have been at the forefront.

Matthew, playing on a revamped world tour backed by Ziad Al-Turki, PSA's chairman, is optimistic for the future. "Hopefully this period now for England Squash can inspire lots of people into the sport," he said.

"You worry when the Egyptians are dominating the sport whether we have the talent for future years but hopefully the next generation can come through."

From "awful technique" to thwarting off naturally-talented Egyptians, long-serving national coach David Pearson is one of the few people to have witnessed close-up Matthew's dramatic rise to world No 1.

Matthew, 29, first came to Pearson as an 18 year-old and immediately set about working on his rhythm and movement before the Sheffield right-hander entered uncharted waters on the world squash tour at No 84.

 "He came through that and made the top 20 pretty quickly," Pearson recalled. "He had awful technique but what he did have was the tenacity and hard-working belief that he has today."

It was the next step that seemed to "stagnate", according to Pearson, who has been national coach for 15 years. "He had to work hard technically as his racket skills weren't the best. But he has always been open-minded and willing to listen."

Matthew's pursuit reached a climax in December against Ramy Ashour in a highly-memorable Saudi International final when both players' shoes overfilled with sweat during a marathon 110-minute encounter. Ashour's win lifted him for four places to world No 1 in the January rankings, denying Matthew top spot.

For Pearson, "the clincher" then came at Grand Central Terminus in January, the first stop on the revamped 2010 world tour. He said: "It was New York in the semi-finals. He got an absolute spanking from Ramy and I thought he had lost his belief.

 "I thought it would be interesting to see if he would admit it if the episode in Saudi was too much for him to go through with again. Sure enough, he took me aside the following day and said that mentally he couldn't go through that again. Ever since, he hasn't lost a match.

 "Peter Nicol [who became world No 1 on his 25th birthday] was the only player to have that total honesty behind him. For Nick it is a fantastic achievement and he is understandably cock-a-hoop. There's no doubt about it, he has deserved to be world No 1 over the last few months.

So what next for a player who holds the rarest of phrases: British racket-playing world No 1? Simple really. His vision is "to keep it for as long as possible", become world champion and aim for Commonwealth gold before the end of the year.

He said: "To get to world No 1 is massive in the sport but to then strive on and achieve more success is the benchmark. It's rather like what Peter Nicol has done and over the weeks I will be looking to set out the building blocks to that path."

A path well-trodden by Egyptians in recent years and one Matthew aims to conquer for a while yet.


 

 

   

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