England’s three-time World Champion Nick Matthew is eyeing up both World Championship and Commonwealth Games Glory over the next 12 months as he prepares to begin his 20th season on the PSA World Tour.
The Yorkshireman is one of the sport’s greatest ever players and has been ranked in the world’s top five since 2009 while being a regular title-contender in squash’s biggest tournaments.
‘The Wolf’ began last season slowly – slumping to a shock first round defeat against Gregoire Marche in the opening round of the NetSuite Open – but he was soon back to his best at the U.S. Open, reaching the final until injury thwarted him while 2-0 up against then-World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy.
“After such a slow start to the season in San Fran, I had a real low patch contemplating whether or not I could still hack it at the top level, so to get to the final was a major achievement,” said Matthew.
“Obviously having come so close there, it was a massive disappointment that I didn't win it but overall it was a feeling of a successful week and one that proved to myself that I could still do it.”
The man from Sheffield rounded off the year by taking silverware at the AJ Bell British Grand Prix – ending a 21-month title drought – before the man he beat to win that title in Manchester, long-term rival James Willstrop, finally got the better of Matthew in January's Tournament of Champions to end a 19-match, decade-long losing streak to his fellow Yorkshireman.
Testament to Matthew’s famed resilience though, 'The Wolf’ recovered in style, claiming his sixth title at the Canary Wharf Classic in March with victory over Fares Dessouky.
That win also saw Matthew make the extraordinary gesture of donating all of his prize money – $11,000 plus – to the #Sunshine4Sumner campaign to help fund the treatment costs of 11-year-old squash player Sumner Malik, who has been diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Speaking about the gesture, Matthew said: “I think his story has touched everyone in squash. I'm just delighted I was in a position to do my bit to help.
“I wish we earned what the tennis guys do so that I could help properly and I wish Sumner and his family all the best.”
One of Matthew’s standout moments of the season came at the sport’s longest-running tournament – March’s British Open – where, in front of his home fans, Matthew battled through to become the oldest finalist since Pakistani great Hashim Khan in 1958.
Matthew defeated Borja Golan, Simon Rösner, Tarek Momen and then ElShorbagy to reach his fifth British Open final where, after going a game ahead against current World No.1 Gregory Gaultier, he ended up falling in four games to the rampant Frenchman.
“After a big disappointment at the ToC, the patch between February and April was my best of the season, so again the overriding feeling was one of pride in how well I was playing rather than being too disappointment not to cross the line in first [at the British Open[.
“This period was due to a massive amount of input from everyone in my team but especially my coach, DP [David Pearson], who really reinvigorated me in this period.
“How Greg was playing at the end of the season was unbelievable to watch and is a real motivator for me to try and get up to his level again. We are always texting each other when the other does well and we see it as a big source of pride to keep the next generation at bay as long as we can.
“I think if we can't win ourselves then we would both prefer the other to win the event.”
Matthew turned 37 in July, but his ability to compete with both the younger, up-and-coming players and the established elite on the PSA World Tour has set him apart from many of his contemporaries and has enabled him to stay at the forefront of the game despite his increasing years.
nickmatthew</a>! We won't make a big fuss, we know you don't like to mention your age... <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Squash?src=hash">#Squash</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheWolf?src=hash">#TheWolf</a> <a href="https://t.co/cSkhf4zWf0">pic.twitter.com/cSkhf4zWf0</a></p>— SQUASHTV (SquashTV) July 25, 2017
The veteran puts his longevity down to the professional approach to the sport that he has maintained since his youth while, for the time being at least, his future goals extend to the end of next season – at which point he will have competed at another home World Championship and a Commonwealth Games, the latter of which will see him target a fourth gold medal.
“I've promised not to mention my age too often this season but I'm obviously proud of my longevity and I think it stems from being very professional from a young age,” said Matthew, who lifted the third of his World Championship titles in Manchester four years ago.
“When you are younger, you might feel like you can get away with not doing all of the extra attention to detail like stretching and having a good diet because your body hasn't had the mileage at that point but they pay dividends in the long run.
“Other than a home Olympics, [a home World Championship] is probably the biggest thing in sport. I actually watched the 2013 final back the other day with the kids on my summer camp in the USA and it was incredible to be reminded of the support I received from the home crowd which really lifted me on to success.
“The support Manchester gives to sport in general, but especially squash, is unparalleled around the world and I'm sure it will be a great event this time round too.
“It’s a big focus of mine for the season as well as the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast in 2018.”