By RJ Mitchell
In part one of this exclusive interview three-time World Champion and former World No.1 Nick Matthew previews next week's J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions and the return of Ramy Ashour.
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With just seven days to go until the opening round of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York's historic Grand Central Station, three-time World Champion Nick Matthew has granted PSA World Tour an exclusive two-part interview.
The Yorkshireman famously made the final of the Tournament of Champions on six occasions spanning 2006 to 2016, losing five finals before finally savouring success in 2012.
During his period as a perennial finalist in the New York, Matthew found himself on the wrong end of a four-game defeat at the hands of Egyptian Ramy Ashour, who is expected to return from an eight-month sabbatical caused by a knee injury.
The return of one of the most talented players to ever pick up a racket has been a long time coming after 'The Artist' has withdrawn from a number of tournaments this season.
But with Ashour being an New York resident, Matthew has no doubt the man he battled 26 times and traded places with at the top of the squash summit for the best part of three years, will at last return for another bite of the action in the Big Apple.
“I really hope Ramy plays in ToC and I think if there is any tournament he will make his comeback in this is the one,” said Matthew.
The three-time British Open champion continued: “Ramy lives in New York, is based there and of course he has plenty of good memories going back with ToC, having won the title on three occasions not least when he beat me in the 2011 final.
“I also think the unique atmosphere in New York in Grand Central will be a major lure for Ramy to get back on court. It’s a tournament that is like no other and one that transcends sport. Ramy is a showman and he will know that if he comes back fit and can win ToC then it would be an unbelievable achievement.
“When you look what he did at the Grasshopper Cup last year when he beat Mohamed ElShorbagy in the final in his first tournament back, then, if he is fit and good to go, you wouldn't want to bet against him.”
But the former World No.1 admitted there are pluses and negatives about Ashour’s return to the fray: “The thing about Ramy having not played since the British Open and having withdrawn from a few tournaments since then is that there is almost a mystique surrounding him now and that could be a good or bad thing.
“Obviously no one knows how he will come back when he does and that is something that could be an issue for anyone who plays him, and I see my old England team mate Daryl Selby could get a crack at Ramy in the second round.
“On the other hand, match-play speaking Ramy will be under cooked and the longer that goes on the more of an issue it will be even for someone as sublimely gifted as him. But for me Ramy must think about his legacy now. He is 31 and time waits for no one, even someone as gifted as Ramy.”
During his 26-match head-to-head with the charismatic Ashour which included, among other major finals, the British Open, as well as in New York, The ‘Wolf’ tasted success on nine occasions in what was once squash's fiercest rivalry.
Looking back Matthew admits that his 2011 ToC final loss to the Egyptian still rates as one that got away: “Obviously I was very lucky to have had a rivalry with Ramy in that back in 2010 we shared the No.1 ranking on and off and in 2013 he was No.1 and I was No.2 and we played each other in just about every major final out there.
“But he beat me in the final in New York in 2011 and that was one of five defeats in six finals I suffered there and that record is definitely one that still rankles with me, just like that defeat.
“Back in that final the key game was the third when I had momentum with me but Ramy produced some brilliant squash to nick the third game 11-9 and in the fourth I couldn't contain him.
“Finals night in New York is just a fantastic experience and I am really lucky to have enjoyed it six times and to have managed to get my name on the trophy. But with Ramy back in the draw there is no place better to start the squash year than in New York City. “