By RJ Mitchell
George Parker believes that tomorrow’s first round meeting in the Wimbledon Club Squash Squared Open with France’s Baptiste Masotti may be the biggest of his season.
The 23 year-old served a one-month ban from the PSA Tour following his stormy five-game encounter with another French opponent ,Mathieu Castagnet, in the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions, back in January.
That ban also meant Parker missed out on appearing at the PSA World Championships in Chicago.
But the candid Leicester man’s fortunes have failed to improve since his return to the fray, with a strangely listless Parker succumbing to three successive first round losses, albeit at the hands of established top 20 opposition and his ranking in danger of dropping back out of the top 40.
All of which has left an admirably frank Parker to admit that his meeting with former junior foe Masotti is a make or break moment for his campaign, coming as it does just nine days before the Allam British Open.
Parker said: “The Wimbledon Club Squared Open may be comparatively one of the smallest tournaments I’ve played this season, but there is no doubt that my first round match with Baptiste Masotti is arguably the most important match of my season.
“Obviously I had the ban for one month and served that, but since I’ve come back I haven’t won a match and lost three first round main tour matches against Daryl Selby at Canary Wharf, Zahed Salem at the Grasshopper Cup and Raphael Kandra in the DPD in Holland. Bottom line, that type of run isn’t good for any squash player.
Parker in action against fellow Englishman Daryl Selby during March's Canary Wharf Classic
“Okay, so you could say that these guys were all ranked above me, all well-established top 20 players, but the fact remains they are three first round losses on the bounce, and that hurts. So all of that really adds extra significance to my match with Baptiste tomorrow.
“The other thing is that with the British Open coming up soon afterwards, it’s absolutely vital I get a win under my belt. There is no denying it’s been a tough couple of months and missing the World Championships because of the ban certainly gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.
“But now it’s up to me to show some character, finish the season as strongly as I can and end it on a positive note. So how I do at Wimbledon over the next few days is massive in that regard.”
Yet the early season momentum that had promised so much -and in which the Leicester man’s dynamic and technically sound squash looked like it could take him to the brink of the top 20 – has now become something of a salvage job.
Thus, Parker has no qualms about the size of the task ahead of him as he looks to subdue an opponent who he clearly rates as much better than his current World No.61 ranking.
In terms of tour head-to-head encounters the duo are poised at 1-1, but it is Masotti who prevailed the last time they faced off back in the quarter-final of the Open International Niort Verte in 2017.
No wonder then that Parker views Masotti as a clear and present danger: “Baptiste and I came through the same age group and we had a good few battles as juniors and a lot of them were five-setters,” said the World No.38.
George Parker competes against Zahed Salem of Egypt during the Grasshopper Cup
Parker continued: “For whatever reason, his ranking has stuck in the 60s and I managed to climb up into the 30s but what that means is that he will be really determined to get the win over me.
“He is also a very strong player physically and he's dangerous, so I know I will have to be on top of my game and make sure that both mentally and physically I am my best.
“What I have struggled with since I came back from my ban is that some of the fire hasn't been there and what I need against Baptiste is to have the passion and hunger back but the fire channelled in the right manner.”
Lying in wait for the winner is another old foe of Parker's, his fellow Englishman and World No.20 Daryl Selby, who got the better of the Midlander at the Canary Wharf Classic over the quick-fire best of three game format.
It is clear Parker would love another crack at 'clever old dog' Selby whom he rates highly: “On top of that in the second round at Wimbledon the winner has a meeting with Daryl Selby and after losing to him at Canary Wharf, I'd love another crack at Daryl.
“There is no doubt he is a clever old dog and he uses that experience so well. I guess that's why he is still a top-20 player and he deserves a lot of credit for that. But a meeting with Daryl will only happen if I produce the goods against Baptiste, so all my focus must be on him.”