On Thursday October 11, legendary Frenchman Gregory Gaultier limped off court after an epic five-game, 74-minute battle with current World No.1 Ali Farag despite nursing a broken bone in his knee – the 36-year-old hasn’t been seen on court since.
What followed has been a gruelling 10-month period of rehabilitation, requiring multiple surgeries and setbacks, but the former World No.1 and World Champion is determined to return to court.
This is part two of our exclusive interview with the “French General’, who talks us through his plans to return to the top level, his goals when he returns, his thoughts on the current standard of play on the PSA Tour and his plans for life after squash.
Read part one here.
Greg, you’ve been out for 10 months now but you’re hoping to return soon – when are you aiming to be back?
Gaultier: “I’m hoping to come back as early as possible, but if I come back I don’t want to play on one leg and be in pain. I want to be 100 per cent with my leg, maybe it will take some time to build up my confidence and get some matches in the tank to get ‘squash fit’ again.
“I haven’t played for almost a year, and it isn’t an easy sport with all the change of directions, so I have to be well before I get back on court and play matches. I try to be confident, maybe I’m 36 years old, but I still feel young.
“Two years ago, I was still World No.1, I had a good season, I was winning most of my matches, but maybe I made a mistake not taking enough time off after that season. This is probably why I got all these injuries, it was probably a mistake by doing too much.
“But you learn and it’s part of the game. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, but it’s all a learning process. It’s never good luck or bad luck when you get an injury, there’s always a reason behind it and you have to find the solution to move on.
“That’s what I’ve done throughout my whole career, you hit a hurdle and you have to find a way to jump over it.”
Gregory Gaultier (left) takes on Nick Matthew (right) during the 2018 Tournament of Champions
Do you think you've still got what it takes to compete for the sport's major titles?
Gaultier: “Before I got injured, I wanted to play until I was 40 years old, and I wanted to try and stay in the top 10 as long as possible, obviously this injury has meant that I’m not in the top 10 now, but whatever.
“I love competition, if I come back it’s to win things, not just to show up. I’m a competitor, I have been since I was a kid. I’ll do what I can and we’ll see how it goes, I can’t say now how it will be [when he returns].
“I was very impressed with the way Fares Dessouky came back from his injury, so you take inspiration from the young guys and players like Amanda [Sobhy] after her achilles injury.
“You see those guys come back and this is where sometimes when you have a bad loss, you feel depressed, and you forget the happiness that squash can bring you. I can see that when I was losing, I could just bounce back at the next tournament. That’s the luxury we have in our sport, you lose a tournament and then the next week or two weeks later you have another chance.
“When you’re mentally down, you still have your legs to run, but it’s not until you don’t have those legs anymore that you have a different approach. You will really enjoy it, win or lose. When I was playing I would have good matches with Ali or [Mohamed] ElShorbagy, and even if lost 3-2 and had a good match, I would see the positives and was still happy to compete with those guys.
“I want to come back and play, it would bring me such a big happiness to be allowed to play again. If I have this chance, I will do everything in my power to come back as best as I can.
“I think my best years were before, but I’m so hungry to come back. When you’re in this position, it’s as if you are sat down in between two chairs. Either my career is done, or I have a chance to come back, it depends on how it heals. It’s tough to see the future.
“I’ve got a lot of people who would like to see me back, I get tons of messages from people and it gives me courage. I want to come back, and I’ve never had the desire to stop this way and this early. You have people stopping squash at 30, 35, 39 or whatever, it’s your own decision to stop.
“I love the sport so much, and I just want to play. I want to give it a go one more time, and I will try my best, I have the desire to play.”
Gaultier (left) celebrates victory over Miguel Rodriguez (right) during the 2018 El Gouna International
You've had a lot of time to watch squash since you've been on the sidelines – what are your thoughts on the current standard of squash on the men's tour?
Gaultier: “A couple of really solid guys like Ramy [Ashour] and Nick [Matthew] have left the tour so it’s tough to say, especially when you’re not competing with those guys.
“You have new faces, you have a couple of new players coming up, and it’s tough to judge.
“But I’ve been watching SQUASHTV this year and I’ve seen some great matches. I saw Diego [Elias] do really well in Qatar beating ElShorbagy, I’ve seen some good games from Tarek Momen, Ali is playing really well, ElShorbagy was great but not as consistent as in previous seasons.
“[Mohamed] Abouelghar did really well at the World Tour Finals, Paul [Coll] as well winning Canary Wharf, so it’s nice to see a little change in the tournaments and it’s not always the same guy winning.
“Paul is bringing a different style of squash, Diego from Peru is also trying to compete against the Egyptians, Simon [Rösner] also. It’s good to see some other nations getting into those tournaments.
“Egypt is big and they have tons of players, but you want to see other nations too, you want to see as many countries competing as possible.”
Gaultier (left) and Mohamed ElShorbagy (right) embrace after their 2018 British Open semi-final match
You mention players like Ramy and Nick calling time on their careers – what have you got planned when the time comes for you to hang up your racket?
Gaultier: “I am part of a squash and gym club project in Seynod Annecy France (the RM Club Visaform) that we just took over last September with three other friends. We’re opening a junior regional centre at my club next month, we want to help juniors improve, encourage kids to play in the region and grow our squash school.
“We have a $20K PSA women’s event next year, we have six teams for french league and
we do juniors events and seniors too. The club and people inside are very dynamic and love the sport, we have a very good team involved, so I will be even more involved with the club in the future.
“I am also part of an academy at squash club Strahov in Prague (Czech Republic), where we have a team settled to coach pros or future pros, with accommodation, training programme that we keep developing.
“I want to keep helping the camps grow with the Squash Revolution team in the States after I retire too.
“I want to stay involved in squash, help and coach players, help events like we have in Mauritius next year (the Necker Gestion Privee Mauritius Open) between June 2-6, 2020. It’s in a new club that is under construction now, the RM Club Mauritius in the north of the island, next to Grand Baie.
“I can possibly work with my sponsors in other fields too, and I will see if there are any other possibilities that I get offered, but at the moment my focus is on my rehab as I want to come back to play.
“My sport was a chance for me to grow and has helped me meet so many interesting people. I will want to give back of course to the sport and I’m sure I will get opportunities to do so after my career.”