Written by RJ Mitchell
In an exclusive interview with PSA Website former World No.1 Gregory Gaultier has revealed that he is determined to continue his comeback when the PSA World Tour finally resumes following its suspension due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The 2015 world champion, who will be 38 on December 23, made a tentative return to the tour in January at the Tournament of Champions after two bouts of surgery on his right knee following a fracture.
After defeating Omar Mosaad in a rollercoaster second round encounter, before losing out in another epic to rising star Mostafa Asal in the third round in Grand Central Station, Gaultier admitted these encounters left him barely able to climb the stairs.
Yet now after using the suspension period to build up the strength in his right knee, which he likened previously to a ‘piece of wood’, the man known to his ‘Grande Armée’ of fans as the French General, says he will be ready to command the respect of even top ten opposition when squash resumes at the elite level.
Currently sitting at World No.97 in the PSA World Rankings, Gaultier’s bid to reclaim top-10 status should he make it before his 38th birthday would make him the second-oldest man to make it into the top ten, behind only Jonah Barrington, who was 39 years and eight months in December 1980 when his spell in the top ten finally came to an end.
Gaultier, a three-time British Open champion, has also outlined his determination not to let injury retire him and his desire to compete with the best until he is 40, in the game he admits he is both addicted to and in love with.
“It will be interesting to see how I do when we are back but right now the way I am feeling the plan is to play until I am 40 if that is possible,” vowed Gaultier.
“You look at guys like [Roger] Federer in tennis and he is taking time off for surgery so he can come back next year and compete at 40 and he still has the belief he can do that and for me that is definitely an inspiration.
“Before my knee injury I was still in the top five at 36-years-old, making the semi-finals of most big tournaments and although I am not going to put pressure on myself by saying I can get that back, I believe I can compete with the top ten guys and I can’t wait to test myself against them.
“I refused to let injury stop me and that has been a massive part of my motivation and really I just can’t wait to get back out on the PSA World Tour again and I truly believe I can compete to a very high level.
“Obviously at the Tournament of Champions, I took Asal to five games, not quite on one leg but not far off it, but now I am so much further on, I have confidence in my leg, more fluidity in my movement and more power. I may not be able to move as I did when I was No.1 but I have the belief that I can play top ten level squash again and that is the target.
Gaultier (fore) in action at the 2019 Men's World Team Championships in Washington, D.C.
“Last week I moved back to France to the national training centre at Aix En Provence, where I have been stepping things up and working with Renan Lavigne, our national coach, and the great thing is I am back on court working hard and I have no pain.
“In New York I beat [Omar] Mosaad in the second round and the day after I was struggling to get up the stairs with pain but I was only a month, maybe six weeks back and after playing young Mostafa [Asal], there were still some doubts in my mind.
“But now with the work I have done over the summer I can say I am good to go and if the PSA World Tour resumes in September I will be back on it hungry to compete with the big boys!”
As he detailed just how hard he has been working to strengthen his fragile right knee, the determination in Gaultier’s voice to become a clear and present danger to the big beasts of the men’s game was palpable.
“I live in Prague in the Czech Republic and at my place there I have a gym and that has allowed me to work hard to regain and build up the strength in my right leg,” said the 37-year-old.
“Obviously I had two operations after suffering a fractured knee, the first one in October 2018 left me with some micro fractures that still caused me quite a bit of pain and as a result in May 2019 I needed another smaller procedure, an arthroscopy.
Gaultier at the 2018 U.S. Open
“Although I made it back on court in New York, in January, I was nowhere near at full strength and so the suspension of the PSA World Tour has given me a huge opportunity to work really hard to build up my right leg.
“I am right side dominant and from that respect it has made things tougher. I say leg because I have had to strengthen everything to help protect the knee, build-up the quad, hip, ankle, the lot. When I came back at New York I would say I was still fragile, there were movements to certain parts of the court I could not make, some corners I had to stay out of and lunging off what had been my dominant side was a big issue.
“But now all the work I have done in the gym has given the right leg so much more strength and there is not a lot of difference between it and the left leg and I did this all to play again and because I love squash so much. The bottom line is I can’t wait to compete once more.”
Gaultier was keen to acknowledge the key part played in his rehabilitation by his dedicated team: “Listen I owe a lot of people a big thanks for all the work they have done with me since suspension and going way back when I decided I still wanted to come back,” he admitted.
“First, Joan Lezaud has been a huge help back in Prague to get my squash going again, my fitness coach Thomas Adriaens has been massive in helping me do the work to get my leg back to where it needs to be, while my mental coach Matthieu Benoit has helped me stay positive when darkness approached.
“Then there has been my physio team, Caroline Glain, Yann Bourrel, Florent Ehrstein, jeez without them where would I be? Now in Aix En Provence, I am hooking back up with Renan (Lavigne), who has been a massive help for me and the other French players and things have been going great.
“But you know this not just for squash. I am a family man; I have kids and I hope I will have a full and active life with them after I do quit, and this is also a big part of my motivation. But I am excited about the how leg feels, it is no longer just a piece of wood, I have my leg, my knee, a living moving limb back and it feels great.”
Yet Gaultier is a realist. He admits that the ravages of time and injury will force him to play smarter and more tactically but with a hint of Gallic mischief in the voice crackling down the line he said: “I will have to be tactically smarter in my play, I know this. You can have a great coach behind you and you can have all the tools in your box but if you don’t know when to use them and the correct one to use for the right work, well then mon ami, you have a big problem!
“It is clear I will never move like I did when I was 30 again, not be as fast or as dynamic, but right now I am not as far away as I thought I would be and of course I have all the experience in the world, so yes there will be some changes to my game but I am keeping them in my head!”