By RJ Mitchell
Three-time World Champion Nick Matthew has admitted that the protracted period of the PSA World Tour’s suspension has left him comparing the lack of court time to his eight-month recuperation period after shoulder surgery back in 2008.
‘The Wolf’, who is now creating an increasingly impressive stable of PSA stars – including Scotland No.1 Greg Lobban and England’s Declan James – in his new guise as a coach, believes that today’s pros must treat the suspension as an elongated off-season.
The suspension of the PSA World Tour has been ongoing since March, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel given the news that PSA released a provisional schedule earlier this week with the intention of resuming professional squash on September 16 at the Manchester Open.
But Matthew, who took part in a Webinar call with leading tour players at the start of the suspension in order to give them the benefit of his experience of an enforced period of extended inactivity has, now that most professionals are back on court, counselled caution in the return to full training.
The former World No.1 has also admitted he believes the eventual resumption will provide a fascinating watch that will provide some telling clues as to who has been taking the suspension seriously and who has let disenchantment and frustration take a negative hold.
“When the tour suspension was announced I was asked to do a webinar by the PSA with the players and even then, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be a two-month thing,” said Matthew.
“My advice then to the players was to pace yourselves and not obsess and be spending every minute watching squash videos and training around the clock, my feeling and my advice was that at the start of this whole thing players should take a break, recharge their mental batteries and refresh their bodies.
“But now at last we are back on court and that’s a big relief, personally speaking, as for me this is the second longest timescale I have been away from the squash court in my life, with the first being when I was out for eight months following shoulder surgery back in 2008.
“Now we are back on the boards my thoughts are that the players need to build things back up gradually. To go from having done no work on the court for almost five months to playing and training five days on the bounce immediately wouldn’t be smart.
“You don’t need to go straight into matches but rather get used to solo work, get the timing back build into routines and give yourselves a good basis over the first week or so and take it from there.
“Again on a personal note, at my own club, Hallamshire, it has been great to see people back on the court but obviously when you look at the bar, which is an important part of club life and culture, it is quiet in there and we are having to think outside the box in this respect.”
But as the three-time former British Open champion turned his magnifying glass onto the PSA top 10, Matthew admitted that there are pros and cons for the case as to who the suspension will have hit hardest and who will come out all guns blazing when squash finally returns to active service.
“When you look at the top players it is hard to work out who it will have affected the most and when it comes to the experienced guys handling it better than the younger players there is an argument either way,” he said.
“If you are a Mohamed ElShorbagy for instance, then you are in your 30s and you can’t really afford to be losing a year, especially after regaining World No.1 for a fourth time and to have been looking at a British Open coming along. Then on the other hand Mohamed is a very strong-minded individual and he may have compartmentalised it all and just refocused because at his stage he has all the experience in the world.
“Then you take a Paul Coll, who was in the form of his life and was really starting to make inroads into the top three and had just beaten ElShorbagy for the first time in Chicago and then all that momentum is taken from him. So how does he react to that?
Matthew (left) clashes with Mohamed ElShorbagy (right) during the 2017 Allam British Open
“When it comes to the younger players well they have the chance to work on areas of their game that need to be improved that they just won’t have had the time to work on when the tour was going.
“Whether it’s mental aspects, technical work, video analysis or conditioning there is a lot that can be done, and in some countries, like Egypt for example, the courts have been open for a month or so now. But then you are not telling me that a Paul Coll or a Joel Makin won’t have been training like demons to make sure they are in peak shape to resume at the drop of a hat.
“So, what I have been advising my players is to treat this like an extended summer or off-season just as I did on my recovery from shoulder surgery. But of one thing I am sure and that is that when we do get things back up and running it will be fascinating to see how it has impacted on each and every player.”
Yet there is one player for whom Matthew has the greatest sympathy, one of his fiercest rivals and good friends Gregory Gaultier, with whom he contested two World Championship finals and two British Open finals.
“I feel really sorry for Greg. He had already missed the best part of a year following his surgery and then the tour was suspended just as he was starting to put some results together and clearly at almost 38 he has even less time to play with than the other guys,” said Matthew.
“But I admire him so much, he has such passion for squash, and he is so determined to get back to the top of the game and I respect him so much for that.
“What I really hope is that Greg can get back to a level when the tour is up and running in which he can be playing in the big venues in big matches in front of decent crowds regularly again so that when he is ready to call time he can do it on his terms.
“But we have spoken a few times and stayed in touch via Instagram and I know how hard he has been working and how good he feels and you wouldn’t bet against him to get right back in the mix.”
Despite a jam-packed schedule during suspension, Matthew has become involved in an impressive project to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in conjunction with the Squash Pod website.
“The whole thing came about randomly. Bevan [Duff] at SquashPod reached out to me on social media with the idea of compiling three-minute video workouts and of course the cause was a fine one in Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is a great charity and a hugely worthy cause and I wanted to do my bit to help.
“I also thought the timing was good in that at the start of lockdown and the suspension everyone was posting workout videos but now at the other end of it there was an opportunity to contribute something fresh and also raise money for such a great charity and do something that would also pull the squash community together behind a great cause.
“The other thing is that it is informal and doing it at home was really good fun and I think the workouts go pretty well, so I hope people will enjoy them, get the benefit and back the Multiple Sclerosis Society and if that makes a difference then fantastic and respect must go to Bevan for coming up with this whole thing.
“Basically, we are challenging anyone out there to complete a ‘Nick Matthew Home Work Out, post it on social media, tag #squashms and #stopms then nominate three people to do it and donate a minimum of £3.00. All you need to do is go the Squash Pod website to access the videos.
“I started the ball rolling by asking professionals to take the challenge to raise interest in it and it is just a great way to portray our sport in a positive light but also to encourage non squash players to try something new.”
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