By RJ Mitchell
English legend Nick Matthew has hailed Paul Coll following last week’s Canary Wharf Classic title win and has tipped the Kiwi as the next men’s World No.1.
Matthew, who was No.1 on four different occasions between June 2010 and March 2014, was an interested spectator at the East Wintergarden last week as he observed Coll capture the Canary Wharf Classic title, which he lifted after a 69-minute 3-1 victory over current World No.1 Ali Farag.
Matthew believes that emphatic victory has provided further proof that Coll, who earlier this year claimed his first major title by grasping the British Open after another final defeat of Farag, is on a course that will culminate with him scaling the global rankings summit.
And with Coll and Farag seeded to meet in the final of next month’s CIB Squash Open Black Ball, three-time World Champion Matthew believes that victory on Egyptian soil would provide the ultimate proof that Coll is ready to take on the mantle of the men’s leading player.
Matthew said: “100%, I think Paul will be the next No.1 and I’ve said that for a while. He has shown over a period now that he has been the most consistent player and that is what being No.1 is all about.
“He has been consistent now for a while in making semis and finals but the difference now is that Paul is starting to win these finals. His performance level is very unwavering and winning the big one at the British Open has given him a further boost. For me, Paul is on a constant journey of improvement.
“Normally it is the other way round as people will win the titles, but maybe the consistency eludes them. But with Paul, he has had that consistency first and the titles have come second and he has put them together.”
Three-time World Champion Nick Matthew has tipped Coll to go to the very top
When it comes to how long that process may take, Matthew reckons the beginning of 2022 will prove crucial: “It all depends on the ranking and what points he will have coming off and you also have the extra dynamic of Mohamed [ElShorbagy] coming back and publicly stating he is wanting to make a big push to get back to where he needs to be.
“But in terms of Paul, if he goes on a run now, wins Black Ball and ToC, if he can take those next two or even one out of the next two, he will be knocking on the door for sure.
“As soon as you start earning more than 1200 or 1300 ranking points then you are almost there as the points you get for making finals and winning are almost double what you get for being in semis. So, once you are in that vicinity it can change quite quickly.
“Also, if someone won the tournament the year before and then they don’t retain it and you win it, well it happened with me and I won three tournaments in a row and was right there in terms of the No.1 ranking, so my point is it can happen quite quickly and that may be how it will be for Paul.”
For Matthew ,the ultimate test of Coll’s rise to the top will be to taste victory in Egypt, something that could well happen at next month’s CIB Squash Open Black Ball.
The three-time British Open winner said: “If Paul can go and win a title in Egypt, that is the next thing for him. He has won a major with the British Open title and he will want to go and win a worlds and become World No.1, but to go to Egypt and win a title, that is perhaps similar in rugby to going to New Zealand and beating the All Blacks or going to Brazil in football and beating the Brazilians.
“When I got to World No.1 for the first time, I won a tournament in Egypt and that really made it feel extra special as you knew you had done it the hard way.”
While Coll’s win over World No.1 Ali Farag in last Friday’s final became more emphatic as the match progressed into its later stages, Matthew says there is some mitigation for the World Champion and believes that when the PSA World Tour resumes in his homeland, Farag will be a different animal.
He said: “By the end of the match, Ali did seem to have run out of ideas, but he will probably take solace from the fact that it was his first tournament for a while. I am usually horrible with predictions as I sometimes let my heart rule my head, but on this one I got it right as I forecast a 3-1 to Coll.
“That was because, although Farag was playing great, he had not been pushed and I know what it is like in that first tournament back. It doesn’t matter how well you are playing, you need someone to take you into the trenches to re-establish all the little things that don’t come in training.
“You just get so much from the heat of battle and being winded and having to come back from all of that in match action. Ali just looked a couple of tournaments behind where Paul was, and for that reason my money was on Paul if he played well.
“At the Black Ball next month, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ali was better again and especially on home territory, as there are not many times there is anything other than an Egyptian winner on Egyptian territory.”
Turning his focus to the Canary Wharf Classic final itself, Matthew said: “I think in terms of being an all-time classic, it was probably in between. Obviously, if I were in Paul’s shoes, I would be saying it was a brilliant match and in Ali’s place maybe not quite good enough.”
When it came to the other significant results at the East Wintergarden last week, Matthew has no hesitation in highlighting Coll’s systematic destruction of Diego Elias in the semi-final as the standout result and one that underlines the edge the Kiwi is starting to develop over his rivals.
Matthew said: “Paul was out to do a number on Diego in respect of having lost the final of Qatar to him and that is what I like about Paul’s mentality at the moment, he is making statements everywhere and letting his squash do the talking.
“It is like: ‘Yeah, you may get the odd win against me but you won’t do it two or three times on the bounce. If we play four or five times, I am going to win three of them.’
“So, it is making it clear to the other guys that if they want to beat Paul Coll they will have to be at their absolute best.
Paul Coll (left) shakes hands with Ali Farag (right) following the 2021 Canary Wharf Classic
“He has changed the dynamic as he can be slightly off form but he can still get a win over them and that, psychologically, gives Paul an edge.
“Whereas if you know before you go on that the other guy is 100% consistent and that you have to be bang on yourself, that brings added pressure and that can mean he starts beating Farag three out of five and Mohamed three out of five.
“So, Paul Coll is the most consistent player on the tour and now he is getting into the heads of these guys and that is a problem for them.”