ISS Canary Wharf Classic 2009     

23-Mar-09:
Matthew in fine Nick
By ALAN THATCHER

Nick Matthew is playing the best squash of his life and is determined to produce a massive performance in this year’s ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic.

Matthew has risen to No.5 in the latest world rankings after a sensational return to form following a long lay-off last year with a shoulder injury.

After an operation in January 2008, it was not until June that he was able to get on court and hit a squash ball.

Following a slow and frustrating recovery period, Matthew eased his way back into competitive mode by winning the Dutch Open in September.

A month later, he exceeded his seeding to reach the semi-finals of the Qatar Classic after upsetting fourth seed David Palmer 11-3, 11-9, 10-12, 13-15, 11-6 in 111 minutes, which proved to be the longest match of his Tour career.

Making rapid improvement since his lay-off, eighth seed Matthew also made the last four of the Saudi International in December after upsetting new World Open champion Ramy Ashour.

Matthew celebrated the first anniversary of his appointment with a surgeon’s scalpel with a sensational run of form early in 2009, firstly by making the final of the Tournament of Champions in New York as the No.8 seed (upsetting Shabana, Ashour and Willstrop before losing out to fourth seed Gaultier) then securing the Swedish Open trophy for the first time after despatching title-holder Willstrop in the semi-finals.

Within a week, he had claimed the British National crown for a second time, and by the end of the February the rejuvenated Englishman had battled through a high quality North American Open field to reach the final of the new Super Series event in Virginia, this time losing to Ashour in the 26th PSA Tour final of his career. His consistency propelled Matthew to a career-equalling-high No.5 in the world rankings in March, interestingly enough after the seedings and draw had been done for Canary Wharf!

To say that Matthew is delighted to be back on top of his game is something of an understatement.

“I was off court for five months and there so many different stages to go through during the recovery process.

“Even when I got back on court in June, it was a case of how hard and how often I was allowed to hit the ball. It was a very frustrating time. I was training hard away from the court but every time I played and stepped up the intensity my shoulder got sore, so I had to be extremely careful. There were so many different hurdles to overcome.

“It was great to start 2009 so well and I was able to improve my ranking from 12 to five with some good results. It was definitely the best form of my career and I won my National title back as well, which was a bonus.

“I try not to worry about the rankings, though. The key things are your performance and preparations, and if they are OK then the rankings should take care of themselves.

“I was at five in 2004 but it feels like a different world now to what it was then. From a personal point of view, my own game has developed and matured. I can’t put my finger on one thing; it has just been a gradual process.

“Much of it is down to attention to detail and hard work, day in and day out, and hoping things will improve.

“There was one unexpected bonus to being off court, and that was the time I was able to train away from the tournament circuit. Alister Walker said to me it was like I had done three summers’ worth of training back to back.

“Usually when you are playing tournaments you do not have a lot of recovery time to work on any weaknesses. And if you do well in a tournament and get to the semi-finals or the finals, you have even less recovery time. It is a double-edged sword, really, but I am not complaining.

“Your whole body is affected by the lunging you do on a squash court: the knees, back, hips and glutes. So you have to work on your core and be able to cope with the workload.

“Because of my injury I am doing specific physio and rehab drills every day and this has now become part of my daily warm-up, training and cool down. The important thing is to learn how to manage those situations and not take your health or fitness or granted.”

“It was brutal at the end of 2007. We had Saudi, and Qatar, followed by Hong Kong, Bermuda, the World Teams in India and then the English Open. You always get niggles in most tournaments you play, but now I am more aware of it and what needs to be done to take care of my body.”


TICKETS

Matthew is convinced the game has changed dramatically in the five years since he last held the No.5 ranking position.

“Is the game changing? Yes, it is a very different sport to five years ago. The Egyptians have come along in a big way and changed things. Suddenly a lot of the angles are different.

“In a recent tournament there was Ramy Ashour and Karim Darwish from Egypt in one semi-final and Gregory Gaultier and me, two Europeans, in the other.

“The Egyptians have are playing a new kind of game, but the basis is still the same. Karim Darwish has got to be world No.1 by playing immaculate length and width so the basics are still the same. A lot is made of the shot-playing ability of the Egyptians but they have such a strong basic game that enables them to set up the openings in the first place.

“Much of what we are seeing now is a marriage between the Egyptian flair and European fitness.

“As the game develops, courts are becoming truer and truer, and training methods and support systems are improving, so the standard will continue to rise, as in all sports.”

Matthew knows he is overdue a major performance at Canary Wharf.

“Last year I was injured, the year before I was exhausted after winning the Nationals and the year before that I had an ankle injury, so I am looking forward to playing my best.”


TICKETS