Matthew's hat-trick of successes puts him right at top

IT IS difficult to see how the past 12 months could have been any better for Sheffield's Nick Matthew.

The 30-year-old enters 2011 as world No 1 – courtesy of victory in the year-ending Punj Lloyd PSA Masters in Delhi – and the first Englishman to have been crowned world champion. Add to that the small matter of two Commonwealth Gold medals and it really is a case of mission accomplished for the tenacious Yorkshireman.

It all seems a far cry from the dark months Matthew endured during 2008 when he was forced to undergo surgery on a career-threatening shoulder injury, something which saw him spend eight months out of the game and which led to a drop from the world's top 10 for the first time in three years.

The injury seemed to bring about a change in his approach to the sport, and maybe life in general, for Matthew, producing a more carefree attitude where he takes nothing for granted anymore. It is a policy which has clearly worked, with Matthew blossoming late in what is effectively the second phase of his career to become the world's leading player.

He is quick to admit that the three months for which he held the No 1 spot earlier in the year were during the least competitive weeks of the PSA (Professional Squash Association) World Tour, making him even more determined to prove that it was indeed a deserved accolade by holding onto that coveted spot for a much longer spell now he has it for a second time.

"I was determined to get back to being world No 1 and that is what spurred me on in India," said Matthew. "I was a bit flat after the World Open to be honest but I wanted to try and create a bit more of a gap between Ramy (Ashour, world No 2) and myself by winning there, so it was great that I was able to do that.

"With only having held it for a short while first time around I felt I had a bit of unfinished business there really. I want to make sure I hold onto it for longer this time around.

"At the start of the year there were three main goals and, to be honest, I would have settled for achieving any one of them.

"But to get all three is an absolute dream – it's been amazing really but it's hard to say which one is most satisfying because they all mean so much.

"Being world No 1 shows you have produced the consistency required to be the best over a long period of time. Becoming world champion shows that I was the best player at that particular time when everyone else was looking to peak at what is our biggest event. And to become the first Englishman to win that title is something that nobody can ever take away from me.

"And being in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games was great, as that was where the sport gained much wider appeal because of the coverage the games got as a whole around the world."

That wider coverage would be something you would naturally expect squash to benefit from once the London 2012 Olympics come around in 19 months, were it not for the fact that it was still waiting to be accepted into the Games. It is a situation which rankles with many in the sport, including Matthew, particularly when events including golf and rugby sevens were accepted for the 2016 Games in Rio at the expense of squash when the International Olympic Committee reached their decision in August last year. Hopes of making it in time for London had already long gone.

"The Commonwealth Games gave more TV coverage around the world for the sport than any other tournament, " said Matthew, "When you look at other sports that are already in the Olympics, squash seems to have the best case for inclusion but, last time around, they went for sports with more money.

"It's impossible to fathom how these people come to their decisions, it really is. We feel, as a sport, that the quality of our product is there for all to see. And we have shown, through the Commonwealth Games coverage, that squash can be taken to much bigger audiences across the world."

While Matthew and his contemporaries are destined never to play their beloved sport on the biggest sporting stage of all – he still dreams that one day the IOC will see sense – the relentless performances which typify his game will need to be preserved if he is to succeed in holding on to the coveted position of the world's leading player.

But – despite being one of the oldest world No 1s in recent years – fitness should not prove to be an issue for Matthew as his ability to grind opponents down has been a major factor in his recent success.

His desire to hold on to his position will be seriously tested in the first few months of 2011, most notably in January where he will first contest the PSA Super Series Finals in London, before heading to America and Grand Central Station in New York which provides the spectacular backdrop for the Tournament of Champions.

In February, Matthew heads to Manchester once again to contest the British National Championships, an event he will be looking to win for a third straight time and where he will hope to equal the record of Phil Kenyon, the only man to win the event four times.

He will have to wait until as late as October to try to retain his World Open title when that event pitches up in Rotterdam.

But if Matthew has shown one thing since his return from injury, it is that he has the stamina and the determination to last the course.

Nick Matthew career factfile

Born: Sheffield, July 25, 1980

Turned pro: 1998

Coach: David Pearson

Highest world ranking: 1 (June-Aug 2010; Jan 2011-)

Notable title successes: World Open – 2010; British Open – 2009, 2006; British Nationals – 2010, 2009, 2006; Commonwealth Games – 2010 – Men's Singles Gold, Men's Doubles Gold.