Home comforts can drive Matthew’s third world title bid

DAY OF FINAL RECKONING: Nick Matthew, right, made it through to Sunday's World Championship final after defeat to opponent Ramy Ashour, right. Picture by Steve Cubbins/squashsite.com
DAY OF FINAL RECKONING: Nick Matthew, right, made it through to Sunday's World Championship final after defeat to opponent Ramy Ashour, right. Picture by Steve Cubbins/squashsite.com
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NICK Matthew hopes home advantage can work in his favour when he bids to become a three-time world champion in Manchester.

The 33-year-old, from Sheffield, winner of the coveted crown in 2010 and 2011, made it through to Sunday’s final at what will be a sell-out Manchester Central venue after beating world No 1 and defending champion Ramy Ashour, who was forced to retire due to a hamstring injury.

While admitting injury to the mercurial Ashour was a far from ideal way to win his semi-final, the fourth seed and former world No 1 was quick to focus on the tough task that now lies ahead which sees him face world No 2 Gregory Gaultier in the grand finale.

No 2 seed Gaultier was made to work incredibly hard for his place in the final, completing a miserable day for Egypt when defeating Mohamed Elshorbagy - victor over Pontefract’s James Willstrop in Friday’s quarter-finals - in a 6-11, 11-3, 11-8, 12-10 triumph.

Matthew’s victory brought Ashour’s long winning streak to an end, the two-time champion from Egypt being poised to record his 50th successive victory since last losing to Matthew in the British Open final in May 2012.

The 26-year-old from Cairo played a blistering opening game against the Englishman ranked four in the world, taking the game for the loss of just six points, but Matthew found his form in the second, reeling off seven points in a row before drawing level.

Sadly, with an absorbing duel in progress and after Matthew had taken the first two points of the third game, Ashour was unable to continu and conceded the match.

“I feel a bit flat right now and my thoughts are with him (Ramy) and with the crowd and with everyone else really,” said Matthew afterwards, now in the 56th Tour final of his career.

“I need to make sure this doesn’t hang over into the final. I have to be a bit selfish: I’m in the final. I need to focus on that.

“When your opponent is injured it can play with your own mind. You have to make sure you don’t get distracted.

“The crowd were brilliant today. They really lifted me in the first game and hopefully there will be more of the same tomorrow and they can pull me across the line.

“I’m not going to have not being fresh as an excuse am I? I’m probably never going to go into a World Championship final feeling as fresh as this.”

A philosophical Ashour revealed afterwards that his hamstring injury first surfaced in his third round match with New Zealand’s Cameron Pilley, somehow battling through to the last four where he simply couldn’t put off the inevitable against one of his fiercest rivals.

“I had a lot of physio treatment and acupuncture the last two days, and have been taking pills to try and relax the body and the muscles down,” said Ashour.

“It’s obviously a big disappointment for me. I’m going to go and see what they say in Aspetar, the clinic in Qatar, to see once again what’s wrong with my legs.

“They say I suffer from fatigue in the hamstring, and they are not sure if there is something I can do to prevent this from happening again and again. I can’t complain, I had a good season - a great season - and I have to take that loss like a man and accept that other people had bad times as well.

“But I have no fitness coach, and I’ve been stuffing myself with anti-inflammatory pills for months now, hoping that my body would hold. But the body just can’t take it anymore.”

Already three times a runner-up, France’s Gaultier will provide a formidable opponent for Matthew, and offers the Yorkshireman chance to gain revenge for a loss in the British Open semi-final in Hull earlier this year.

It will be Gaultier’s fifth successive final on the PSA Tour, a run which has seen him clinch titles in the USA and Mexico and he had reached his encounter with sixth seed Shorbagy without dropping a game.

That record quickly ended after Shorbagy took the first game, although Gaultier was quick to respond by taking the next two games before a long fourth game eventually went in the US Open champion’s favour 12-10.

“I’ve played Nick so many times,” said Gaultier, “He’s a tough guy and he’s tough to break but I know what to do. Who is the best on the day will win. All I need to do is to recover well from today.

“Tomorrow is another day and I will give all I have on that day. You can do your best and lose or you can do your best and win; at least I will have no regrets.”