Matthew eyes career-defining global hat-trick

Defending champion Nick Matthew.
Defending champion Nick Matthew.
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SHEFFIELD’S Nick Matthew admits winning a third straight world title would represent a career-defining achievement - but insists he is determined not to get too far ahead of himself.

The 32-year-old has spent most of the year as world No 2, trailing fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop for all but one month when the two rivals swapped places.

It has been a consistent year for Matthew, winning five titles - including the British triple of National, Open and Grand Prix - and hasn’t finished outside the last four places in any of the PSA World Tour events.

But it’s the next week or so in Doha for the World Championships - previously known as the World Open - that all the top players, including two-time champion Matthew and top seed Willstrop, have had their eye on for most of the year.

Switzerland’s Nicholas Mueller offers the first test for Matthew at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex on Saturday and, although the world No 20 will be no walkover, it’s further into the draw where it becomes much tougher for the Yorkshireman.

Three former world No 1s lie in wait for Matthew with Amr Shabana, Gregory Gaultier and Ramy Ashour all in the bottom half of the draw alongside the British No 2, although having a tricky opening tie is something that suits Matthew.

“There’s no easy route in any tournament these days,“ said Matthew. “The bottom half of this draw looks the toughest, much like it was in Hong Kong and there are a lot of good guys throughout the draw.

“Mueller is a very attacking player who seem to play with no fear. But it’s good facing a player like him as it means I have to hit my top form right from the off.”

“You want to win every tournament but do have to prioritise and this is the one that I’ve been looking forward to all year - to win it three times would be a great achievement, but I’m just concentrating on that first match.”

Willstrop, Matthew’s long-time rival and the man who has kept him off the No 1 ranking for 11 months of the year, faces fellow Englishman Chris Ryder and, on paper, has a slightly easier route to the final in the top half of the draw.

The 29-year-old, from Leeds, lost the Hong Kong Open final to a resurgent Ashour last Sunday, but has still enjoyed a consistently good year, chalking up one tournament win with seven other final appearances.

“Nobody can pretend that this isn’t the one that everybody wants - even last week in Hong Kong the players were talking about the worlds,“ said Willstrop, who has won both of his previous PSA Tour encounters with first-round opponent Ryder. “You can’t really afford not to think about it.

“Everything in terms of your preparation is geared towards peaking for this one week of the year. I think the tour is perhaps the strongest it’s ever been in terms of the quality and there are no easy matches.”