IT has proved an emotional few months for Nick Matthew as he prepares to bow out from the world stage after a long and glittering career.
At the start of his final season on the PSA World Tour, the 37-year-old Yorkshireman targeted two events in particular that he wanted to triumph at one last time.
First up on the calendar last December was the world championships in Manchester which, after a promising early run, saw him exit in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Mohamed ElShorbagy.
His other main focus arrives this week on Australia’s Gold Coast when squash enjoys its own ‘mini-Olympics’ at the Commonwealth Games.
A three-time winner already at the event with two singles titles and a doubles triumph, the Sheffield-born former world No 1 is keen to add to his tally and exit one of his favourite tournaments on the perfect high.
“There have been so many conflicting emotions for me over the last few months with it being the last season on the tour,” admitted Matthew.
“But these days you have to take it on enjoyment and how much I’ve enjoyed the journey and from that point of view I couldn’t have wished for anything more.
“I obviously didn’t know how this last season was going to pan out and having that target, that purpose and that goal has kind of given me extra impetus and I’ve loved getting up and doing the training because I’ve known that it isn’t going to last forever.”
Matthew’s final season and his clear, stated targets have seen him take more time out than previous years, with the aim being to be in peak condition for those events that are at the top of his list.
It has meant a gradual drop down the rankings over the last few months, with Matthew heading into the Commonwealths at No 12 in the world. But, despite the lack of a global title in his last season – so far – Matthew is not too concerned, quietly confident that he can put that right over the next couple of weeks.
“Rankings-wise, having been up to world No 1 in the past, I’ve slipped down to eight this season so, on the face of it, it may look like I’ve not played as well,” he explained.
“But I’ve been fairly consistent in my performances, while the players previously below me have also played well and got to major finals and have deserved to go above me.
“So I feel like that could actually skew this season in some ways, but I feel it’s been a really successful one, without having actually won a major global title.
“Hopefully, that is one thing I can put right on the Gold Coast.”
I obviously didn’t know how this last season was going to pan out and having that target, that purpose and that goal has kind of given me extra impetus and I’ve loved getting up and doing the training because I’ve known that it isn’t going to last forever.Nick Matthew
But while his main focus will be on clinching that third singles gold medal – he also won gold in the men’s doubles at the 2010 games in Delhi – Matthew has always been a fan of embracing the whole event and rubbing shoulders with big names from other sports.
“It is a massive global event, certainly for squash and certainly without the ‘O’ word and us not being in the Olympics,” added Matthew.
“It is something that has been a massive, massive part of my career so far. The medals I’ve won in the last two games are special and I really want to add that third singles title and get my fourth overall gold.
“For the rest of the year in our sport, you’re almost in a bubble and playing for yourself in a sense, even though you are representing your country in one way too.
“Just pulling on that England shirt, being in the village with all the other great members of that England team – you think of the Brownlee brothers, Adam Peaty etc etc and all the other people in that team; there are some really high-profile athletes and it is great to rub shoulders with those guys and be part of that team and have that camaraderie.
While the Commonwealths men’s singles will for obvious reasons be missing many of the top stars from the world tour, in particular the Egyptians who dominate the world rankings, top seed Matthew is not taking anything for granted. “Any one of those top eight could win it,” he said.
One of Matthew’s main threats will come in the shape of fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop, the 34-year-old who has lost out to Matthew in the last two finals.
Willstrop will also compete in the men’s doubles by partnering Declan James, while Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf, a three-time silver medallist, will also be present.
The 35-year-old former world No 2 will partner Alison Waters in the women’s doubles before playing alongside Adrian Waller in the mixed doubles.