Nick Matthew set to go out in blaze of glory
Backstage at the Manchester Central Convention Complex - host to the PSA World Championships 2017 - English athlete Nick Matthew OBE is reflecting on a soon-to-be-closing career.
His haul is impressive, comprising title wins in the World Games (2009, singles), three Commonwealth Games gold medals (2010 singles & doubles; 2014 singles) and three World Opens (2010, 2011, 2013), the last of which saw Matthew in a slightly less sober state than he is today. “I went onto BBC Breakfast the next day and was probably still drunk,” he says. “I then had to sign 1,000 copies of my autobiography with a hangover. Fun memories.”
With his 2017 World Championships ending with a quarter final defeat against Egypt’s Mohamed El Shorbagy, 3-1, Matthew has shifted his focus onto the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. The plan: one final charge at medal success in the singles competition before his retirement at the age of 37, “to do normal stuff, like spending time with my family, and having a curry with mates and not feeling guilty.” Matthew is aware that a gruelling schedule lies in wait.
“The two goals this season were the World Championships at home and the Commonwealth Games,” he says. “OK, I didn’t win here but I got myself in probably the best shape I’ve been in this year.
“The schedule worked out quite well, this was the last event before Christmas so I could have a nice build-up with the preparation in the first half of the season. The Commonwealth Games are in April so there’s enough of a gap for me to do the same again.
“The first thing is to have a little break over Christmas, to recharge the batteries. Then from the back end of December and January I’ll be building up to April.
“It’s hard to sustain a peak, so I’ll have to come down from it and allow myself to feel rubbish for a couple of weeks where I’ll go through a bit of a training block and then really plan and get my schedule right. If I get myself into this sort of form and shape I’ll have half a chance.”
Matthew has a longstanding union with the Commonwealth Games. In 2010, his gold medals in both the singles and doubles stands as a career highlight. “I’ve really enjoyed the doubles with my partner, Adrian Grant,” he says. “Adrian has been one of my best mates since I was nine years old, we’ve roomed together all over the world. It was fun sharing that with him.”
This was followed by another gold medal in 2014. “It’s hard to look past Glasgow because it was at home,” he says. “The Commonwealth Games does have a special feel compared to a normal tournament because you’re with the other teams. It transcends the sports, you’re not just in a bubble in your own sport.”
His senior status in 2014 also saw him granted the honourable position of team flag bearer at the opening ceremony ahead of notable athletes such as cyclist, Sir Bradley Wiggins. “It was nerve wracking,” he says. “The flag is heavier than it looks, I was nervous I was going to drop it and flap it around but it was an unbelievable honour, something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
“That event and my wedding were the two things I’ve been most nervous for. It felt like I had to lead the team from the front. There was no point being a flag bearer if I wasn’t going to win a medal.”
The plaudits for the former World No.1 haven’t ended there, however. Next year, Matthew will be operating as a national ambassador to England’s 2018 Commonwealth Games team. “It’s my fourth one now. I know what it’s about and I’m a senior member of the team. If there are any young people that need it I can give them some advice and some help.” His position in the England squad isn’t merely totemic either. Next year, a player current World No.1, Gregory Gaultier of France describes as “inspirational, he is a big motivation all the time” is working towards closing out his career in a blaze of glory.
“Yeah, that’s the plan,” he says, “but recently there’s not been many fairy tales in sport. I can think of lots of different examples where people have wanted that happy ending, higher profile athletes that myself, like Usain Bolt, and it’s not quite happened for them.
“I have to guard against that and realise that no story has been written in the stars. I have to earn it double because I’m there to be shot at. I can take the pressure because if I don’t win it, it won’t change what I’ve done at this point and hopefully everyone will respect what I’ve done.
“But I’m desperate to go out on that high. And I know it will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
The singles squash competition will start on Thursday 5 April, with finals on Monday 9 April. The doubles competition starts on Tuesday 10 April with finals on Sunday 15 April. The memories will last, but tickets won't. Secure your tickets.
This article was produced by AMP Media.