World Squash Championship 2013: Nick Matthew wins third title

World Squash Championship 2013: England's Nick Matthew beats world No2 Gregory Gaultier to win his third title

By Joel Durston at Manchester Central
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World champions Nick Matthew Photo: Marianne Bevis

Nick Matthew made it a hat-trick of World Championship victories in front of a packed home crowd at Manchester on Sunday.

The Sheffield player beat World No.2 Gregory Gaultier 11-9, 11-9, 11-13, 7-11, 11-2, in a thrilling five games, spread over a marathon 111 minutes – the longest match of the 64-man tournament (for non-squash fans, think a Nadal-Federer five-hour, five-setter).

And he was clearly ecstatic about the win, which will be sweet revenge for the straight-games victory the Frenchman dished out to him just over two weeks ago in the US Open final.

“I could gladly retire tomorrow. I won’t do – but I could do. It’s the stuff of my wildest dreams,” Matthew said.

“He gave me a lesson then, didn’t he? He charged me €50 at the end of it!

“I tried to learn my lessons today, and it was tough, such a mental battle. Physically of course you can see, but what people don’t see is that mental torment – that mental chess.”

It was Matthew who made the opening moves, going 3-0 up with two good squeeze drops and a deceptive boast which wrong-footed Gaultier.

But his opponent fought back to 7-4, taking control of the rallies and pushing Matthew into all four corners.

The Englishman stemmed the tide with another tricky boast, and took it to 6-7 with a fine drop shot.

The following point was, at that stage, the best of the match; a back-to-front, corner-to-corner point, which can prove such an important psychological marker – for the winner, a message to one’s opponent of the lengths one can, and will, go.

And it seemed it would prove pivotal, as Gaultier took the next point to make it 9-6.

But Matthew played some superb squash to take the next four points, ending three on clever drops.

Then at 10-9, gameball to Matthew, Gaultier played a loose backhand, which ricocheted back into the middle, with the world No4 switching from shaping up a backhand volley to calling a stroke on his forehand.

The video ref took his time with the decision – understandably given its difficulty and importance – but eventually awarded it.

Gaultier set the tone for the second as he pounced to angle a quick-fire backhand volley right into the nick, then took the next two points before making three straight errors.

The pair then traded points up to 8-6, before Matthew again made a spirited fightback, starting from a rally where the crowd were gasping at some of his – and Gaultier’s – retrievals, after which the Frenchman tinned.

Then Gaultier, despite having boxed Matthew off considerably from the backhand front corner, missed the drop shot, was beaten by a good cross-court drive on the next point, and, again, missed a backhand drop to give Matthew two gameballs – the first of which Matthew squandered in a similar manner.

But he took the second, in fact a near carbon copy of the matchball stroke in the first. Straight after the incident, Gaultier waved his finger in protestation, and again reviewed unsuccessfully, throwing his racket dispiritedly against the back wall after the decision.

Down 2-0 in the final, he had failed to win three times (now four), and having lost important leads in both games, this would be a major test of the Frenchman’s new-found psychological “maturity”.

But he passed the test – just, as there was more tenacious play from Matthew; an aspect of his play which earlier this week he said he would half the player he is without.

The best example of this was the point on Gaultier’s serve at 6-7 – a mammoth 52-shot rally, where first Matthew retrieved about three balls he had no real right to, then Gaultier did, before Sheffield man got a let after tripping over Gaultier, such was his desire to make the ball.

The world No3 won the replay, a wall-to-wall drop and counter-drop exchange, with one of the finest drops imaginable, and got the next on a contentious, late “not up” call.

He brought up two gameballs first with a delicate drop/squeeze then through a Matthew error – but his opponent battled back to the tiebreak (10-10, two points clear), where there was an extraordinary couples of rallies ending in lets either way.

First, a rally where Gaultier tripped on Matthew’s legs running backwards but – thinking, probably rightly, it would not be a let – still managed to play a shot lying on the floor and then recover.

Then Gaultier got hit on the head by Matthew’s racket – a surprisingly rare occurrence in professional squash. A dazed and confused Gaultier shook his head when the ref asked if he was alright.

He made an error on the next point, and the crowd roared at its loudest level up until that point as Matthew brought up Matchball.

But Gaultier saved it with an pitch-perfect backhand volley drop, and then won the game 13-11 as Matthew could only scrape the ball off the wall down – contrary to what the Yorkshireman’s celebrations suggested – and next with a forehand drop straight after serve.

…A shame for the crowd in the obvious sense, but on the plus side they would get to see more of this enthralling match.

And eventually a Matthew win too, as, though Gaultier played impressive squash to take the fourth 11-7, the Frenchman’s exertions (and cramp) told in the fifth, which Matthew took 11-2 – each point being cheered like the final steps of a marathon runner on his last lap.

“The crowd….wow,” Matthew said, before a 15-second wait for their raucous cheers (in squash terms at least).

“…Apart from the five or six French people.”

“Me and Greg played in France earlier this year and I never thought I’d see an English crowd as partisan as the French were then, but today you did that, and thank you so much.”

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