AFTER four weeks of brutal, arduous training at Sheffield’s Hallamshire Tennis and Squash club, the Far East beckons for Nick Matthew.
The two-time world champion is ready to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best players in the Hong Kong Open, which gets underway on November 25. Founded in 1985, the tournament is one of the most popular events on the world tour.
Right-hander Matthew, who is the second seed behind World No 1 James Willstrop, flies out tomorrow in preparation for the Open, which has been chosen as the inspection event for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to determine which of the shortlisted sports should win a place on the programme for the 2020 Olympiad.
The 32-year-old faces German player Simon Rosner in the first round. Wurzburg-born Rosner is ranked 16th in the world rankings.
Matthew is in the bottom half of the draw and scheduled to face Gregory Gaultier in the semi-finals. The Frenchman has finished runner-up at the Open for the last four years in a row. Indeed, Gaultier is in fine form, having reached the finals of the last three PSA World Tour events: the US Open, NetSuite Open in San Francisco and the Abierto Mexicano de Raquetas in Mexico.
The 29-year-old, from Aix-en-Provence, admits Hong Kong is one of his “favourite” tournaments.
“It’s a wonderful event for the IOC to see, especially with the court overlooking the water front,” he said.
“Squash is growing all the time - with players from more and more countries doing well now. It’s good that not just a few countries dominate, like it used to be.”
Gaultier, who recently became a father for the first time, feels that his new son Nolan has helped take the pressure off his game.
“Win or lose, you come home much more positive,” he said. “I am not as intense as I used to be. Squash is no longer my only priority.”
After four near-misses, Gaultier is determined to go one better in the Open.
He said: “I want to keep winning - I want to keep the dynamic that I had in the USA and Mexico. I want to do better than before.”
Willstrop, the reigning champion, kicks off his defence against England team-mate Adrian Grant and is expected to lock horns with Egyptian Karim Darwish in the other semi.
While Matthew would love to reach the latter stages of the Open, he says retaining his world crown next month in Qatar is his top priority.
“It would be amazing to win the worlds again,” he told The Star. “Everybody tries to peak for it.”