Three-time British Open champion Nick Matthew has admitted that he will have to work hard to keep the emotions at bay when he makes his final appearance at the sport’s longest-running tournament next week at Hull’s Airco Arena.
Matthew has tasted title success at this tournament on three occasions – 2006, 2009 and 2012 – with the first of those seeing him become the first English-born player since 1938 to capture the crown.
Matthew, the only Englishman to lift the trophy three times, made his British Open debut back in 1998 but his association with the iconic tournament goes back to the 80s when he regularly made the trip down from Sheffield to London to watch the world’s greatest stars in action.
“It’s a tournament that holds special memories for me before I was even old enough or good enough to take part in it,” said the 37-year-old.
“The British Open at Wembley was an annual homage for myself and my parents and watching the likes of Jahangir & Jansher Khan, Rodney and Brett Martin and Susan Devoy inspired me to want to become a professional player.
“To follow in the footsteps of my idols and lift that trophy was something I could only have dreamed about. When I heard I had become the first English [born] player to have won such a prestigious title… it made an incredible moment even more surreal.”
Those British Open triumphs, alongside three World Championship titles and three Commonwealth Games gold medals, have ensured that Matthew is one of the most successful players of the modern era, while his bitter rivalry with fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop has been one of the hallmarks of the sport over the last decade – with that rivalry stemming from the 2009 British Open final between the pair.
The two-hour battle went all the way to the wire in a feisty affair which, after Matthew had claimed a 12-10 victory in the decider [see the full story on our COUNTDOWN], laid the foundations for one of the most absorbing rivalries the sport has ever seen.
“Obviously it’s a match that has made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the years which is a shame as it took some of the gloss off the achievement and overshadowed what was a really great squash match,” Matthew reflected.
“It’s the match that really cemented the rivalry I’ve had with James over the years.”
Matthew lost out to World No.4 Gregory Gaultier in last year’s final and will be up against it from the off this time around as he takes on the in-form World No.5 Tarek Momen in a difficult first round fixture.
Depending on the result, that match could be Matthew’s final professional appearance on home soil and, after falling to a disappointing quarter-final exit at the Commonwealth Games last month in Australia, the man known on tour as ‘The Wolf’ insists that he is determined not to let those thoughts get to him in Hull.
“I made the mistake of building up the Commonwealth Games into the potentially perfect fairytale-type scenario and ended up putting unnecessary pressure on myself in the process,” he said.
“We are all humans and despite the best laid plans there’s bound to be a bit of nostalgia for me surrounding the event.
“It’s impossible not to be aware of it but I’m trying not to think about it as much as I can and let my squash do the talking.”
Matthew’s match against Momen in Hull will take place at 18:30 local time (BST) on Tuesday May 15. He headlines an English quartet in action at the Airco Arena that day as Willstrop, defending women’s champion Laura Massaro and World No.23 Emily Whitlock all begin their tournaments.