My Greatest Match
My 2012 British Open win over Ramy Ashour at London’s O2 Arena is, I believe, the finest performance of my entire career. As I admitted earlier in my book, I’d previously become obsessed with Ramy after a succession of losses to him during 2011 and 2012. I’d heard stories of how Peter Nicol had once adapted his training specifically to beat Jansher Khan and I’d tried to do the same for Ramy. The key difference, and where I got it wrong, was that Peter looked at how he might hurt Jansher. I on the other hand focused on what Ramy was good at and how I might stop him, instead of concentrating on my own strengths. This was approaching the problem from the wrong way round.
In the build-up to the 2012 British Open I worked with my sports psychologist Mark Bawden who encouraged me to focus on my own strengths. He got me thinking about how I could hurt Ramy rather than how Ramy could hurt me. I needed good length on my shots, and I needed to hit extra-wide cross-court shots because Ramy was so strong in the middle of the court. But these strategies alone were not enough. They would limit Ramy but not defeat him. I still needed to dominate the middle of the court by pushing him deep and controlling with my volleys. Then I needed to attack with more variety and deception than I usually did.
My coach David Pearson had just returned from a trip to Brazil with Chris Gordon, an American player he coaches. Over in South America they’d become friendly with an eccentric Brazilian player called Rafael Alarcon. Over dinner one night, Rafa said to DP that when I played Ramy I “didn’t play enough to the eight corners of the court”. DP had no idea what he was talking about. Eight corners? Surely, even in Brazil, there are only four corners to a squash court.
Rafa explained that he considered the areas on both side walls, just in front and just behind the service box, to be corners of the court. Eight corners in all. If I was to use these extra corners, it would slow Ramy’s speed to the front of the court and would limit his counter attack because of a lack of angles. Most crucially, though, it would give me more variation in my attack.
The O2 Arena was a fantastic venue. I loved the feeling of playing in it. But even by the time I’d reached the final I still hadn’t hit full stride. I was lucky to overcome a slightly tired Peter Barker in the semi-final the day before. Perhaps I was saving my best for last.
In the final itself, Rafa’s eight-corner plan dovetailed perfectly with my new mental strategy. Not only did I frustrate the Ramy into making a succession of errors, but I managed to attack him too. It was my third British Open title, more than any other Englishman had won.
Sweating Blood: My Life In Squash – Nick Matthew Official Autobiography
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