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Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 11:45 UK

England squash players dominate world rankings

Nick Matthew
Matthew is the first Englishman to top the rankings since 2004

By Claire Curtis

Over the last 15 years England's squash players have "won everything", according to national coach David Pearson.

In the new world rankings, announced on Tuesday, six England players are in the men's top 15, and three women are in the top 10.

And pride of place goes to 29-year-old Nick Matthew who now holds the number one spot.

Matthew's semi-final win over Thierry Lincou at the Sky Open in Cairo at the end of May secured the position.

The Sheffield-based player's star has risen steadily over the past six years, playing as part of the "best generation by far" of squash players that England has ever had.

The one-to-one nature of squash, with nowhere to hide, suited me really well and I was the most competitive kid out there

Nick Matthew

"I've been in the top 10 since 2004 - I remember jumping from 24 to 11 in one month, and then I jumped from 11 to five in one month," Matthew said.

Such success comes at a time of chronic disappointment for squash, which was overlooked by the International Olympic Committee for a place in the Games programme, with rugby sevens and golf preferred.

Matthew recalls the news vividly, saying: "It was soul-destroying. Squash was voted the world's healthiest sport in 2009 - we tick a lot of the boxes and we deserved to be there.

"It was the biggest disappointment of my career and everyone in squash.

"But we look at ways where the sport can grow and we feel we are moving in the right direction."

The sport is part of the Commonwealth Games programme, though.

And governing body England Squash and Racketball has its eyes firmly fixed on "bringing back a bagful of gold medals" from Delhi in October.

ES&R national headquarters are in Manchester, opposite those of British Cycling, an organisation which has blazed a trail for spotting talented youngsters and bringing them up through the ranks to medal success at major events.

Nick Matthew
Matthew started to play squash when he was eight

Only recently the team from England Squash and Racketball went over the road to have a tour around the cycling operation.

Communications coordinator Madeleine Bird attributes success at squash's elite level to a "thriving set up" from the junior squads up to elite players.

"We've got some really good coaching guys in place with eight regional centres across England - the coaches spot players to watch and develop," she said.

"We want to introduce squash to 122,000 children between 2008-2013 - for them to become regular players. It's a pretty ambitious figure."

Matthew has played squash since he was eight years old at the Hallamshire club in Sheffield, inspired by parents who started to play in the squash boom of the 1970s.

"I played tennis, badminton, cricket - all the ball sports. I just remember the one-to-one nature of squash with nowhere to hide suited me really well and I was the most competitive kid out there.

"When I was doing my A-levels at school I had to make the decision about whether to go to university or go on the tour. It was a hard decision. The safe option would have been to go to university and I was worried.

"But England Squash were great with me and supported me before I could stand on my own two feet. So many people are good juniors and they struggle to make the transition to senior level."

National Schools Championships
Squash's governing body is pushing to get more school children to have a go

The National Schools Championships is there to try to plug this gap.

Established in 1972 it has seen a gradual increase in the numbers of schools participating to the current level of about 100.

Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, watched the tournament earlier this year - to the amazement of many of the players.

Pearson, the national coach, first saw Matthew play when he was nine and has coached him as part of the elite performance structure for the last 15 years.

In that time he has seen England players "win everything - sometimes twice over".

He puts the success down to the family structure of squash - a contrast, he believes, to other racket sports.

"In tennis each player has his own team around him - there's a lot of jealousy. But in squash the players play together and train together," he said.

Sport England statistics show that 500,000 people regularly play squash in England and that there are 900 affiliated clubs and 4,500 squash courts across the country.

The sport champions itself as an "accessible" sport and Matthew agrees that "kids can see what you're doing, can come down and watch us training".

The cost is also accessible at about £3 per junior session with rackets to hire.

The new world number one now hopes that he will be able to influence and inspire the next generation of players.

In the meantime Matthew has his father's house to renovate - payback, he says, for the time and money his parents have spent helping him climb to the top of squash's ladder.

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see also
Matthew set for world number one
23 May 10 |  Squash
Golf & rugby set to join Olympics
13 Aug 09 |  Olympics
Matthew sends Duffield into final
02 Apr 09 |  Squash
Leeds club are squash champions
06 May 09 |  Squash
White loses squash semi-final tie
17 Dec 07 |  Squash

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