Nick Matthew is a deep thinker and a fast learner. In fact, his all-round knowledge of sports led to a well-deserved invitation last year to appear in one of Britain’s most popular quiz shows.
He slotted in comfortably alongside other celebrities on A Question Of Sport, a long-running show hosted by former tennis star Sue Barker.
Anyone who knows him will not be surprised to learn that Nick was the outstanding performer.
He explained: “You could say I have a fondness for all kinds of sports trivia and that obviously helped on the show. I can remember every match I have ever played, and I suppose that helps when you need to look back and analyse things.”
Being a lifelong fan of the Sheffield Wednesday soccer club, Nick is used to football’s lower leagues. It means that his in-depth knowledge of sporting facts and figures takes him deep into the undergrowth of the game, well away from the pampered multi-millionaires who parade in the Premier League.
My own memories of Nick go back almost 20 years when our two families met on holiday at an amazing sports resort called Club La Santa in Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, situated 125km off the north-western coast of Africa.
There were daily round robins on the squash courts, and Nick was always busy organising the schedules and telling people which court to play on.
Some years later, he visited the tiny squash club in my adopted home town of Maidstone, Kent, to win the Maidstone Open two years in a row.
In his early twenties then, I remember him fighting back from 12-3 down in the fifth game to beat Peter Genever 15-13 to take the title.
It was the kind of battling comeback that typified his never-say-die approach to the game. He later produced a similar recovery from 2-1 and match ball down to beat James Willstrop in a massive Commonwealth Games match.
That result alone set the stage for a long-running rivalry that continues to this day, with Matthew’s snarling tenacity giving him the edge in so many tight duels with his Yorkshire neighbour.
Mix in that determination with the kind of learning that must go on in any athlete’s head as they share court time with players of the calibre of Peter Nicol, Jonathon Power and Amr Shabana, and you can see how Matthew was able to hone his own game to such peaks of achievement.
With further input from the English national coaches and the scientific advice from the staff at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, where he often trains with Olympic golden girl Jessica Ennis, and an even fuller picture emerges.
He said: “I’m lucky that I’ve always absorbed sporting information like a sponge. And being on court with the best players in the world is the best way for a young player to learn the trade.
“Every player has his own different style and learning how to deal with all their strengths is part of the fascination of the game. I know I have my own style of playing but you’re never too old to learn new things.”
Nick’s signature style demonstrates his ability to play fast, attacking, pressure squash. To maintain such a high-tempo style requires phenomenal levels of fitness. His ability to impose his game on others, coupled with the inbuilt desire to chase down every ball, has made him an outstanding professional with a string of honours to match, including two world titles.
Last year he completed two major achievements with hat-trick triumphs in two major London tournaments, the Canary Wharf Classic and the British Open, but his bid for a third NAO title in Richmond fell by the wayside.
He spent too long on court in the early rounds and was unable to convert sizeable leads in the first two games of his quarter-final against Ramy Ashour.
Two months later he crushed Ashour in straight games to collect that third British Open before a crowd of almost 1,000 spectators at the O2 Arena.
Knowing Nick’s gritty determination, he will be anxious to put right that Richmond blip this year, and prove that, at 32, he is still learning. And still able to hand out lessons to others.