All Salute King Greg
(Tous salut roi Greg)
10 days ago we were approaching The British Open and there was talk of a possible new World No.1. It was a 3-horse race, where Karim Gawad was the hot favourite, then ElShorbagy, and a distant long shot was Gregory Gaultier.
Yesterday Gregory Gaultier won his 3rd British Open Championship, beating Nick Matthew in the final. He has now won this prestigious title 3 times (with his first win in 2007, 10 years ago!). A remarkable feat. Not only this, but victory yesterday put him back at World No.1. He will be the oldest PSA World No.1 in squash history.
In the last 10/12 years Amr Shabana, Nick Matthew, Mohamed ElShorbagy and Ramy Ashour have had the lions share of the attention. What those guys have achieved is undoubtedly amazing. Shabana is 4-time World Champion, Nick and Ramy are 3 apiece, and ElShorbagy has been World No.1 for basically 2 full years, and he’s only 26!
Let’s have a look at Gregory Gaultier for a minute. I fear his achievements have been over-looked in recent years. He’s won the World Championships once, so not as many as Amr, Nick and Ramy.. But Greg has played in 5 World finals, an effort only matched by Ramy in the era since the Khan’s. When you look at The British Open, the second most important event on the annual PSA Calendar (behind The World champs), he’s won it 3 times and appeared in 5 finals. Only Nick has achieved the same, and Peter Nichol has 2 wins and 5 final appearances.
So when we look at these two major events Greg is as good as it gets. If we look at The World No.1 Ranking, next months rankings will see him begin his 5th stint in the top position, which in the last 20 years is only surpassed by Peter Nicol (who has spent double the number of months as World No.1 than his nearest rival (Shabana)).
When you see these facts written down Gaultier really is one of the greats of squash –and he’s not done yet!
Watching The British Open, and in particular Greg’s matches, the quality was outrageous. It’s easy to think he had an easy draw to the final. He played Rodriguez (World No.3 last season, but admittedly hasn’t won a match all season!), then Cameron Pilley who reached the final of the end of year PSA World Series Finals, so we can agree he’s pretty good. Then Mathieu Castagnet is the Quarter-Final who beat James Willstrop in Round 1 and is Gregory’s close friend, so never an easy match, before playing the awesome Ramy in the semi-final. So not that easy. The thing is though, Greg made it look ridiculously easy. Not only did he win every match 3-0, but he was winning games without losing many points. There was an 11-0 in Round 1, 11-1, 11-3, 11-2 in Round 2, and 6 was the most Castagnet could get. In the final against an in-form Nick, the last 2 games were 11-3, 11-3!!
Now hang on a second, these scores are incredible! To play that well and to concentrate that well all game; all match; all tournament; is a joke! This is not that unusual for him either. For a decade he’s been the only Top 4 player who is capable of not just beating, but thrashing any player ranked below himself, where the other Top 4 players would have a slightly tougher time. Where Greg would fall down in recent years would be he would seem to mentally explode or mentally fatigue whenever he was playing Nick, Ramy or ElShorbagy in a big event. This season it’s changed. There are no arguments with the ref, no periods of the match where his mind wanders and he appears up for the challenge whenever he’s played one of the above players.
This has got to be incredibly worrying for the players around Greg in the rankings vying for that no.1 position. After being on court with Greg several times, I’ve known for years that he is the best player in The World. His shot quality, accuracy on his drives, his simple technique and the cleanliness of which he strikes every shot is beautiful, but his movement is out of this World. He is so fast and so smooth that he can glide onto a perfect drop shot and roll in an even better counter drop. Over the past decade it has purely been his mind not his squash quality that has meant he has not totally dominated in the way in which he was capable of. For years I’d think, ‘imagine if Greg had Nick’s brain !?’.
But now, we are seeing a new Gaultier. A happy, more relaxed man. He’s a settled family man and now that he’s won his World Championship after losing in 4 finals which was weighing heavily on his mind, he seems to be able to remain calm and allow his squash to flow uninterrupted. He may be 34 years old, but as Nick is showing us at 36, if you look after yourself and train wisely, there is no reason age has to be a negative factor for Greg for another 3 or 4 years. He’s in amazing physical shape, his squash is exceptionally good and now his focus and mental control is as good as his main competitors – so there could be no stopping him. I fear the only person to stop Gregory is Gregory himself.
But…… the competition is phenomenal. Gawad has shown that he’s an awesome player and could potentially take squash to new heights; Mohamed ElShorbagy has has a bad season but we hope he will be back to his best soon; Nick’s accuracy and control of pace seems to have improved; and then there’s young players like Fares Dessouky and Mohamed Abouelghar who are brilliant on their day.
It will not be easy for Gaultier to hold on to the no.1 spot that’s for sure, but personally I would like to see him hold on for a while as he’s a unique personality (ie. very French!), he’s great to watch and I think the squash he plays can be borderline perfection!