England's top squash player Nick Matthew returns home this week after a whirlwind three-month overseas campaign which has seen the Yorkshireman win two Commonwealth Games gold medals; become England's first world champion; and clinch a seventh major Tour title of the year which will ensure his status as the world number one in January.
After undergoing career-threatening shoulder surgery in 2008, Matthew began 2010 by winning his third British National Championship title - then went on to collect PSA World Tour trophies in Sweden, USA, London, Cairo and Canberra before overcoming fellow Yorkshireman James Willstrop in Delhi to win the Commonwealth Games singles gold medal.
It was two months later in Saudi Arabia that the 30-year-old again lined up against England team-mate Willstrop in the final of the PSA World Open - before going on to become England's first ever world champion!
"The biggest thing that hit home after my triumph was that I had become the first Englishman to have won it," said Matthew. "That's something that nobody can take away from me forever."
With no time to celebrate his unique achievement, Matthew returned to New Delhi for the final PSA Super Series event of the year. Victory in the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters not only netted the top Englishman his seventh Tour title of the year, but assured his status as world number one in the January 2011 rankings.
"It's been a dream year," admitted Matthew, looking back at his Commonwealth Games, World Open and world number one ranking successes. "They were my goals at the beginning of the year and I set my sights high, so to have achieved all three is amazing - something that was perhaps more of a dream goal rather than a realistic one!
"The world number one spot was obviously a reward for consistency over the year; the Commonwealth golds transcend the sport and reach far greater audiences than just within squash itself; and becoming world champion means you were the best player when everyone really, really wanted to peak.
"So all three are special in different ways; getting the number one spot back is massive too as I didn't hold it for too long first time around!"
Will the success make any difference to his life?
"It makes no difference the next time I set foot on court; I still have to beat the guy in front of me, and he will be still trying to bust a gut to beat me - probably even more so now! It's always great to get the scalp of the world champion.
"I think the difference will be more at the end of my career. It is something that can set you apart, and means your name lives on both in and out of the sport.
"The biggest disappointment for me is that squash is not in London 2012 to capitalise on our success in the Commonwealths, and at world level with the first ever all English World Open final," Matthew continued. "Everything is focussed on 2012 now in our country and we would be massive news right now in the build up to that.
"Outside of that, we have to do our best to get the next generation picking up a racket, and hopefully this generation of players can inspire kids to do that. Hopefully the success of English squash at the moment will get more coverage of our sport out in the media too and on live TV."
Understandably, Matthew's immediate priorities are on finally celebrating his success now that he is back home: "I will have to sit down after Christmas and plan some new goals for 2011 - after enjoying achieving these ones first!
"I can't wait to catch up with all my close friends and family, and all those people who have supported me over the years. These are the people I'm dying to see and say thank you to - over a beer or two!"
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