Andy Whipp: Greg Gaultier? I remember him well….

Gregory Gaultier: from being a scrawny junior to becoming the oldest squash World No.1 of all time – A different view, by Andy Whipp.

It’s been great seeing Gregory Gaultier’s face at a few tournaments recently. Is it just me, or does it look like he hasn’t aged at all?? He looks exactly the same as when he retired 3 years ago (maybe I’m just jealous because I’ve been getting greyer and greyer ever since I was 25!).
When he retired from the PSA Tour in October 2021, the tour suffered consequently.

Losing such a popular character would be a noticeable absence in any sport. He is one of the most enigmatic and appealing personalities we’ve ever seen in squash. People would watch squash just to watch Greg, so of course, when he wasn’t there anymore to grace our wonderful courts and stunning venues, it felt like the tour went through a period of mourning, which we have just about recovered from.
As a former professional squash player who is (almost) the same age as Greg, I thought it’d be fun to write down some of my experiences and memories of the Frenchman: a retired man’s memories of a retired great, and he truly was a generational great.

First of all, just a reminder of what he achieved:

  • European Junior Champion x 2;
  • World Junior Runner-Up (to Karim Darwish);
  • 2015 World Open Champion; World Open Runner-Up x 4;
  • World No.1;
  • British Open Champion x 3;
  • US Open Champion x 3;
  • World Series Champion x 3;
  • Qatar Classic Champion;
  • Tournament Of Champions Champion.
  • Winner of a massive 44 PSA titles from 83 finals.
  • Oldest World No.1 in history, holding the top spot in February 2018 at 35 years and 2 months of age.
  • Nickname: The French General.

Oh yes, I remember it well

I first came across Greg when I was 12 and he was 11.
For some reason, the U14 Cheshire team went to play a few matches against the U14 French team in Paris! Looking back, this seems outrageously extravagant just for some practice matches.
Whatever the reason behind our “French Tour”, I’m extremely grateful. It was awesome. I climbed the Eiffel Tower with my (now passed away) Dad, ate croissants, drank giant bowls of chocolate milk, and met a scrawny French lad who would become a squash legend.
Greg was the youngest of the French U14s, yet he was playing at No.1. We played a team match against them on Saturday and again on Sunday, and we were forced to change our team order for the second match as our No.1 couldn’t handle playing Greg again!

Funny Tiny Tight Cycling Shorts

Greg played the oldest guy on our team, Nick. He was about twice as tall as Greg, and considerably stronger, yet Greg won. This alone would have annoyed Nick, our No.1, as it was a dent to his ego, but the actual reason why Nick flipped out was he’d been mocking Greg before they went on court – Gaultier’s short of choice back then was a cycle-short!! He did look rubbish.
A skinny 11-year-old boy wearing cycle pants is not a good look – and I’m sure you can imagine; Greg would strut around the squash club in his tiny tight shorts with extraordinary confidence – no wonder Nick wanted to punch him!

Dominating the European Junior Circuit

The next time I would hear of Greg, would be 5 or 6 years later, when I was at U16 and U19 tournaments in England and other guys would talk about this cocky French kid dominating the European junior circuit.
(Sidenote: until 1999, the junior age brackets were U12, U14, U16 and U19, and then they were changed to U11, U13, U15, U17 and U19. Obviously, with the aim to stop the big jump from U16 into U19, which was seen as too harsh and physically daunting, but personally, I was absolutely fine with that 2-3 year jump. I felt I was good enough at 15 and 16 to compete with the top 18-year-olds in the UK, and I loved the challenge. That challenge made me transition much quicker as a 15/16-year-old junior into “men’s squash”).
Anyway, let me get back to the story… English guys didn’t really play the European events, as we had enough competition in our country, but a few lads from Wycliffe School would play one or two a year, and talk of this French guy who would always win.

Beating the Unbeatable James Willstrop

I next remember seeing him at the 1999 British Junior Open (BJO).
I lost in the semi-finals of the U19 to Nick Matthew, and Greg won the U17 event, beating James Willstrop in the final, 10-8 in the 5th, after James had gone 2 nil up. Everyone thought James was almost unbeatable, yet Greg beat him. James is a year younger however, so Greg was 16 and James will have been 15. (The phenomenon that is James Willstrop is an incredible story which I will save for another day…).

“I don’t speak Anglais”

While at international events, Greg used to pretend he couldn’t speak as much English as he actually could, just to avoid talking to people he didn’t want to, which I only realised when I saw him talking in perfect English to Adrian Grant, who was cool enough for Greg to speak to!

The year after at the 2000 BJO, Greg and I were both in the semi-final.
We both lost 3-1 encounters against Karim Darwish and Mohammed Abbas. Unfortunately, back then there were no 3-4 play-offs, because I would have loved to have played him, to basically see which of us was Junior No.3 or No.4 in The World at the time – oh, I forgot to mention, luckily Greg had grown out of his “cycle-short” phase, and just opted for a regular short, to the relief of all of Cheshire!
Darwish had become amazing that year, and he also beat Greg in the 2000 World Junior Open final – and as we all know, Darwish went on to become World No.1 for 10 months in 2009, deposing the great Amr Shabana (and by the way… guess who knocked Darwish off his No.1 spot later that year? Gregory Gaultier).
After his junior exploits it was clear, Greg was going to be good, very good.

Senior Time

As we both embarked on our senior PSA careers, I knew that Greg was living and training in Aix-en-Provence, a small town outside Marseille on the south coast of France. This was a “squash hub” for the flourishing French academy, which I can only assume was founded due to the phenomenal success of 1996 World No.13 Julien Bonetat.
I do not know the full facts behind the ‘French Squash Revolution’; it doesn’t seem like the clear-cut story of Ahmed Barada inspiring a whole generation of Egyptian squash players, as Thierry Lincou was only a 5 years behind Bonetat, and was from a tiny French island called La Reunion, so surely he must have been inspired by another hero… but all I remember is that ‘all-of-a-sudden’ France was a squash “powerhouse” and had a national squash training base with great players emerging from it, like: Thierry Lincou, Renan Lavigne, Jean-Michel Arcucci, Laurent Elriani, Romain Tenant, Julien Balbo, Stephane Galifi, Mathieu Castagnet, Gregoire Marche and Gregory Gaultier.

2003 – THAT World Teams Semi… Vienna

It was the World Team Championships in Vienna. Australia were the top seeds and had beaten Egypt to reach the final. England were seeded second, and France seeded third and went head-to-head in the semi-final.
  • Thierry Lincou beat Peter Nicol.
  • Nick Matthew beat JM Arcucci.
  • The last match was Lee Beachill vs Greg.
  • It was October 2003, Lee Beachill was World No.10. Exactly twelve months later, in October 2004, Beach would reach the World No.1 spot.
Remarkably, in October 2003, Greg was already ranked 11 in the World, and he was only 20 years old—just before his 21st birthday!
The crazy thing is, looking back, I don’t remember any of Greg’s results up to this event, but he must have had some amazing wins when I was still scrapping my way through the smaller events!!!
Lee Beachill, was already demonstrating that he was one of the best players in the World, surely he’d be too good for the cocky French lad, who only a few years earlier was wearing cycle-shorts on a regular basis!
Even-though the super-youthful Gaultier had rapidly risen to World No.11, Beach was assumed to be playing at another level of mature squash which Greg could not realistically compete against.
The match unfolded to be one of the most notorious in the World Team Championship history.
Greg won the first game in a nerve-less display, as Lee clearly felt the gravity of the situation. Beach settled to win the second, but this is when the match turned into a physical contest, where the referee was called upon almost every rally. You would expect this to favour, the older, more established player, but no. Greg stepped up and fought for every inch of the court.

Lets and Strokes became commonplace – much more common than an actual winning shot. A lesser 20-year-old would have given in and capitulated to the authority of age and ranking, but not Greg.

Gaultier found himself 7-1 down in the 5th game, but fought his way back to win 10-9 in the 5th (this is when the scoring system used was the ‘English’, hand-in-hand-out to 9). Malcolm Willstrop described Gaultier’s performance as “distasteful” and his behaviour “a disgrace”.


Most non-French supporters watching the match may agree, but, whatever people thought, it truly announced Gregory Gaultier as a serious future World No.1 contender. He showed he wasn’t intimidated by anyone or any situation, which is almost more important than skill (by the way, I am not condoning this behaviour at all. If it were to happen now, he’d likely be given a bad, and rightly so). Whatever lengths he went to to get the win for his country, he beat a player who was playing to a World No.1 level, and he was only aged 20!!!!

Practicing for the British Open

In 2007 and 2009, the British Open was held in Manchester, and on both occasions, Greg contacted me to practice with me before the event.
I had since retired from the World Tour to concentrate on coaching, playing in countless leagues across Europe and the UK BSPA tournament circuit. Bizarrely, I was playing at a higher level then than when I was on the tour. Greg had already reached two World Open finals.
We practised at my club, The Northern, and they were great fun. We would play competitive ’length games’ with shoes as targets. I was pretty good at this game, throwing myself at every volley possible, and I would just about win these games. Then we would move on to ‘alley games’. I thought I was good at these too, especially on the backhand, but I was put in my place, big time – Greg was so ridiculously good, I struggled to win a point (I got one when he got bored!). His movement into the front corners was a joke! I’d never seen anything quite like it.
Greg went on to win the 2007 British Open, becoming the first Frenchman to do so, and in 2009 he became World No.1 for the first time. I’m not saying both of these achievements were due to practicing with me, but…. Just imagine what he could have achieved if we’d practiced together more often!? I’m obviously kidding, but it was nice to have played a tiny role in his tournament preparations.

Finally ‘Growing up’…

Over the years I, like every squash follower, became a big Gaultier fan.
The quality of his squash and his personality made him a crowd favourite at every event. Once into his mid-twenties, he grew out of any ‘unsavoury’ antics and would let his squash do the talking. Yes, there would be conversations with the refs, and yes we’d see him lose his temper, but it was always entertaining and never ugly. He had some epic rivalries with Nick Matthew, Ramy Ashour and Mohamed ElShorbagy.

World Champion at last

In 2015 he became World Champion, beating Omar Mosaad in the final, and for me it was a particularly interesting match.
At the time, I sponsored Omar. Omar Mosaad, known as a gentle giant, is a truly lovely man. Earlier that year, Omar’s mother and sister were tragically killed in a road traffic accident. The whole squash community was saddened. Seeing Omar reach the World Open final was a fairytale and everyone was rooting for him to win. It would have been great for my clothing brand too!
But… people also wanted Greg to win. He had lost in 4 World Open finals and surely deserved to become World Champion, and he was almost everybody’s favourite player. I honestly didn’t mind who won, but as a squash fanatic, I was ever-so-slightly leaning toward a Greg victory.

Watching Greg break down in an emotional heap when he won surely brought a tear to all who were watching. For him to finally get his name on the most coveted trophy in squash, was almost too much for him to comprehend, so to watch it play out in front of our eyes was a privilege.

Long John Silver – ToC 2017

There’s one more specific match which I remember well as a spectator. The famous “hustle in New York” against Mohamed ElShorbagy at the 2017 Tournament Of Champions.



I’m sure most can remember – it was fascinating, enthralling and hilarious, all in equal measure (I’m sure Mohamed would disagree!).

It was the ultimate entertainment. Greg was strutting, head nodding, constantly gesturing, and generally being as French and theatrical as possible – all while playing some sublime squash. He took a 2-game lead.

Shorbagy fought back to win a tight 3rd game, and at 7-1 in the 4th game, Gaultier took an injury time-out. He comes back onto court with a particularly dramatic limp and slumps to the floor as he loses the 4th game. Everyone is expecting him to pull out of the match… but he somehow continues.

In the fifth game, Greg makes it impossible for Shorbagy to focus. He limps in between every rally, conducting the crowd and hip-thrusting like crazy but managing to move just enough once the rallies begin. Gaultier claims the win and then celebrates in the most unusual manner. Only Greg!

This match completely epitomises what Greg was all about: quality squash and quality movement, with drama and personality at the forefront of everything he did. There will never be a character like him again.

Last words

My last notable memory of his playing career, is when he became the oldest World No.1in history, last holding the top ranking in February 2018 when he was 35 years and 2 months of age.

To put it in perspective, I had just become British Over 35 champion, and he’s World No.1 – literally no comparison! An amazing feat, by an amazing player.

When Greg ended his playing career his biggest rival in terms of matches played, was the great Nick Matthew. Their head-to-head finished 19-17 in favour of The French General.

Mohamed ElShorbagy

The Fans tributes #1

Dunlop, Peter Schmidl, Mahmoud Asal, Beng Hee Ong, Laurent Cossa

Fans tributes #2

Jérôme Elhaïk – French Federation

Fans Tributes #3

Ali, Saurav, Amanda, Mick, Azlan, Daryl…

Nick Matthew