Article by Kristi Maroc
England’s Laura Massaro, winner of last year’s U.S. Open, is looking forward to the challenge of defending her title in a couple of weeks time at the 2012 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships.
The world #3 has risen solidly through the ranks to firmly plant herself as one of the top few women’s players in the world, and one of the most consistent performers.
“It kind of all happened quite quickly over the last year or so. I started last year at #10 in the world, and finished it at #3. That was a bit of a crazy year, everything just seemed to come together,” she says.
“For me the U.S. Open was a really great experience. It’s always really good fun when you play in America because the crowd gets really loud and lively – and for what can be a quiet and polite English crowd at times, it’s quite refreshing to go somewhere where the people really get behind you.
“I really enjoyed my whole week there and the layout of the tournament in Philadelphia. On my rest day I went to see the Rocky statue and the steps.
“From playing the first round through to the final I just felt really relaxed all week and then I obviously played some really good squash too. It was brilliant.
“It was the first ever World Series event that I’d won at that level, and to win any title is amazing, so I was really happy. For everyone in the world to be in it and to win it on the glass court was amazing.
“It’s a huge title – to be able to say you’ve won the U.S. Open!”
However, Laura says that mixed in with the successes of last year, which included the U.S. Open, the Cleveland Classic titles, as well as making the final of the Singapore Open, were also some inconsistent results.
“Straight after the U.S. Open last year I had in my eyes a poor result, not backing up such a big win in the Qatar tournament,” she says.
“So for me a major training focus is trying to overcome those little inconsistencies that I guess everyone has, to lessen them as much as I can, and try and win a few more titles.”
That focus saw Laura come close to another title last month at the Australian Open, where she made it to the final but lost in three hard-fought games against world #1 Nicol David. She again came up against Nicol in the semifinal of the Malaysian Open last week, this time missing out in four games.
“It is really difficult with Nicol around playing so well. My goal is to just try and better my squash and become the best squash player I can be, and hopefully that might be enough to get me to #2 or even #1 if I can do it for a long enough period of time.”
Laura knows the key is consistency, and as the only player to beat Nicol on more than one occasion last year, she definitely has what it takes. With the added motivation of defending her U.S. Open title, she is certain to bring a solid performance to the upcoming U.S. Open.
“I’m there to try and do my best, and defend my title,” she says.
Laura turned professional when she was 19 years old, and is now at 28.
“I played on all the school teams growing up – like netball, and cross country running, and was quite a good swimmer as well.
“I knew by the time I was 18 or 19 that I was fairly good at squash. I was #1 or #2 in Europe at that stage, and had made the quarterfinal of the World Junior Championships, so I knew I was in the top 8 in the world for my age.”
“I was going to go to University, and got accepted at a university, but then I decided to defer the place for a year to give the pro squash tour a bit of a go and see how well that first year went.
“I got my ranking up quite high for that level within that first year, I think came in at the bottom of the ranking at like 50 or so.
“So I thought, that went pretty well, and decided to give it another year…and I’ve never really have looked back since then!
“It is really a fantastic lifestyle - to be able to travel the world and do something that you love.
And love it she must. Laura has trained very hard to earn her spot at the top.
“I think over the years my progress has been really really steady. I never seem to look back and think that it was a ridiculous improvement phase. It’s just been a lot of hard work for a solid amount of time.
“I’ve really tried to chip away at my weaknesses and try to work on the areas that I know that I need to – which can be hard to do, because you quite often just want to work on your strengths.
“One of the things I love about playing this sport is that it’s not just the same thing every day.
“I do a fair bit of weights training and I think that’s really important, it really keeps you strong and also can help to keep the injuries away. And a lot of match practice.
“And one of the biggest things that I think is sometimes overlooked in the game is practicing on your own.
“If you really want to improve your game you have to spend that time on court getting to know the court and the ball and the angles and just being comfortable on there. I think if you can do that it will go a long way to improving.”
Laura has certainly done the hard work, and is ready to defend her title at this year’s U.S. Open.
“I’m a big believer that your training has to be harder than your actual squash when you’re playing in a tournament because then you can always push when you need to.
“It’s obviously going to be a huge task to try and defend my title, and everyone is playing really well. It’s going to be exciting.”