Fitness, diet and a more attacking game plan take Laura Massaro to the top of the world rankings
Interview by Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Laura Massaro begins the New Year with enormous confidence, boosted by the knowledge that all the hard work she put in during 2015 produced significant rewards.
Those rewards included three major titles, the US Open, Macau Open and Qatar Classic, a runners-up spot in Hong Kong, and, perhaps most importantly, the number one position in the women’s world rankings for the first time in her career.
She flies to America this week seeking to add silverware from the Tournament of Champions in New York to her trophy cabinet back home in Chorley, Lancashire. It might need an extra shelf or two if she maintains her current form.
Massaro, now 32, took a break during 2015 to deal with a dip in form and a bout of fatigue common to all professionals who, at some stage in their careers, are exhausted by the physical and mental slog of training, travel and performance expectations.
Massaro came back to the game refreshed and with a renewed vigour. She trained harder, got fitter than ever before, and retuned her focus to concentrate on delivering the goods in the major tournaments.
She also got to grips with the women professionals using the same lower tin as the men, and developed a more attacking game at the front of the court.
All those ingredients added up to the happiest Christmas of her professional career and an appetite for success to match her coveted position on top of the world rankings.
Massaro has overtaken Raneem El Welily to hold the number one position, with the ominous spectre of Nicol David at number three after the Malaysian’s run of 108 months at the top came to an end in September.
“It’s a great way to start the year,” said Massaro the morning after a muted New Year’s celebration. “We went out to dinner with friends and saw in the New Year but with the ToC coming up I had to stay focused on New York.”
After a busy end to the year, Massaro was secretly relieved at the cancellation of the Women’s World Championship in Malaysia. She added: “It was a bit of a blessing in disguise, to be honest. My husband Danny and I had a four-day break in Dubai after Hong Kong and it was nice to get some sun and chill out.
“It had been a busy time, coinciding with the release of Danny’s book (The Winning Parent). I came straight back into training but it was good to have some down time afterwards. It was nice to get home and enjoy some time with family and friends. That’s not always possible when you are travelling so much, so it was nice to have that mixture.”
Massaro was happy to discuss the changes in her routine that have propelled her to the number one spot.
“As much as someone at my stage of my career can change, I have embraced some subtle differences in how I train and how I play.
“Around the time of the British Open in May I discussed my fitness training with Mark Campbell. With Mark it was a case of getting back to training harder on a more consistent basis.
“It’s not that I didn’t train hard before, but the changes suited my approach to life. He was setting me plans and that suits my personality to follow a plan.
“It was extremely hard work, getting through the tough sessions, but that had an impact on everything else I was doing.
“Being fitter helped me to do what my coach David Pearson was asking me to do.”
As the results came, Massaro sensed a virtuous circle in action. “Winning brings belief, and belief brings confidence. That underpinned everything.
“With DP I was working on subtle differences in my swing, my movement around the court, and dealing with the lower tin. That was an interesting time because when we started playing with a lower tin we didn’t know how it would affect my movement.
“So, I’ve been chipping away with DP on my movement and the changes we have made (because of the lower tin) have suited my game very well.
“We have worked on being a bit more positive at the front of the court. My basic English game was very solid but we have layered an extra percentage on all areas of my game. The outcome was to be more positive when I have created an opening and to take the opportunity I have created to finish the rally.
“I am playing more positive squash and have the confidence to protect those shots.
“That’s the reason you refuse the short ball, but I have tried to build it into my game and back up an attacking shot, having the belief to put in the short ball and knowing that you have the fitness to pick up the next one.”
Another area of attention was diet and nutrition. Massaro explained: “I saw a nutritionist last year and took a fresh look at things. That helped me to get a little lighter, which again helped my movement.
“I have always been keen to learn a little more about diets but what I learned recently is that different foods produce different kinds of calories that have a different effect on the body.
“The nutritionist was a little nervous at first and wanted to make sure we were going in the right direction. But as I got a little leaner that helped to instil more confidence.
“That helped me with my movement, which helped to improve my technique, and then it was just a case of going on court and playing your best squash. Then it was down to me.
“It’s hard to pick just one element for my improvement in 2015. All those things worked in harmony. Every area we worked on was part of a team effort and it feels good to have a team of experts around me, people I trust.”
As Massaro packs her bags for New York, aiming for a successful start to 2016, she is safe in the knowledge that she can trust her own game to deliver the big prizes.
Laura’s interview with the BBC:
Pictures from Squash Mad archive, with grateful thanks to Steve Line (www.squashpics.com) and the PSA