Top seed aims for second world title
By NATHAN CLARKE and ALAN THATCHER
Women’s World No.1 Laura Massaro is gearing up for a return to the country where she won her biggest ever title as she heads to Malaysia for the upcoming PSA Women’s World Championship.
The tournament, postponed from late 2015, takes place in Kuala Lumpur between Monday April 25 and Saturday April 30, and Massaro will aim to recapture the crown she won in stunning fashion two years ago in Penang.
Massaro has been one of the dominant forces on the Women’s Tour so far this season, with back-to-back World Series wins at the Delaware Investments US Open and Qatar Classic towards the end of last year laying the groundwork for her rise to top spot in the January 2016 world rankings.
By her own admission, the Englishwoman’s form hasn’t quite followed along the same vein since usurping Egyptian shot-making sensation Raneem El Welily at the summit of the world rankings, but she is relishing the chance to take to the court in a country that saw her defeat current World No.2 Nour El Sherbini to lift the sport’s biggest prize in 2014.
“I normally do quite well in Malaysia so I’m looking forward to going back there,” said Massaro.
“I had a really good week in Penang when I won the World Championship, but it didn’t all go my way. It’s easy to look back and think that it was all plain-sailing and I pulled everything together but I think I saved three or four match balls in the quarter-finals and managed to come through and win before winning the semi-final.
“By the time I got to the final, I was extremely nervous because I didn’t expect to be in the World Championship final with an opportunity to play it without Nicol (David) being there because she had been in the last five.
“There were quite a lot of nerves around it but I had a real determination to take the opportunity with both hands. It was an opportunity that you don’t know how many times you will have, with it being the World Championship final, so I was very excited to do my best there and really fight hard all the way through.
“I don’t think it was probably the best match from either of us, but I think you get that sometimes in major finals where you’re both on there, things are edgy and there’s a lot at stake. Overall, I was happy with how I handled myself on the day to finally take the title.
“The first half of this season and the run up to Christmas was brilliant, winning two World Series tournaments and making the final of the third one [Hong Kong Open], and the fact that it culminated in becoming World No.1 was obviously a massive high and an achievement that I’m really proud of.
“Since Christmas I haven’t been as happy with my form and with how the events have gone. I haven’t won a title apart from the British Nationals but I don’t feel like I’ve been playing too badly, particularly in Chicago (during the Windy City Open).
“I thought I had played well all week and Nour was just really good in the semi-final so I came out of that feeling pretty positive. Unfortunately, I got a little bit sick between Chicago and the British Open so it just goes to show that, if you’re a little bit off your game, everyone is too strong to be able to win.
“I’m excited by the fact that I’ve got some time now after the British Open and before the World Championship where I can try and get back to some of the form that I had pre-Christmas.”
Massaro has the advantage of being one of just three previous winners to take part in the tournament but faces a great deal of resistance with the likes of El Sherbini, who last month became the first female Egyptian to win the Allam British Open, Camille Serme, the Frenchwoman who eliminated Massaro from that tournament, and El Welily all looking to launch serious assaults on the coveted title, in addition to eight-time winner David.
This is the first time the 32-year-old has come into a World Championship as the number one seed but she insists that the experience of winning the prestigious title before has helped to take the pressure off as she looks to become the first Englishwoman to win more than one World Championship crown and take part of the lucrative $185,000 purse that is on offer.
“I’ve won the World Championship when I wasn’t the top seed so that billing doesn’t really mean anything. You don’t get anything for that, but it’s really nice,” she said.
“It’s a privilege to be able to see my name at the very top of the draw when the best female squash players are there as well. Aside from that, I know that it’s going to be a really tough week.
“It would mean a lot to win. It’s amazing to have my name on that trophy already and I guess apart from myself, Nicol and Rachael [Grinham], no one else has got a World Championship title so, in some ways, it takes the pressure off when you’ve already got your name on there.
“It would be an amazing bonus to have it on there a second time and a two-time World Champion sounds a heck of a lot better than a one-time World Champion.
“I’m really excited for the tournament and I’m going to try and put in some good work now so I can give myself the best possible chance to do well in Malaysia in a few weeks.”
Massaro gets her tournament under way against a qualifier and is seeded to meet El Welily in what looks set to be a mouth-watering semi-final fixture in the most lucrative Women’s World Championship ever, which will also see the winner get a brand new Citroen DS4 car.
All matches will be played at the National Squash Centre, Bukit Jalil and admittance to the event is free of charge. For more information and details, please visit www.psawwckualalumpur.com
Pictures by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) courtesy of PSA
How Laura Massaro reached world number one: The Big Interview here
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