Two-time British Open champion, and home favourite, Laura Massaro, has spoken about what it takes to win the oldest tournament in the game.
The Englishwoman, who is based in Preston, won the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’ in both 2013 and 2017, and also reached two other finals during that period.
She explained how the unusual venue of the 2013 event, held at the KC Stadium, the home of Hull City AFC, along with the weather that year, means she holds that victory in high regard.
“The first thing that comes to mind is probably the 2013 British Open, which I won, on Hull’s football ground. The fact that they had the court on a football pitch, that will of course be forever known as the ‘Squash Court End’,” she said of the venue.
“The mix of emotion and feelings that went on in that year from the weather, to the crowd, and switching to a plaster court mid-tournament, it had everything that event. The 2013 being on a football pitch just springs to mind the most.
“I actually had a really tough first round match in the freezing cold, possibly some of the coldest conditions I have ever played in. Danny [Laura’s husband and coach] could hardly talk to me in between games. They had to heat gloves and blankets.
The 2013 British Open was played inside the KC Stadium, home to Hull City AFC
“I played Dipika [Pallikal Karthik] first round and went 1-0 and way down in the second. I was just thinking how it was all going to be over before it had even started.
“Somehow, no idea how, I managed to turn it round and win the second game and win the match. For anyone who has seen that clip, it was a quite dramatic ending where she tripped over my foot and literally bent the glass on the backhand side wall. I won the match on a no let decision for that.”
Halfway through the tournament, the weather got so bad, that all play that was scheduled for the glass court had to be moved to Hull and East Riding Squash Club, with matches then played on traditional platter courts for the day. That meant Massaro had to change her gameplan.
“Then, as the tournament went on, conditions were quite bad and we had to move one round to a plaster court at Hull and East Riding which was completely different circumstances.
“I played Omneya Abdel Kawy on the plaster, which is the worst place you want to be against Omneya. You don’t want to be on a plaster against her, because she can lengthen it out much better than I can. Another brilliant win and I was hugely proud of that.
“I was then just feeling excited, with the fact that I was in my first semi final to that point. I played really well to beat Raneem [El Welily] in the semi final, and I had played well all week, even in that first round, to find a way to come back.
Massaro (right) and Raneem El Welily (pictured at 2018 NetSuite Open)
2013 saw Massaro, the then World No.2, reach the final of the British Open for the first time, and in her own words, “stuck out like a sore thumb” compared to the other finalists.
“I remember the night before the final, we had a dinner function in the football club. I think it was Vanessa [Atkinson] who was interviewing us, the four finalists, Greg [Gaultier], Ramy [Ashour], myself and Nicol [David].
“We were told that we would come up to the front and answer a few questions and I remember not really being asked much. I sort of felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb with them three.”
Despite sticking out, the Englishwoman knew how to beat the World No.1 and seven-time World Champion (at that point), having got the better of her previously.
“I knew I had had a couple of wins over Nicol, and I knew I was capable but actually doing it on such a big stage, in such a big arena. There was always a part of you, when you were playing Nicol at her best, you just didn’t want to get absolutely hammered, and I didn’t want to get hammered at home.
“[There was a] sort of mix of emotions, really. I knew I was playing well enough to win but I did not have any expectations to, and I didn’t think anyone had any expectation that I would go on and win the next day.
Massaro (left) faced Nicol David in the final in 2013 (pictured here at 2018 US Open)
“To finally get the win, and to see that ball go into the tin from Nicol on match ball and to have all my friends and family there, and the home crowd going bonkers. To be the first British woman for 22 years, it was just unbelievable really.
“Obviously, the first win over Nicol was huge. Had I gone into that British Open final having never beaten her before, we could have been looking at a different story really. I had beaten her a couple of times in the lead up to that tournament.
In beating Nicol David, the Englishwoman managed to join the Malaysian in winning the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’, putting her name amongst squash’s elite.
“The people whose names are on that trophy are special, special squash players. You want your name next to them, and the trophy itself just feels old and special, but in the best possible way.
“For me personally, and for a lot of other people, that is why the British Open is on a pedestal, because it is a special event, with special people’s names on there. As a squash player, you just want your name to be special too.
“The memories were that I was playing really well. There is always nervousness and expectation, because you want to play as well as you can. The home crowd can obviously be a huge help, but it can also be a huge pressure as well, especially if things don’t go well and you get that eerie quietness when things are not going as expected. The flip side is just hearing the roars when you play a brilliant rally. I remember feeling that things were going well. I think I had a pretty solid position as World No.2 at the time.
After winning the British Open in May, ten months later Massaro got her hands on the World Championship trophy, as she beat Nour El Sherbini in the final.
Massaro with the World Championship trophy after her victory in 2014
The former World No.1 believes that her momentum and belief carried her through to the title in Penang, Malaysia.
“For sure, on the back of that, I won the World Championships in the same season. It was the 2013 World Championships but it was in March 2014, so nearly a year later when I actually won the Worlds.
“I got on the plane to go and win the World Championships. It didn’t play out how I thought it would, but I think the British Open played a massive, pivotal role in making sure that I believed that I could win the title like that, against the best in the world, and to do it for five days in a row. A huge amount of belief came from the British Open win.
Four years after winning her first British Open title, Massaro put together another run to win a second, which included victories over the World No.1 and No.2 on her way to the trophy.
“Totally, totally different to winning in 2017, where I had a joke event and beaten Nour El Sherbini and Raneem El Welily. Then I went into the final and I had all the pressure piled on me against Sarah-Jane Perry, because then I was expected to win.
Massaro (left) defeated Sarah-Jane Perry in the final in 2017
“That is probably one of the things I am most proud of over my career that whatever the situation, I have found a way to deal with the nerves and the expectation. The two British Open titles that I have won highlight every single emotion that I have felt over my career since the 2013 win that I described, to the end of 2017.
“Looking at ten matches played over those two events, a couple of finals in between that I lost, as well. The British Open, I feel, has always been a hugely successful and enjoyable event. I will always love going to Hull because I have had great success there. Even losing in the final is still a ridiculously proud moment to make your way through a tournament like that.
This time round, Massaro will play in her final British Open, and what could be her final tournament, as she will retire from playing the game at the end of the season.
“It just seems right that the British Open is the last event for me. It is somewhere where I have had a huge amount of success and to be able to play in front of a home crowd, and in front of friends and family. I just want to do myself proud in the last event.
“What will be, will be. My career is set with the British Open the last event. It is not going to make or break my career, but I would love to perform well and hear the crowd get behind me one more time knowing it is my last tournament.
“I saw how they did that with Nick Matthew last year and how it elevated him. I am just looking forward to it more than anything. There will be a few nerves but at the same time, I can step on court and just give it my all for the last event will be something to really look forward to.”
The Allam British Open begins on May 20, and runs to May 26, and will be held at the University of Hull's Sports and Fitness Centre. Massaro's campaign will get underway on Tuesday, May 21, when she plays the winner of Rachael Grinham and Tinne Gilis.