The Laura Massaro column
Chorley’s Laura Massaro is the No.2 ranked squash player in the world. Here is her latest column – exclusively writted for the LEP
It is not often a sport like squash can reach out to the masses.
Unlike football and cricket – or even other rackets sports like tennis – squash is limited in terms of audience figures.
Football can command crowds approaching six-figures at the highest level, while Andy Murray’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of Wimbledon last year was watched by an attendance of around 15,000 on Centre Court.
Just by the sheer nature of our sport, it is very difficult to cram any more than 1,000 people into a squash viewing area.
At the British Open last year – which was held at Hull City’s KC Stadium – the crowd for my final win over Nicol David probably just crept above the four-figure barrier.
So it’s pretty amazing to think that tens of thousands of people watched – in the flesh – mine and my fellow players’ matches at the Tournament of Champions in New York last month.
Held at the iconic Grand Central Station in the American city, the tournaments offers commuters – alongside paying spectators – the opportunity to stop and watch our matches while they wait for their connecting trains.
When you think of the amount of people who will pass through the terminal on a daily basis, then it’s feasible to suggest that the tournament’s viewing figures stretched to a five-figure number – if not six figures.
It’s always a pretty amazing experience to go back to Grand Central Station and play.
In the pre-tournament build-up, I arrived at the station to find a huge 15ft poster of myself adorning the walls of the station alongside David and two of the top men players – Gregory Gaultier and Ramy Ashour.
It’s a pretty surreal experience to see something like that – although I must admit, I wasn’t once recognised when I was out and about around New York going for dinner or nipping to the shops, which believe me, I am always happy about.
I did detect a certain awareness among New Yorkers that there was a tournament taking place because people would stare when they saw you with your squash bag.
With all this in mind, I was pretty pleased that I managed to perform well during the competition and reach the final – although I ultimately lost to world No.1 David 3-0.
I was disappointed not to win a game, especially as I was up by a considerable margin in the second, but Nicol came back to win.
After New York, I flew west for the Cleveland Classic, which is a tournament I always enjoy and have won in the past.
Instead of stopping in a hotel like I did in New York, I stopped with the Brown family – who are friends of the tournament – during my stay in Cleveland.
That was nice because instead of eating out every night, I was able to tuck into some home-cooked food and generally enjoyed their hospitality.
I managed to beat Madeline Perry in the first match coming back from 2-1 down to win 3-2, but then lost to Hong Kong’s Annie Au in the quarter-finals.
I was disappointed to lose, but Annie played well. That’s the third successive time I have lost to her and there is something about her style which matches up well against my game.
It’s something I will have to go away and work on in practice, so that I will be better prepared when I next play her.
Today I face Carrie Ramsey, who is ranked in the top 70 in the world, in the first round of the prestigious British National Championships, in Manchester.
Although there are no world ranking points available, the nationals are always an important date in the calendar for all the British players.
With the strength in depth we have in the UK, to win the nationals, you have to be one of the best players in the world. I have won the tournament twice in 2011 and 2012 and was hoping to make it three in a row but I lost in the final last year.
As the top seed, expectation levels are high and that brings added pressure, although I also look on it as a privilege especially when you consider the calibre of players taking part.
The tournament is one I grew up watching and I want to win it as many times as I can before I finish playing.
Many of my friends and family will also be coming to watch me play, which is great because they don’t normally get the chance to when I’m competing around the world.
I won’t be the only Massaro in action in Manchester this week – my husband Danny is taking part in the Over-35s event. He actually entered into qualification for the main event and won one round before losing in a really close match to a player who ended up qualifying.
He used the qualifiers for match practice for the Over-35s event. It’s always interesting watching Danny play – it gives me an idea of the trials and tribulations that my family and friends go through when they watch me in action.
Obviously, a lot of Danny’s time is spent coaching, but he’s still a very competitive player.
He plays in the North West Counties League which is a decent standard but probably doesn’t make the effort to get out and about and play more tournaments.
I’ll be a keen spectator when he’s on court and hopefully we will be able to make it a double victory in the Massaro household this weekend!