BIG INTERVIEW: Craig salmon talks to Chorley squash star and current US Open champion Laura Massaro

Laura Massaro gave a talk this week to pupils at Fulwood Academy
Laura Massaro gave a talk this week to pupils at Fulwood Academy
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The dream of having her picture adorning the wall of a sports bar in Lanzarote inspired Laura Massaro to become one of the best squash players on the planet.

That is the interesting tale recounted by the former world champion herself during a motivational speech she gave to a group of Year 7 pupils at Fulwood Academy, in Black Bull Lane, Preston, this week.

Many sporting greats often talk about a ‘moment’ in their formative years which has played a pivotal role in their development.

For Massaro the seeds of her success were sown at a very early age – while enjoying a holiday as a child at the sports and activity resort of Club La Santa on the sunny Canary Island.

A frequent visitor to the popular holiday destination with her sports-mad family, Massaro used to peer with wide-eyed wonder and amazement at a ‘wall of honour’ in the resort’s sports bar.

The wall paid homage to some of La Santa’s past guests, who had used its top class facilities before going on to achieve world-wide fame in their respective sports.

Seeing the faces of sporting stars such as cyclist Eddy Merckx and boxer Frank Bruno made Massaro – who at the time was showing great promise as a junior squash player – vow that one day she would have her picture on the wall.

“I would go every year with my family to Club La Santa in Lanzarote,” Massaro said.

“You could play every sport under the sun there from squash, tennis, golf, athletics, swimming....everything was catered for.

“At nights we used to go out for dinner to a sports bar.

“There would be this wall with pictures of past guests, who were all Olympic or world champions.

“I always wanted to have my photo on the wall.

“Luckily it finally happened when I won the World Open in Penang, Malaysia, in 2013.

“I remember coming home from Malaysia and after the press attention had died down, I got a invitation from Club La Santa to have my picture taken and that is now on the wall.” Despite more than a decade as a pro player, Massaro’s career has really taken off over the past five years, culminating in her best ever season in 2013/14 when she won both the World Open and the prestigious British Open – considered to be the ‘Wimbledon of squash’.

She became the first British player to hold both titles at the same time and her success saw her rise to No.2 in the work rankings, with only eight-times world champion and the legendary figure of Nicol David, of Malaysia, ahead of her.

However, a dip in form at the start of this year saw Massaro slip down the rankings – and left her considering whether it was time for her to retire.

But after taking a break from the sport, she is back feeling refreshed and motivated.

A great performance at the British Open at the back end of last season resulted in an epic five-game victory over David in the semi-finals, although she went on to lose in the final to Frenchwoman Camille Serme. But the Chorley ace has hit the ground running at the start of this season and has rediscovered that unbeatable feeling once more.

She has won three of the four tournaments she has entered, including the US Open – for the second time in her career – in Philadelphia, as well as the Qatar Classic last weekend.

She believes her hectic schedule in 2014 which saw her win two silver medals in the singles and doubles at the Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow, was the reason behind her lack-lustre start to this year

“I think the Commonwealth Games last year was a really big deal for me,” she said.

“It meant that I pretty much got just five days away on holiday in May last year after the squash season had finished.

“Then immediately, I went straight into training for the Commonwealth Games.

“There was quite a lot of doubles practice needed because we don’t really play a lot of doubles during the course of the year,

“The Games came around in late July and then from there I had about 10 days away and then we went straight into the start of the new season.

“So it was pretty much non-stop so by the time it got to January and February of this year, I was playing really poorly and I didn’t know why.

“My husband Danny suggested that I looked tired and burnt out. He said that I needed a break.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think I felt tired, but then I had a couple of bad losses which were a little bit out of character for me.

“So that was it, I just decided that whether I was fatigued, tired or whatever, I did not want to carry on losing like this.

“So I just took a break to kind of re-group and decide what to do next.

“At the time, I was genuinely thinking that maybe I’d reached a point in my career where other people were starting to get better than me and I was going to have more and more losses.

“I was kind of thinking this is maybe the way it’s going to be for me from now on.

“So I took a break to figure out what was going on and consider whether I wanted to carry on playing.

“Retiring definitely crossed my mind. Did I want to carry on playing if I was going to be losing to people?

“Was I going to enjoy my squash the same way that I had been doing?

“But I think even by asking those questions of myself , it made me realise that I didn’t want to quit.

“Me and Danny went on holiday to Dubai and I was allowed to skip the world team event. I came back and trained for six weeks to prepare for the British Open.

“I thought that would be a bit of a tell-tale sign as to whether or not I wanted to carry on or not.

“It would tell me whether my poor results were a result of fatigue or the fact that I was just getting too old.

“Obviously I made the final there, beating the world No.1 at the time Nicol David in the semi-final.

“I really enjoyed it as well and so I think that showed me that it had all been a bit of a build up starting from the Commonwealth Games.

“I think it is important now at this point in my career that I realise when I’m getting tired and when I’ve been on the road a long time.

“This year is going to be great because I had my holiday in May and then we had another break over the summer.

“I have put in some really hard training this summer which has meant I have been ready for these tournaments at the start of the season.”

One achievement which is conspicuous by its absence from Massaro’s CV is the fact that she has never held the World No.1 ranking during her career.

For many years she was ranked second, but was unable to dislodge David at the top.

Massaro is guaranteed to move above David in the rankings for the very first time next month.

But ironically the Malaysian has slipped to second and the former Albany High School pupil has another player to catch in the shape of Egypt’s Raneem El Welily, who is the new No.1.

Despite David’s slight fall from grace, Massaro is not betting against her long-time rival from making another concerted effort to re-claim the No.1 spot.

And the fact that she has beaten her great rival twice this year has given her a huge amount of confidence.

“I have come back twice from 2-0 down against Nicol this season,” Massaro said.

“Once at the British Open and then again at the US Open last month.

“It’s not something I obviously plan to do going 2-0 down, but I definitely felt when I nicked the third game in Philadelphia that I could go and win the match.

“I think Nicol kind of knew that after what happened at the British Open – it was a bit of a double whammy.

“Nicol has dropped to two in the world and for the first time ever I am going to go above her – it’s a shame she won’t be the No.1 when I do overtake her.

“But she is obviously still a great player and at the moment she will be trying to find herself a little bit because it must have been a great shock for her to drop to two after nine years or whatever it was at No.1.

“I think it’s just a transition phase for her and I expect her to come back strong.

“I suspect she will be working hard and I don’t expect her to slip way down the rankings.

“For me, basically from now, I don’t really have many ranking points to defend.

“I think I slipped down to fifth in June, but I will go back to No.2 and there’s a chance if I perform well over the rest of the season I can get the No.1 ranking.”

Having won the last couple of major tournaments at World series level, Massaro is likely to be viewed as the red-hot favourite to reclaim the World Open once more in December. However, she knows she faces a tough task, especially as the rest of the field will be keen to take her scalp

“I would say after winning back-to-back world series competitions that many people will view me as the players who is in form.

“But I am also aware that I have put a bit of a target on my back and so I will not be coming in surprising people.

“They will all know how well I am playing and maybe they will be a little bit more prepared for that.”