ON the surface, it probably was not the best ‘going away present’ Chris Lengthorn could have given his sister in the week before she was due to fly out to Penang, Malaysia, to contest the World Squash Open.
The 27-year-old squash coach challenged his elder sibling and the world No.2 ranked women’s player Laura Massaro to a match at the David Lloyd Leisure Centre, in Chorley.
Fresh from winning the Windy City Open, in Chicago, the week previously, Laura took to the court against her brother in confident mood.
But despite being the current second best female player on the planet, she soon discovered that she wasn’t even the best player in her own family.
As she later tweeted: defeat by my brother @lengthorn86. Back down to earth with a bang! I may be Chicago champion but I’m not even #1 in my family!
If you thought Massaro’s defeat to her brother would have a detrimental effect on her confidence, then think again.
In fact, on the contrary, the Chorley squash star believes that her match against Lengthorn went a long way to helping her achieve the biggest victory of her career to date.
When Massaro, who was born in Great Yarmouth but moved to Chorley in her childhood, defeated Eygptian Nour El Sherbini in a five-game thriller last Sunday, she became world champion for the very first time in her career.
And she believes the quality practice and match time she gets against male players – including her brother and husband Danny – at David Lloyd, has been instrumental in helping her reach the pinnacle of her sport.
Massaro said: “In general, I have some really good training partners at David Lloyd.
“That’s the advantage of being a woman – it’s a huge benefit to be able to play against men.
“Wherever I am, I can always get a really decent match against some good level males – and my brother is one of those players. My brother actually thanks me because he says that he wouldn’t be the player that he is, if it wasn’t for me.
“He trains hard just so he can beat me.
“It’s great that I have my brother, my husband Danny and a couple of other male players who drive themselves on to be the best they can be and I just have to try to hang on to their tails.
“That effectively drags my level up.
“All that training and match practice is so important.
“I did used to beat my brother for a lot of years and then he started taking playing a lot more seriously again.
“At the end of the day, that physical advantage of being a man comes in to play.
“They can just get those extra balls back.
“The last time I played Chris, I said to Danny that it was a harder game than playing Nicol David – the world No.1 women’s player.
“If you’re playing people on a regular basis who are giving you a harder game than the top-class women’s player, then you’re on to a winner really.”
Lengthorn – who used to be a top-class junior player and is the current head coach of Manchester’s Squash Academy – shies away from taking credit for his sister’s success, but hopes he has had an influence on her rise to the top.
“I’d like to think I have helped, although I don’t know whether she would agree,” he said with a smile.
“I think it’s helped that Laura has grown up with somebody else who plays the sport.
“I played at a high level as a junior and now I’m a coach.
“I think it’s good that the environment and culture that she is part of is constantly competitive.
“From a young age we have always tried to outdo each other.
“You never want to lose to your little brother and I never want to lose to my sister
“I think being able to play against men has helped bring Laura’s game on, especially because the men’s game is that little bit quicker than the women’s.
“That has definitely helped improve Laura’s speed around the court.
“You’ve got me and you also have got her husband Danny, who is also a good player and coach.
“So that culture that she has at the David Lloyd has really allowed her to get to where she is.
“The more people you can have as part of your team who you trust and care about, it’s going to help.
“Every time we are are on court together, it’s great.
“I’m around to bounce ideas off, to analyse games and look at different things which are happening.” Lengthorn admits he never predicted Laura would scale the heights she has when they were growing up.
But he has always known that she was driven to be the best she possibly could be.
“When you’re younger, you never look that far ahead,” he said. “We just just used to take it year by year.
“I have always known that she has been incredibly dedicated and highly professional in everything that she does whether that would equate to what she has gone on to achieve, then probably not.
“Over the last four or five years, I knew she would do well and I knew she would go on to great things as she matured and peaked in her career.
“But early on in her career, you kind of took it day by day and encouraged her to work as hard as she could.
“She’s worked so hard for the last 12 years to become the world champion which is the pinnacle of anybody’s career.”
Lengthorn watched his sister lift the world crown last Sunday morning with his mum Jill and a number of others who had gathered at the David Lloyd Leisure Centre.
“We were all down here watching it last Sunday,” he said.
“We had all the squash members down at the club and we streamed it live on the big screen.
“Obviously, it was a great morning.
“It was 10-8 in the fifth game – championship ball – and the stream froze.
“That was a pretty heart wrenching moment for it to freeze.
“But we managed to get it back going again and by that time the scoreline was 10-9.
“Then she got the stroke on championship ball and there was a big roar – then we got the champagne on the go.”
Unlike mum, who is always a bag of nerves when she watches her daughter play, Lengthorn is cool, clam and collected when he watches his sister in action.
Even when she was losing 2-0 and was down match ball to Low Wee Wern in the quarter-finals, he was confident that she would come back to win.
“I tend not to get too nervous because I have complete and utter confidence in the way that she plays,” he said.
“For me, Laura is one of the most focused and dedicated players on the women’s Tour.
“One of her biggest strengths is her mental resilience and mental toughness.
“Even when she was 2-0 down and 10-6 down against Wee Wern, I still had faith in her because of the skills that she has got, the fitness that she has got, but mainly because of the way she will talk to herself during those points.
“Obviously I got nervous because it was the World Open and she has never been in that kind of position before where she was close to winning it.
“But I always have every confidence in her.”
Voted as the player of the year for 2013 by the World Squash Association, Massaro has become the first Englishwoman to hold both the World and British titles simultaneously.
Her success mirrors that of countryman Nick Matthew, who is the men’s world champion.
Matthew has already cemented his place in the history of the game by winning the World Open three times, which sits alongside his triple success in the British Open.
Interestingly, the current men’s world No.1 didn’t win his first world title until he was approaching the age of 30 – the age at which Massaro is now.
Lengthorn believes his sister’s legacy is already assured, but the Chorley star admits she is hungry for more titles in the future.
“I think she probably is up there now as one of the greatest there has ever been in the women’s game,” Lengthorn insisted.
“She has set a few records already. Whether her success will continue in the future... who knows?
“It’s great what she has done right now. In my eyes she is a legend.”
Massaro added: “While I’m enjoying it and winning, I can’t see myself stopping within the next two years.
“It’s all about becoming the best player I can be.
“At this point I just want to try to keep winning titles.
“I think Nick Matthew only won his first world title just before the age of 30 and I’ve just turned 30.
“He’s got three now and hopefully I can try to copy him a little bit.”
One dream Massaro has is to overtake David at the top of the world rankings – something which is certainly achievable this year.
“Becoming world No.1 has been a goal of mine for years and it always will be,” Massaro said.
“When you’ve been world No.2, you want to try to get to No.1.
“I am assuming that I will move nearer to Nicol on the back of my success during March.
“Winning the Windy City Open and the World Open, where Nicol was beaten in the semi-finals, means there is a significant points difference there.
“It’s all about taking each event as it comes.
“The next event me and Nicol will play is the British Open and obviously with me being the reigning champion, I have a lot more points to defend there which is added pressure.
“It’s just a case of being more consistent than what she is and that’s a very hard thing to do because she is so good.”