Two months ago, in the shadow of the stunning Burj Khalifa, England’s Laura Massaro brought a spell that saw her lose a World Championship final and her World No.1 ranking to a triumphant end by winning the season-ending PSA Dubai World Series Finals in scintillating style.
The 32-year-old had dominated the early stages of the season, with World Series title wins at the US Open and Qatar Classic sending her to the top of the World Rankings in January of this year, vindicating her decision not to retire from the sport after a barren run that saw her put down her racket towards the start of 2015.
Laura Massaro (left) celebrates against Nour El Tayeb in the 2015 US Open final
However, an indifferent run of form, coupled with an illness, left her unable to lift any silverware over the next few months, culminating in a disappointing quarter-final exit at the prestigious British Open in March. An improved showing from Massaro a month later took her all the way to the World Championship final in Malaysia, but she surrendered a 2-0 lead to Egypt’s Nour El Sherbini to fall at the last hurdle – a defeat that also saw her slender lead at the summit of the World Rankings crumble to her opponent.
“I felt like I was playing pretty well in the beginning of 2016, I went into the Tournament of Champions and unfortunately lost to Nouran Gohar who played really well on the day, but I felt like it was a really high-quality match,” said Massaro.
“Then I went to the British Nationals, which was a great event for me because I managed to win the title without dropping a game and I think that it put me in really good stead going into Chicago, where I felt that I played well and didn’t drop a game until the semi-final. I played Nour who, again, played really well on the day and they were three really tight games, so it was a little bit unfortunate in both Chicago and the Tournament of Champions particularly.
“After Chicago, unfortunately I got sick quite badly and was out of training for a while which was quite annoying and it disrupted all of my preparation going into the British Open. Not only did I not play great at the British Open, I felt terribly physically as well.
“I think in hindsight that match definitely helped me kick myself on and I put in some really good, hard work after the British Open and heading into the World Championship. I guess it just showed again that the training paid off and, sometimes, these things happen for a reason.
“[Losing the World No.1 ranking] was tough to take because I’d just lost the World Championship final and they just announced it at the presentation. I’m not sure either of us were aware of it going into the final, so it was sort of like a double whammy blow to the stomach. That was pretty tough to hear at the time, but she definitely deserved it, it was probably a fair way to play off for the World No.1 spot in a World Championship final. I lost and she 100 per cent deserved it.”
Massaro clashes with Nour El Sherbini in the final of the Naza PSA Women's World Championship
Famed for her mental strength and unwavering commitment, Massaro refused to let that defeat get to her. Instead, the Lancastrian looked at the positives, regrouped and promptly led England to the European Team Championship title, beating France’s Camille Serme in the final, before heading to Dubai a fortnight later.
Massaro’s early-season prowess saw her top the PSA Road to Dubai Standings, meaning that she was seeded first in Group A, along with eight-time World Champion Nicol David, United States No.1 Amanda Sobhy and Egypt’s Nouran Gohar.
Massaro takes on David in their PSA Dubai World Series Finals group stage clash
A 100 per cent record saw her storm into the last four, where she exacted revenge over El Sherbini before coming up against Raneem El Welily in the final. A steely display from Massaro saw her come back from 2-1 down to capture the coveted title – becoming the first Englishwoman ever to prevail in the World Series Finals.
“I couldn’t have imagined that the season would finish any better than it did,” she said.
“Especially if you look back to where I felt like I was at, at the British Open where I came off the back of that illness and felt bad on court, to go to the World Championship, then the European Championships and then to finish in the World Series Finals like that was definitely more than I ever expected.
“Playing Raneem is always so tough, you never feel like it’s in your hands, I just always feel like I’m running around, working really hard and trying to stay in the rallies while she is playing amazing shots.
“I guess it was more than I could have ever expected, it was really hard to come off that loss at the World Championship and keep my discipline and training going. I’m really proud of myself for having the mental discipline and the mental stability to be able to learn from the loss at the World Championship and take it into Dubai and not be too downhearted in Malaysia and use it as a positive.”
A triumphant Massaro roars with delight during her World Series Finals fixture with Raneem El Welily
In addition to providing Massaro with a share of the lucrative $160,000 prize money – equal to that offered in the Men’s event – her triumph in Dubai also reaffirmed her status as a major contender for the sport’s biggest titles and the World No.2 is excited for the upcoming season, which begins next month at the Hong Kong Open.
“It’s always been about playing the highest level of squash that I possibly can,” explained Massaro.
“I think that Dubai taught me that there’s more in my tank than I thought because I played some of my best ever squash in Dubai and it came right at the end of the season. I’m really excited for where that can take me in the future and hopefully I can be in contention for those major titles.
“If I can train hard, play well and give myself a fighting chance to be winning those major titles then that is where I would love to be.
“I want to finish my career knowing that I’m playing some of the best women’s squash that has been played and hopefully winning big titles along the way would definitely be some of the goals that I want to hit for the up-and-coming season.”