by Alan Thatcher
English squash stars Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro aim to fly high at the Allam British Open next week. And they certainly have a head for heights after playing the most unusual game of squash ever – on board the London Eye!
The two England team-mates donned their playing kit for a photocall above the city of London, and couldn’t resist hitting a ball against the glass pods more than 400 feet in the air.
Number two seed Duncalf said: “It was definitely the strangest place I have ever played a game of squash, with such an amazing backdrop as you looked across the River Thames to the Houses of Parliament.
“Laura and I both enjoyed the experience. It was a lot of fun. We are both delighted to see the British Open back on the calendar after an absence of two years.”
The 28-year-old world number two from Harrogate added: “The players are certainly grateful to Dr Allam and England Squash for not only reviving the tournament but bringing it back at such a strong level, with significant prize money and ranking points on offer.
“But regardless of that the title is one that I really want to win. I got to the final against Nicol David in Liverpool and I want to go one better this time.
“My fitness has been a bit up and down this year but in the last few weeks I have tried to get more consistency in my training and played lots of matches during the European Team Championships in Germany last week.
“I am feeling good physically and am in the best shape I have been all year.”
She added: “All the players are looking forward to it and it should be a really exciting event at the O2 Arena. I used to go and watch the British Open as a child in places like Cardiff and I always dreamed of winning the title one day.”
The women’s first round takes place at the luxurious St George’s Hill club in Weybridge before moving to the O2 Arena from the second round onwards.
England team-mate Massaro suffered a slight scare earlier this week when she tweaked a calf muscle while playing for St George’s in the Premier Squash League final against the resurgent Alison Waters, from Surrey Health and Rackets, who has been awarded the wild card at the British Open.
After a short injury break, Massaro returned to court to complete a 3-1 victory. That result provided revenge after Waters had beaten her in the semi-finals of the recent Irish Open.
Massaro, the world number four from Preston, said: “I really wanted to win for the club, and to get my revenge for Ireland.”
She added: “It was a bit of a shock when the injury happened midway through the second game. It suddenly went into spasm. I couldn’t really concentrate properly for a bit, then managed to ignore it and focus on the squash.”
Massaro enjoys a good record against world champion David, who is bidding for a fourth British title.
Massaro beat her twice last year, in the US Open and Cleveland Classic, and, like Duncalf, it would be a dream come true if she could repeat that result in the British Open.
“I’m really excited about the British Open being back on the calendar,” Massaro added. “It’s such a huge event with so many great names on the trophy and I’m looking forward to competing for the title.
“Obviously, Nicol David is strong favourite with her accuracy and speed. She’s always tough to beat but with my recent record against her I’m hoping to play well and see where that leads. I’ll take it one round at a time!
“I feel my strengths are in being an all-round solid player. I’m feeling fit and strong and so I’m hoping I can play to my potential.”