Defending champion Laura Massaro is relishing the prospect of stepping out under the purple lights at Dubai Opera for the PSA World Series Finals this week.
The 33-year-old, ranked number three in the world, has enjoyed a mixed campaign but earned qualification to the showpiece event after some stunning displays in the British Open and Tournament of the Champions.
In an interview with Sport360.com, Massaro said: “It’s a privilege to be back, to win the title last year was a funny situation, because you’re not guaranteed to be able to play the event to defend it.
“You have to earn your right throughout the season, so it’s exciting I was able to do that. It was looking a bit shaky before Christmas, but I managed to pull some good form together at the beginning of this year and seal my place.”
The new 2,000-seat, multi-format venue at Burj Park will form the centerpiece for the season-ending competition this week.
Commenting on the new venue, Massaro added: “Coming in for the first time is amazing, to walk out on to the stage, to see the seating the way it is. When we were told we’d be at the Opera House, I can’t believe it’s been a year. Another iconic location.”
Two round robin groups of four will contest the $160,000 Finals and Massaro will have the tough task of facing eight-time World Open champion Nicol David, world No2 Nour El Sherbini and compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry in the best of three games format.
Egyptian World No1 Karim Abdel Gawad says he is relishing the chance to compete in the PSA Dubai World Series Finals for the first time in his career when he will hope to cap a dream year with victory at the season-ending event taking place at Dubai Opera, starting June 6.
The 25-year-old finished top of the PSA Road to Dubai Standings after claiming maximum points at the Qatar Classic and Tournament of Champions during a season that also saw him win the PSA Men’s World Championship last November. And after reaching World No1 for the first time in his career in May 2017, he’ll be aiming to secure a remarkable hat-trick next month.
“To be World No1 and World Champion at the same time is a dream come true,” said Gawad.
“I honestly didn’t expect it. This season has been great but I still have a lot of dreams of course.
“It will be my first time at the World Series Finals so it will be a new experience. I was really close to qualifying last year so I’m really excited to be going there this time and to be playing in such an amazing venue.
“It’s going to be very tough but there’s no pressure on me. I want to go there and enjoy the experience and just try to play my best and see what happens.
“If you put too much pressure on yourself I think you will not perform at 100 per cent.”
Reigning PSA Dubai World Series Finals women’s champion Laura Massaro says she is relishing the prospect of defending her title when this year’s tournament gets underway at Dubai Opera on June 6.
Massaro won the Dubai World Series Finals last year by twice coming from behind to defeat Raneem El Welily and lift one of the biggest titles of her career.
But the 33-year-old admits she will have to be at her best to make it back-to-back titles as she expects this year’s tournament to be tougher than ever.
“Last year was an unbelievable experience, to go into a season ending event against the top eight and win is something I’m really proud of,” said Massaro.
“It’s arguably the toughest event to win because the level is so high from day one. And this year, going in as defending champ makes it a little different. I know exactly what to expect but I’m really excited.
“I can’t get too far ahead though – I will just go into the pool game trying to play my best and see where it takes me because this year has been the most unique season I’ve ever played in.
“But this season there’s been a different winner, different finalists and different names at nearly every major event – which is great for the sport – and shows how high the level is. In Dubai there are eight high quality athletes and we all have different traits, training styles and philosophies.
“I feel proud, as the eldest alongside Nicol in that group, that I’m still staying with the players in what is probably my third era in women’s squash as the game is ever changing.”
This year’s World Series Finals features a $160,000 (AED 587,712) equal prize fund for both the men and women and a unique best of three games format throughout the group stages and semi-finals – before reverting to the traditional best of five format for the final – something which Massaro, who finished third in the Road to Dubai Standings, enjoys.
“You have to come out of the blocks as quick as you can because the first four or five points can be crucial,” said the English No1, who will be joined by compatriots Alison Waters and Sarah-Jane Perry in Dubai.
“I enjoy that best of three format and think it was exciting and I’m happy to be back in that line-up.
“It’s great that there’s a good English contingent going this year as well and it will be exciting to have the other girls there as well. As a Brit as well it’s always nice to get a bit of sun and I find that if I can bring a little bit of holiday time and combine it with the squash side that helps me be more relaxed and give my all on court.
Tickets for the 2017 PSA Dubai World Series Finals are available to purchase through www.dubaiopera.com or from the Dubai Opera Box Office. For further information on both the PSA World Series and the PSA World Tour, please visit www.worldseriesfinals.com