IF Laura Massaro needs reminding about the strength in depth of the national game she only has to cast her mind back a month to the unusual setting of Grand Central Station in New York.

It was there at the Tournament of Champions that the British number one was pushed all the way by compatriots Fiona Moverley and Victoria Lust.

Massaro, who goes for a fifth national title in Manchester this week, admits she got out of jail against Moverley before coming from behind to beat Lust on her way to the semi finals.

Add to the fact that Welsh number one Tesni Evans, who knocked her out of the World Championships in December, is lurking in her side of the draw, the world number four from Chorley knows a tough task awaits.

“I think whoever wins the title this year is going to have to be at their best in every round,” said Massaro who is aiming to become the first player to win a hat-trick of titles since Cassie Jackman between 2003-05.

“That wasn’t necessarily the case up until a few years ago. There is a real strength in depth to the national game at the moment. There are three British players in the top 10 and a handful in the top 20. So anyone can beat anyone on their day which can only be a good thing.”

Massaro, who kicks off her defence against Rachael Chadwick on Thursday, has had a rare look at the draw and knows there are some tricky tests ahead.

She could face world number 14 Emily Whitlock in round two with a possible rematch with either Lust or Evans in the last eight.

“I don’t often look at the draw in advance but I did this year,” said Massaro. “All my focus will be on playing Rachael in the first round but for the winner to play someone as good as Emily in the second round just shows how strong this year’s draw is.

“I know all too well about how good the players are in this country. I had two tough battles in New York against Fiona and Lusty (Victoria Lust).

“In fact, I got out of jail in the first round against Fiona and had to come from 2-1 down to beat Victoria, although, in the end, I did win the next two games quite comfortably.

“And Tesni beat me in the World Championships in Manchester at the end of last year so there are some very good players in there.”

While Massaro is top seed, main billing and prize scalp, the 34-year-old says she doesn’t feel under any extra pressure to win and become only the third player to win five or more titles.

“Whether you are seeded to reach the semi-final or final, you are always under pressure to win matches, whether it is your first one or your second one,” she said. “So I don’t feel under any extra pressure because I’m top seed.”

The Hoghton-based star has reached seven of the last 10 finals, winning in 2011 and 2012 and again in 2016 and 2017.

And victory would see her move one step closer to Jackman with her record six titles and join Sue Cogswell as a five-time champion.

“These are players I looked up to and watched when I started out in the game,” said Massaro. “I’m not sure if I could equal Cassie’s record but to be on that list and in that company is a great honour.”