By ROD GILMOUR (Squash Mad Correspondent)
There were times in the aftermath of Gina Kennedy’s physical win over SJ Perry, the 2018 finalist, where the steely brilliance of England Squash’s latest star was briefly unlocked.
Emotion was etched across the 25-year-old’s face as, first, it was realised that she had guaranteed a silver medal and, then, that she had achieved a place in the gold medal match against Hollie Naughton, the surprise Canadian finalist who beat defending women’s champion Joelle King.
These Games have been Kennedy’s single target. Surrounded by a raft of England champions, Kennedy is one step away from an incredible gold. It was a scenario she had to hold herself back from thinking about too much.
“I kept envisaging it and what it would feel like,” said Kennedy. “I’ve had to stop myself. It’s just a dream and I’m not content with silver. I will absolutely go in wanting that gold medal.”
The match-up is one few expected. Naughton is a 27-year-old Canadian, born in Barnsley who trains at Pontefract, as well as with David ‘The Marine’ Palmer in the US.
Trust there to be an Australian tinge in a Commonwealth final. Meanwhile, Kennedy will also bring strong arms and a physical armoury, while she uses the same strength and conditioning coach as Emma Raducanu.
Both finalists were due to play in the mixed doubles on Wednesday; matches will have now been put back a day.
The singles final will be a fascinating affair, not least for the multiple storylines on offer for the world game. Forget ‘the Raducanu effect’. The Kennedy version could generate lift-off for the English game.
Against Perry, Kennedy had to deal with her compatriot’s mental attributes, although she seemed a touch nervous in the opening salvos, ability to rack up quick points – and remonstrations with the referee. Yet, the Bromley star had her own attributes, a love of keeping in points, a timely backhand boast, bundles of focus and few mistakes.
Those only came at the back end of the fourth. Leading 2-1 and the match heading towards the hour mark, Kennedy found herself 10-7 to the good, while she held five match balls, two of which found the tin. A deep forehand winner later and she was able to cross the line moments later.
“I didn’t want it to go to a fifth,” added Kennedy. “Her mental strength is her biggest asset and I may have struggled. Physically, I felt fine but if you hit one bad shot she can punish you.
“We both played our best squash which is exactly what you want, which is why it could have gone either way.”
Kennedy, interviewed on court, turned teary-eyed as she mentioned her long-time coach and mentor, Ben Ford, as well as the work Perry had done as a women’s role model.
“It’s an emotional one,” she added. “The Commonwealth Games has always been a target for me and coach Ben, who I wish was here. SJ has been a role model for me and it’s something I couldn’t have asked for.”
The home crowd has got an English finalist and a favourite at that.
Picture courtesy of England Squash