Monday, March 27, 2023

Ben Ford: ‘Gina Kennedy’s best squash still to come in 2023’

English coach Ben Ford has issued a six out of 10 report card for Gina Kennedy’s Tournament of Champions campaign, while giving his assessment of the women’s final in New York later on Thursday night.

The England No.1’s coach believes that his charge’s quarter-final defeat by Hania El Hammamy came down to mental and tactical shortcomings.

Yet Ford is immensely proud of the way that a sub-par Kennedy put in a typically battling performance against the world No.3, after being forced to fight through back-to-back gruelling five-game matches in her previous two rounds against Tinne Gilis and Rowan Elaraby.

The Commonwealth Games gold medallist’s victory at the Carol Weymuller Open last week and quarter-final run in the Big Apple also consigned any lingering fears to the bin that the ulcerative colitis that blighted her campaign in the second-half of last year could provide a New Year hangover.

Ford, who has been conducting a forensic analysis of the tournament via the screens of SquashTV, also took time out to tip world No.1 Nouran Gohar to successfully defend her title tonight in the final against world champion Nour El Sherbini.

But speaking with Squash Mad, the former world No.82 was keen to issue a best is still to come overview of Kennedy’s embryonic 2023 campaign.

He said: “As with the match with Tinne in the second round I thought Gina was poor against Hania. Every straight drive down the backhand wall was popping out into the middle, she didn’t volley enough and just made life hard for herself.

“If she had won the second game she may have got some confidence but she didn’t and so that is all ifs and buts and mentally she just didn’t look on the ball and made some poor choices and shot selections and she knows that.

“For me that is Hania’s strength, she is very mentally tough and will make it really hard for her opponent. I don’t think there is a lot in it in terms of technicality and physicality and I’d say Gina shades it in the latter and Hania in the former, although Hania is perhaps a slightly smoother mover.

“But Hania is definitely mentally stronger and smarter and as a result makes better choices and hangs tough when it gets tight but I fully believe Gina will get there.

“We reviewed the game Wednesday over Facetime and analysed it and there were a few lessons to learn. Gina was pretty disappointed with her performance after the game and rightly so but on the positive side I felt like she only played five or six out of 10 to her level and still nearly nicked the second game.

“That said in my opinion Gina needs to be playing almost nine out of 10 to beat Hania and that is not where she was at. So at best a six out of 10 performance.”

“Against Rowan in the previous round, well everyone knows how dangerous she is. When she is fresh and confident Rowan is as good as anyone and is quick and can put the ball away from any position. But we are always quite confident that Gina can break her down physically, mentally, and that is pretty much what happened in the fifth.”

When it comes to Kennedy regaining her place in the top 10 and kicking-on to challenge the Egyptian cabal that dominates the top end of the women’s game, Ford has no doubt where the improvements will need to be made.

He said: “Gina has made some very big improvements after getting back fit, she started to volley a lot more as she had never volleyed anywhere nearly enough. That really took her game up a level but her shot selection and making good choices is something she needs to improve and she knows that.

“Her shot selection when the game is a million miles an hour is not quite there like it is with Joelle King for example, who is a great tactical player.”

When it came to Ford’s prediction for Thursday’s mouth-watering final, the shrewd Englishman had some interesting observations to make en route to tipping a successful defence for world No.1 Gohar: “It’s a tough call and although Sherbini came through strongly against Sobhy in her quarter and had a great win over Hammamy in the semi, Gohar just doesn’t give you three or four tins in one game. Hammamy may give you a couple but Gohar gives you nothing and every point you win against Gohar you must earn.”

He continued: “That said, if Nour keeps her head she is, for me, still the best player in the world. Okay that doesn’t mean she will always win but she is prone to concentration lapses and can give away a few cheap points and that is where maybe Gohar has the edge.

“If it had been a Gohar versus Hammamy final that would have been different as when they play the mental battle is key and that is Hammamy’s biggest strength. She is feisty!

“In Hong Kong before Christmas Hania beat El Tayeb and the then took out Gohar and Sherbini and for El Sherbini to beat her will take her into the final tonight with an awful lot of belief in the bank but Gohar is just so tough and consistent and will be very tough to breakdown.” 

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