Sunday, March 3, 2024

British Open Squash 2023: Belief in fifth cost me, admits Gina Kennedy

Birmingham — Gina Kennedy has admitted that a slight lack in belief cost her against Nour El Sherbini when it mattered most in the fifth game of their British Open quarter-final at The Birmingham Rep.

The six-time world champion eventually subdued the determined Englishwoman in five frantic games 11-4 in the fifth after a 51-minute clash, but only after Kennedy had given her a real fright.

It was the first time, at the third time of asking, that Kennedy had taken a single game from the previously untroubled Egyptian, whom the Jonah Barrington routinely refers to as the greatest female player of all time – and Kennedy agrees.

Speaking to Squash Mad, the Commonwealth champion said: “I felt clear and calm for the first time against Nour, I’ve played her before and been in awe of her and my main aim was to ignore who I was up against and my bring my game to the table and see how that stacked up against her.

“I’m happy that I did that. I wanted to show her I was there to stay and this was going to be a battle but I just don’t know if she ever feels pressure. At 2-2, did I have that belief in the fifth that I would beat her? Then to be honest perhaps not.

“Yet if you’d told me before the match I’d get two games I’d have been pleased so it was a weird one and I do feel I could have played better in the last.

“If you hit a loose shot against other players you scramble your way back but one poor shot against Nour and you are a goner and it means you have to concentrate so hard. But I will learn from this and be back.”

That game plan was indeed clear from the get-go as Kennedy made cute use of the backhand boast wherever possible while her shot selection was timely and telling repeatedly.

An improving touch to the front court meant that when the chance presented itself there was punishment for ElSherbini to ship.

At the end of a particularly frantic all-court rally a cross-court forehand flick secured game ball at 10-8 and although a high backhand volley was tinned a moment later, Kennedy had her first tangible reward against the great Sherbini, 11-9.

Yet this early encouragement was fleeting and a combination of Kennedy errors and greater Sherbini accuracy saw the World No.3 veritably gallop to a 9-1 lead, and despite a mid-game rally by the Englishwoman the match was levelled 11-5 in a mere six minutes.

With the home crowd increasingly silenced Sherbini started to click through the gears. Her length game was tighter, her front court attack more accurate and the mild irritation present in the opening exchanges was replaced with an increasing calm.

Seven minutes later the third game was pocketed 11-7 with Kennedy, barring a couple of fleeting successes, barely able to lay a glove on her illustrious opponent.

But Kennedy would not go away and a combination of the backhand boast going back against her opponent and some superb volley work, again on the backhand wing, built a solid lead in the fourth she was never to relinquish.

Despite a Kennedy stroke claim being turned down at 10-9, after Sherbini had save three game balls, an uncharacteristic tin by the great Egyptian induced parity to the scoreline -11-9 Kennedy. Game on.

Yet the fifth game was to be an anti-climax as the pressure of having to make every opportunity count while also avoiding giving a lethal opponent a chance to inflict her own blows proved an insurmountable challenge for the World No.10.

A flashing backhand kill by ElSherbini handed The Warrior Princess match ball at 10-4 and, a moment later, home hopes were emphatically extinguished.

Yet Kennedy can take real hope from the clear improvements in her game and a growing tactical awareness that her best is yet to come.

For Sherbini a tilt at a fourth British Open title is now very much on the cards after a passage that provided meaningful game time but no marathon and she said: “Gina is a very dangerous player and playing in England in front of her home crowd she gave it a huge push today. It was obvious she had done her homework and had a game plan and she made it difficult for me.

“Gina is still young, has not been at this level for long and she will learn from matches like this and I have no doubt she will continue to improve.”

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