Sunday, May 26, 2024

British Open Squash 2023: Gina Kennedy staves off Gillis fightback thriller

“I live to fight another day,” said Gina Kennedy, as the Englishwoman racked up another impressive milestone on Wednesday in reaching a first British Open women’s quarter-final after a whirlwind matinee performance at Birmingham Rep.

Watching some of Kennedy’s matches is sometimes akin to actually being transported on court against her opponent. And this was no different. You felt Kennedy’s nerves, the edginess. Once those are evaporated, the raw power arrives, the free-wheeling haste and need to get the job done, to sink her opponent. In this case it came in the form of the tenacious Tinne Gillis, of Belgium, who produced a remarkable comeback to take this third round to a five-game conclusion.

Yet, if there is one thing the hard-hitting Kennedy – who is still learning her art month by month as she continues her remarkable trajectory – won’t be beaten on, it’s her physicality and fitness. And this serious attribute saw her through to a last eight at Birmingham Rep. “I was lucky to win that one,” the Londoner added.

Finding herself 3-0 down in the first after a tentative opening set of shots, Kennedy found her range but still had to save three game balls as she finally found the quality needed after some average mid-court rallies. She won it on a sublime backhand kill and a stroke after 19 minutes, a game which could have gone either way. 

At 4-4 in the second, Kennedy found another gear, perhaps sensing Gillis wilting, or hampered by an injury issue. At 7-5 up, the Commonwealth champion produced a brace of unforced errors but still did enough to go two up.

On Wednesday, there were hallmarks to last summer’s Commonwealth final when Hollie Naughton produced a gutsy fightback before history was made.

Once more, you could sense the on-court tension. Gillis’ riposte, buoyed on by Greg Gaultier in her corner, saw the Belgian muster 8-3 and 8-4 leads in the next two games as she completed a 20-minute comeback to 2-2. Kennedy propped up too many loose balls and Gillis either dealt with them with Gaultier-like aplomb or with backhand ease.

Two strokes to Kennedy then ushered in a key lead in the decider, but even at 7-2 up, Kennedy wasn’t totally in control. Yet, the adrenaline was flowing. At 7-5 she was on to a Gillis boast high up at the front wall, whipping a forehand winner and soon completing a 15-13, 11-9, 3-11, 5-11, 11-6 victory.

Kennedy said: “She made it so difficult for me, so I just tried to use my physicality, up the tempo and make it as difficult for her as possible. 

“I had the best result of my career in winning Gold [at the Commonwealth Games] in the summer, and just coming back to Birmingham for the first time, I got goosebumps thinking about it. I am a Londoner at heart but Birmingham is a good place for me!”

Amanda Sobhy in action

To reach the semi-finals, Kennedy will first come up against second seed Nour El Sherbini in a Friday night blockbuster for the home support. The atmosphere should be ratcheted up a notch or two from here on in.

The multiple champion was tested to the hilt by American Sabrina Sobhy, coming from a game down to prevail 9-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-2.

Sobhy’s sister, Amanda, earlier reach the last eight after a controlled win over Egyptian Salma Hany 11-5, 11-5, 11-4 in just 27 minutes.

She will play defending champion Hania El Hammamy, who was tested more than the scoreline suggests, 11-6, 11-4, 11-4, against Wales’ Emily Whitlock.

Her defeat leaves two British players in the women’s draw. Sarah-Jane Perry plays top seed Nouran Gohar on Thursday night, a place in the last four at stake in front of a Saturday sell out and local support.

Read more

Latest News