Monday, December 4, 2023

Commonwealth Games Live Blog: Semi-finals day at the University of Birmingham

Hollie Naughton and Gina Kennedy stun top seeds Joelle King and Sarah-Jane Perry to reach the women’s final
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

England’s Gina Kennedy will meet Canada’s Hollie Naughton in the Commonwealth Games women’s singles final tomorrow after they both produced stunning victories to beat the top two seeds in today’s semi-finals at the University of Birmingham. 

Left-hander Naughton was first on court and delivered a stunning performance to beat reigning champion Joelle King of New Zealand.

Naughton powered through the fourth game to reach the final in the biggest win of her career with a sensational scoreline of 7-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-1.

Later, Kennedy produced an all-action, attacking display to beat Perry 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 14-12.


The Barnsley-born Naughton showed great control and frequently slowed the pace of the match to disrupt the hard-hitting King’s rhythm.

As her confidence grew, Naughton played some exquisite drop shots from all over the court, including an outrageous flick off her toes when King hit the ball down the middle of the court.

She moved to 7-0 with a tight drive that King failed to scrape off the wall and then slotted a simple straight drop off a weak service return.

A sliced crosscourt backhand volley drop took her to 9-0 but then struck the tin with a volley to give King her first point.

A cheeky little flicked drop from back right to front left gave her match ball and then she switched a crosscourt from right to left which resulted in King being unable to move from the T.

The crowd erupted as Naughton celebrated and there were plenty of Yorkshire voices joining in the chorus.

One of them was referee Andrea Santamaria, Hollie’s aunt, who was at courtside to referee the following match between Paul Coll and Saurav Ghosal.


4pm: Women’s Singles Bronze Medal Play-Off:
(1) Joelle King (NZL) v (2) Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)
5pm: Men’s Singles Bronze Medal Play-Off:
3/4 Saurav Ghosal (IND) v 5/8 James Willstrop (ENG)
6pm: Women’s Singles Gold Medal Final:
(3/4) Gina Kennedy (ENG) v Hollie Naughton (CAN)
7pm: Men’s Singles Gold Medal Final:
(1) Paul Coll (NZL) v (2) Joel Makin (WAL)


It’s Joel Makin v Paul Coll in the men’s final

[2] Joel Makin (WAL) beats  [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-5, 11-5, 11-9 (50m)

Joel Makin v James Willstrop: Can the 38-year-old reigning champion recover from last night’s physical battle with Rory Stewart to cope with one of the fittest men in squash?

Makin will be happy to extend the rallies. Willstrop will not.

Three quick points for Makin. Willstrop grabs one back. Willstrop off to change his racket as Makin leads 4-1. Now 5-1. Stroke makes it 6-1.
Willstrop tries a cheeky crosscourt drop but hits it down. 7-1. Stroke to Makin. 8-1.
Long rally but Willstrop hits the volley into the floor when well set up. 9-1 to Makin.

Two shots off the back wall by JW and Makin smacks a winning crosscourt. 10-1 game ball.

Willstrop hits a deep crosscourt to double his score: 2-10.
JW smacks a forehand kill: 3-10.
JW forehand drop: 4-10.
The cleaners are on. Where’s Ken?

TV shot switches to Rob Owen, who is sweating more than SJP.

Wow! What a shot from Willstrop, a perfect backhand drive down the line: 5-10.
Drop shot goes down from JW and Makin takes the first game 11-5.

Second game: Makin is happy to work the ball around and keep Willstrop moving. Makin leads 3-1 and looking comfortable. Stroke to Makin: 4-1.
Crosscourt winner from JW: 2-4.
Willstrop tins it: 5-2 to Makin.
Willstrop smacks a backhand that bounces around the service box and his big follow-through forces Makin to ask for a review after the ref Glen Carson says No Let. VR backs the ref, who tells Makin to make more effort!
JW buries a forehand volley kill: 4-5.
Trickle boast from Makin makes it 6-4 but JW asks ref about Makin distracting him by waving his arms around. Makin smacks the ball back to himself as loudly as possible to drown out Willstrop’s conversation.
Willstrop boast goes down: 7-4 to Makin.
Classic JW backhand drop: 5-7.
Big rally finishes with Willstrop hitting the tin. 8-5. Makin happy with the work he has made his opponent invest. Willstrop asks for the court cleaners to come on.
Again, where’s Ken?
Makin boast and the big guy gets too close to the ball and puts his shot in the tin: 9-5.
So busy typing, my Sauvignon Blanc has gone a bit warm.
Willstrop hits the ball off the back wall and Makin smacks it past him: 10-5.
Same again and Makin wins the second game. 11-5.

James Willstrop leads 2-1 in the third. Can he string some points together? Can he channel his inner Lucy Turmel again?
JW backhand drop goes in the tin: 2-2.
Makin backhand in the tin: 3-2 to JW.
JW boast hits the tin: 3-3.
Amazing rally! After three superb pick-ups by Makin Willstrop finally buries a winner with a forehand volley: 4-3.
Followed by  a simple error: 4-4.
Brilliant shot … or was it a mis-hit from JW? Anyway, he’s 5-4 up.
JW puts the ball down: 5-5.
Stroke to Makin: 6-5.
Makin misses a ball in the back left corner. 6-6.
Sucks all, says the ref.
Cleaners are back on. Still no sign of Ken.
Makin chasing but Willstrop puts a drop down again. 7-6 to Makin.
Huge, brutal rally ends with Willstrop chipping a crosscourt drop into the tin. Eight sucks to Makin, says the ref.
Makin tins a backhand volley: 7-8.
Willstrop pushes a volley to the back and Makin gets a No Let! 8-8.
Makin whips a low crosscourt to lead 9-8. Willstrop asks for every mop in the campus to come on court. Ken must be doing a training course in the arts of court cleaning.
Massive straight volley kill attempt down the left wall from JW. Stroke? VR says stroke to Makin. Match ball at 10-8.
Ha! Willstrop volleys down the left wall and Makin gets a No Let. Makin appeals for a review. NO LET call is upheld. JW serves at 9-10.
Willstrop hits a low backhand volley into the tin and Makin is in to the final against Paul Coll.

The Welsh Tiger ROARS!


Hot News Flash: Synchronised Court Cleaning is now under consideration for the LA Olympics.

Today’s Schedule.

16:00: [5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) beat [1] Joelle King (NZL) 7-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-1 (37m)
16:45: [1] Paul Coll (NZL) beat [3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) 11-9, 11-4, 11-1 (43m)
17:45: [3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) beat [2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 14-12 (55m)
18:30: [2] Joel Makin (WAL) beats  [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-5, 11-5, 11-9 (50m)


Gina Kennedy is in the final!

[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) beat [2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 14-12 (55m)

First game: Kennedy led 6-3 then 7-5. Perry back to 6-7
Huge backhand crosscourt made it 8-6 to Kennedy and a tight boast 9-6 dragged Perry into front right and unable to reach the ball.

Forehand volley nick took Kennedy to game ball before a Perry pick-up was called down.

Kennedy then hit a simple forehand drop to clinch the game 11-6.

A dominant Perry raced into a 5-0 lead in the second before putting a drop into the tin to give Kennedy her first point.

Kennedy began to pick up points but Perry countered her opponent’s physicality with a more controlled performance. There were some scrappy episodes, especially when Perry thought she had won the game with a penalty stroke only for the VR to award a No Let decision.

However, Perry clinched the next rally to win it 11-8.

Kennedy made a positive start to the third. She upped her pace but managed to maintain a superb level of control with her combinations of drives, drops and boasts.

There were some physical exchanges and at one point Perry was warned for pushing her opponent in the back.

Kennedy was in the zone and she ripped in a backhand crosscourt to win it 11-5 to lead two games to one.

Fourth game: 5-5 then Perry puts the ball down.
Perry smashes a simple forehand volley into the tin to give Kennedy 7-5 lead.

Kennedy chases the ball round the court then wins with a fast, low forehand crosscourt. 8-5.

Perry hits a superb straight backhand drive. 6-8.

Kennedy tins a forehand. Perry 7-8.

Kennedy moves to 9-7 with a backhand length that Perry hits down off the boast.

Tight, tight, tight backhand stuck glued to the wall 10-7

Perry deep in the back right corner Kennedy can’t dig it out. Perry 8-10.

Perry straight forehand kill into the nick 9-10.

Kennedy backhand boast into the tin. 10-10.

Kennedy nick off the serve 11-10.

Kennedy lifts the ball out of court. 11-11.

Drama, drama, drama …. nerves jangling!

Perry winning backhand crossc ourt. She is now on game ball at 12-11.

Kennedy backhand drop called down and Perry rushes off court but VR showed the pick-up was good.  “Play a let,” says ref.

12-ALL!!! Kennedy smacks a winning forehand crosscourt into back left.

Perry hits forehand lob out: 13-12 to Kennedy.

Kennedy serves. Perry hits a crosscourt and Kennedy’s winning drop shot puts her into the final: 14-12.

Gina Kennedy, making her Commonwealth Games debut, is in the final, and is the favourite to win gold! 


16:45: [1] Paul Coll (NZL) beat [3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) 11-9, 11-4, 11-1 (43m)

Paul Coll looked confident and composed as he won the opening game against Saurav Ghosal, but there was a moment of huge drama as he clinched the game.

After a stylish comeback brought Ghosal from 6-10 to 9-10, he had Coll in trouble with a straight forehand drop shot.

Then came a classic Coll moment. Stretching for the shot, he ended up on the floor in the front right corner and scraped the ball back into play.

A surprised Ghosal stretched to play a drop shot that landed low in the middle of the front wall. Coll got to his feet, surged forward and smashed the ball down the middle of the court to win the game 11-9.

Coll was in control throughout the second game and was far more adventurous in his shot selection as he won it 11-4.

His crushing length and shot placement had Ghosal chasing shadows in the third game as the New Zealander played precision squash to win it 11-1 and complete victory in 43 minutes.


JK and Mo about to have a hit on the Squash United mini court

What an all-star line-up at the mini court today! Joining Mike “Mr Squash” Harris were two of the game’s greatest legends, Jahangir Khan and Mohamed ElShorbagy.


The BBC are promising lots of live coverage today, so let’s hope they keep their promise.


Pictures courtesy of World Squash and England Squash


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