Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Gina Kennedy topples Tesni Evans to reach first British Nationals final

Joel Makin and Adrian Waller seek first men’s title
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Correspondent

Georgina Kennedy is through to the final of the British National Championships for the first time after she took down two-time champion Tesni Evans in the semi-finals, becoming the first woman ranked outside the top 50 to make the final in the tournament’s 46-year history.

Kennedy will meet reigning champion Sarah-Jane Perry in tonight’s final at the National Squash Centre in Manchester.

It promises to be another massive battle with the underdog hungry for more success after Covid delayed her entry to the professional ranks after completing her studies at Harvard.

The in-form Kennedy has now lost just one of her last 28 matches, having claimed five titles on the PSA Challenger Tour over the course of the last three months, and she has continued that momentum into the British Nationals.

In a battle of playing styles, it was the nimble, mobile Kennedy who took the first game on a lengthy tiebreak 14-12, and she had her chances to double that lead. But the experienced Evans fought back, levelling up the match with a tiebreak victory of her own.

Georgina Kennedy celebrates a milestone victory

World No.74 Kennedy, who is playing well above her ranking right now, had the edge during the last two games, and although Evans saved a couple of match balls, it was the Englishwoman that succeeded

Kent girl Kennedy said: “I honestly can’t believe it. I came into this tournament with full confidence that I could potentially get to the final but also with full confidence that I could get knocked out in the first round. I just want to say well played to Tesni. She’s had a really tough year with her injuries and stuff, so it’s great to see her playing to a good level again.

“The games were so close. They could have gone either way, and I’m literally just risking everything with those shots at the end, they could have gone up or down, so it was just lucky in the end, but I’m so happy to be in the final.

“I like to go into a tie-break with the mentality where if they beat you, then fair enough, but don’t go in and lose it for yourself. I try and do that but sometimes make silly decisions. You have to make yourself hard to beat and make every single point really difficult.

“It’s massive having someone to talk to between games and (national coach) Camps (David Campion) is really helpful calming me down and making sure I stick to the plan. He reminded me not to go for silly shots, which I did, so sorry about that, Camps, but it paid off.

“I just want to see how far I can go and climb up the rankings. I love competing, I love training, and I feel lucky that this is my job. I’m really excited to keep going and seeing what happens.”

Sarah-Jane Perry had to fight hard against Emily Whitlock to reach her sixth Nationals final

Kennedy will play reigning British Nationals champion Perry in the final after the World No.6 overcame a tough challenge from Emily Whitlock.

The event’s top seed has cruised through her opening two rounds, but came up against Whitlock, now representing Wales, who was near her best.

Whitlock took the first game 14-12, and had several game balls in the second before Perry clinched it 18-16 after a flurry of nervous mistakes from both players, including Whitlock serving out while holding game ball at 15-14. Perry edged the third game 12-10 before taking the fourth to win 11-8 to reach her fifth Nationals final.

Perry said: “I don’t feel like I played my best squash but some of that is credit to Emily for playing squash and not letting me get away with anything that wasn’t really good.

“She played some great stuff and I said that to her at the end. I’m just pleased to get through really, and we’ll see if I improve tomorrow.”

Joel Makin wins through against against Declan James

Men’s top seed Joel Makin is through to a second consecutive British National Championships final after he got the better of England’s Declan James in an attritional, 70-minute battle.

The World No.10, who lost out to England’s James Willstrop in the 2020 final, will have another shot at the title thanks to putting work into the legs of James over the course of their lengthy three-game affair.

It took an hour for the first two games as Makin continued to lengthen rallies. It paid off for him in the end, after winning both on tie-breaks. He then won the third game 11-3 to secure his place in the final, where he will aim to become the first Welshman to win the title.

Makin said: “Thirty-minute games are perfect. He was getting in front of me and hitting his kills, and I had to get my width because he’s so big through the middle. The middle of the second game was messy… but you’ve got to adapt to that, find a way around him, and use that to your advantage, and that’s what I started to do at the start of the third.

“I always want to back myself as soon as it goes long. It’s something that has to be there because if your squash isn’t working then that has to be there to fall back on. It wasn’t at the start of the match, but you’ve got hit your spots around the back and work your way into it.”

Adrian Waller beats George Parker after the longest match of the night

The ‘Golden Tiger’ will face another tall English opponent in No.3 seed Adrian Waller after the Londoner defeated compatriot George Parker in a physical, 83-minute, five-game battle.

Both men had come through epic contests in the quarter-finals, with Waller getting the better of Patrick Rooney, while the Leicester-based Parker took out defending champion James Willstrop.

World No.21 Waller held the lead twice in the match, after winning both the first and third games, but Parker fought back each time to take the match to a fifth.

Waller was able to run clear in the fifth game and held six match balls. Parker saved five of them, but Waller held on to take the last, booking his place in his first final at the British Nationals.

“I think the first half of that game (the fifth), George started really slowly and gave me some errors,” said Waller.

“When he changed his game and stepped back into the pace that we were playing in the first couple of games, it caught me off guard, and it took me a long time to reset, if at all. I was so close to the finish line, but he completely changed his game, so I’m just glad to get off really.

“Joel is a really good player. He’s very strong, very fit, and he hits nice, clean lines. I’m going to have to match that.

“Today’s match wasn’t the best from me and George, we were both a little off the pace, so I’m going to need to step it up tomorrow and find more quality, otherwise Joel will be all over it.”

The finals begin today (Thursday, August 5) at 17:30. Action from the glass court inside Manchester’s National Squash Centre will be broadcast live on SQUASHTV and the official Facebook pages of the PSA World Tour and England Squash.

British National Championships 2021, National Squash Centre, Manchester.

Men’s Semi-Finals:
[1] Joel Makin (WAL) bt Declan James (ENG) 3-0: 12-10, 13-11, 11-3 (70m)
[3] Adrian Waller (ENG) bt George Parker (ENG) 3-2: 11-9, 9-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9 (83m)
Men’s Final:
[1] Joel Makin (WAL) v [3] Adrian Waller (ENG)

Women’s Semi-Finals: 
[1] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) bt [3] Emily Whitlock (WAL) 3-1: 7-11, 18-16, 13-11, 11-8 (62m)
Georgina Kennedy (ENG) bt [2] Tesni Evans (WAL) 3-1: 14-12, 10-12, 11-5, 11-9 (55m)
Women’s Final:
[1] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) v Georgina Kennedy (ENG)

Pictures courtesy of England Squash


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