‘Winning when you’re not always playing well is a lesson to learn from Liverpool’
By ELIZABETH BOTCHERBY – Squash Mad Correspondent
British no.1 Sarah-Jane Perry is relishing the opportunity to get back out on court at the AJ Bell British National Championships in Nottingham from 13-16 February.
The 29-year-old won her maiden National crown in 2015 and reached the final in 2017, but was forced to watch from the stands last year after failing to recover from injury.
This time round, she is determined to put that disappointment behind her and compete for her second title at a tournament she describes as one of the highlights of her season.
“When I won the title in 2015 it was one of the defining moments of my career so far. It’s an event I look forward to on the calendar every year and you want to make sure that you’re playing well.
“It’s been a while since my last Nationals. I missed last year because I wasn’t quite back from my elbow surgery. I went down to watch the final and although it was good to see, it was gutting not to be playing.”
Unlike in previous years, the World No.7 enters the tournament as top seed and favourite to lift the trophy a second time. The Warwickshire native, however, is unfazed by the extra expectation and hopes her travelling fans can inspire her to victory.
“When I won in 2015, I beat two players seeded ahead of me [Laura Massaro and Alison Waters] so it was a bit of an upset. It’s a different challenge as top seed but one I’m looking forward to.
“Of course, there’s added pressure as top seed, but I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I just want to get the best level of squash out that I can and hopefully that will be enough to win. If it’s not, then I want to make it so that if someone does beat me they have to put in a really good performance.
“It’s a bit closer to home this time being in Nottingham rather than Manchester, so hopefully I’ll have a lot of home support!”
Following Laura Massaro’s retirement last season and back-to-back champion Tesni Evans’ withdrawal from the tournament through injury, Perry could be forgiven for thinking she has one hand on the trophy. However, with four of the world’s top 30 competing in Nottingham and a host of emerging talent, Perry knows the competition will be fierce.
“There are some really strong players in the draw. There’s the experience of Alison Waters, who’s won it a few times before, but also the young players who’ll be trying to upset the rankings.
“I’m just going to try and play the best squash I can and hopefully that will be enough. It’s always a battle and if I can win, it will be a big achievement.”
As she prepares to fight for victory, Perry is taking inspiration from an unlikely source, her beloved Liverpool F.C.
“If you look at some of their recent performances, they haven’t played the best football but they’ve found a way to win. This is something that’s really underestimated.
“Sometimes your best results come when you didn’t play so well and still managed to find a way to win. Just keeping the belief that you can win. That’s what I’m taking from Liverpool.”
Pictures by STEVE CUBBINS courtesy of England Squash