Monday, March 27, 2023

Sarah-Jane Perry: My base is strong and I’m ready to challenge

Sarah-Jane Perry has revealed that she will be using her greatest triumph as a major source of encouragement when she opens her account in the Black Ball Open on Friday.

Back in 2020 the World No.8 strung together a sequence of impressive results which culminated in a final which saw her come from two games down, while also saving two championship balls, to defeat Hania El Hammamy in 75 gut-wrenching minutes.

With the Englishwoman having previously defeated Joelle King after again saving a match ball in another five-game 74-minute semi-final, which had been her second full-distance marathon en route to the title match, it is scarcely a wonder that Perry will draw upon a host of positive memories in a bid to kick-start a campaign which has been bedevilled by niggling injuries.

Now pronouncing her game in good order, Perry is positive about her prospects as the business end of the season commences in Cairo. She said: “Absolutely I think you have certain venues that automatically trigger good memories and the Black Ball is very much one of these for me.

“It was my biggest PSA title and the only title that I’ve won which had all the top players in the field and I played five matches in five days playing the squash which I love to play.

“So there are very good memories and it is also a poignant place to go right now as I’ve had a bit of a poor patch by my own standards and I am looking to really reset and play squash the way I like to play it.

“For me there is no better place to do that than somewhere you have such positive memories.”

When it comes to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which have assailed her over the preceding months Perry is resolutely sanguine, she revealed: “I’ve done a lot of reflecting and I have had some bigger struggles over the last six months than I have had throughout my career.

“There have been frustrations with my body and there are things that I am not going to publicise as you give what you have on that day. But all of that has been feeling better and better and I have been working out these issues with my team and feeling much more positive.

“Also it was really difficult not having an off season with the Commonwealth Games taking place last year and you saw that with a few players, including myself, but my base is strong now and I do feel I am now in a position to keep improving towards the end of the season.

“I just want to enjoy my squash again and my best squash comes when I am enjoying it. Obviously when I am struggling with these issues that is a challenge but I am also quite adept at pushing through physically when I do have a niggle.

“Also I think if you stop trying to improve you will stagnate and there are always going to be things to improve on and Rob (Perry’s coach Rob Owen) and I are constantly looking at adding little nuances.

“So I just want to enjoy my squash and feel like I am getting back to that point where I am playing at the top of my game again and there is nowhere better to reignite all of that than somewhere you have these great memories like Black Ball.”

That said Perry admits she has conflicting emotions over booking a long stay in Egypt this week: “It will be Elijah’s (Perry’s son) first birthday after I get back and I need to shorten the tournament by a day to make his first birthday!

“That said it was also the first tournament I played last year after he was born and so Black Ball also holds a special place because of that.”

Perry had encouragement for fellow Englander Jasmine Hutton, who is one of her stablemates at coach Rob Owen’s West Warwicks club and has just hit into the top 20.

Sarah-Jane Perry celebrates winning bronze

Perry said: “Jas has had some very good results [she lost in the Black Ball opening round on Thursday] and has moved up to her highest ever ranking and I have seen the work behind all of that at close quarters and been very impressed with that progress over the last few years.

“Jas has turned into a world class player and now she has hit the top 20 she will be looking to kick on. For Jas there is a big difference in getting into the top 16 in terms of protection in the draw for first rounds and that can get you into the later rounds that bit fresher and I am sure that will be her next focus.

“So as with all of the younger ones it will be trying to guide them for the future but not too much on how to beat me right now.”

The presence of World No.1 Nouran Gohar looms large in Perry’s quarter but the No.7 seed is upbeat about her prospects should they meet.

She said: “I do have a plan to play Nouran but I will have to execute that plan to perfection to stand a chance against a player of that calibre and that is what I love about squash.

“Especially on home soil in Egypt she will be an even tougher opponent. In the past I have got close to her a few times and I feel like there were small details that made the difference and if I had done some things a tiny bit differently that could have changed it around.

“But I absolutely appreciate her squash and the relentlessness and intensity of it which is not matched by playing any other player on the tour. That is why she is No.1 and has won so many tournaments over the last two years.”

Yet Perry’s determination to produce a strong finish to the campaign as we come into the final furlong is palpable.

She added: “I think you will get some players tailing off towards the climax of the season and in need of that break and the summer to be able to reset whereas I am looking to get stronger and better over the second-half of the season.

“We still have major tournaments like the biggest of them all in the World Championships to come. The British Open, on very home soil, given it is my home city of Birmingham, is something I am looking forward to and it will be particularly special in that respect for me.”

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