Tuesday, May 28, 2024

British Open Squash 2023: The powerful combinations to boost home hopes

Lisa Opie, the 1991 British Open champion, believes that her modern day ‘Brit girl’ successors do not face the same pressure to win the game’s oldest major which she did.

Opie, who beat fellow Englander Sue Wright at the Wembley Conference centre in four feisty games 32 years ago, was part of a knot of top-ranking GB stars including 1989 world champion Martine Le Moignan who shocked the great Dame Susan Devoy to become global ruler.

Of course in the third of her five British Open final appearances back in 1984, Opie lost to Devoy in a titanic four-game struggle that was at the time considered ‘the best women’s squash match ever witnessed’ by Squash Player Magazine and played in front of a capacity 3,000 crowd at Wembley.

It was a match for the ages that had it all including a racket-throwing meltdown by the home hope that had the enthralled crowd on the edge of their seats.

Sadly, Opie was to have been a guest of honour at Wednesday’s play to see Commonwealth Games gold medallist Gina Kennedy facing Tinne Gilis, but has had to cancel due to her mother’s health issues.

Yet with Sarah-Jane Perry negotiating a potential banana skin in beating Nada Abbas 11-7, 10-12, 11-3, 11-9 in 38-minutes, Opie reckons that a combination of lack of expectancy and home support could provide a powerful stimulant for home hopes of a shock in the latter stages of this year’s women’s tournament.

The former British Open champion told Squash Mad: “Everything revolved around the British Open for me and working with a sports psychologist in that respect it was perhaps a case of maybe putting all my eggs in the one basket and that perhaps wasn’t the best move.

“Just now the British girls aren’t right at the top so I think there is less pressure on them but for me, Martine, Lucy Soutter, and Cassie (Jackman) there was massive pressure as we all had a chance of winning.

“But with Sarah Jane being a bit older the pressure is off her a bit and then it’s Gina who has had it tough with illness recently and is to a certain extent coming back.

“For me from the age of 19 it was like: ‘Can she win it this year?’ and the pressure just grew and grew over the years. Looking back the British was just huge; it was the be all and end all really for all of us in my day.

“I’m sure the British is still huge for the players but there are a lot of big events now so maybe the pressure is not so big to win it, although that is maybe not quite the case for the Brits.

“But you look at the US Open and ToC and maybe now the British is on a parallel with them although the Egyptians still hold it in high regard for the history.

“Unfortunately the great shame for me is I can’t make it today despite being invited as my mother is having a hip replacement and I’ve got to go home to Guernsey to help her out.

“So it is a real pity I will miss Gina’s game live but I will definitely be tuning in on SquashTV and cheering her on.”

When it comes to the pros and cons of home advantage, Opie, who famously struggled with the extra expectation of finding her best form on home turf, admits getting the balance right is tricky.

She says: “It depends on your personality. Some people thrive on having everyone behind them and in my day that was Martine Le Moignan, who just loved playing at home, whereas I felt the pressure more and played better abroad.

“Mentally I lost it a few times at home but I think with regard to Georgina she will take it on board and use that and she has already proved she can do that when she won the Commonwealth Games last year in Birmingham. So it should lift her.”

World No.10 Kennedy has Belgium’s World No.12 Gilis in the third round encounter and Opie is backing her compatriot to come through and she said: “Obviously Georgina has had illness and injury issues and especially with ulcerative colitis that is an illness that doesn’t really go away so managing it is tricky.

“Gina also depends on her speed and fitness and if she is off that will hurt her as her game is still developing but she is such a fighter and difficult to play and I’m sure she can come through against Tinne.

“The other thing which is positive for Gina is she has got her opening match under her belt, came through 3-0 but still had a bit of a test, so hopefully that means she is in a good place physically and mentally.

Gina Kennedy with the Cleveland Classic trophy

“In my day I hated playing a girl called Rebecca Best as she was head down and never gave up, fought for every single point and just harassed you and I think Gina does that and is like a little terrier.”

When it came to local girl SJ Perry, who will face Nouran Gohar in the quarters, after an at times erratic victory last night, Opie said: “SJ had a very good win in four games over Siva Subramaniam, who was always going to be a test for her, and then she beat Nada without being dragged into a demanding match and she has lovely racket skills but movement has never been her strength.

“Sarah also has a load of experience and recently gave Gohar a real game of it at the Black Ball but you’d have to favour the World No.1 in that match up.

“With El Sherbini I don’t know, is she consistent enough now to get through (Hania) El Hammamy and then Gohar in the finals? So I think Gina is an outsider against her if they should meet in the last eight.”

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