By RJ Mitchell
Former World No.1 Vanessa Atkinson believes that England’s Georgina Kennedy can use her run to the final of the AJ Bell England Squash Championships to challenge for a place inside the world top 20.
The World No.167 stunned second seed Millie Tomlinson, who is ranked 140 places ahead of her, and post a hard-fought four game victory that booked her place in the final against top seed Sarah-Jane Perry.
Although Kennedy was ultimately outclassed in the final by a formidable Perry in a straight-game defeat, former World No.1 Atkinson, who was on commentary duty for SquashTV at the event, reckons she has seen enough to suggest that the 23 – year-old can use her run to the final as a springboard to climb the PSA World Rankings when the women’s tour returns.
The former World Champion believes that despite her 11-8, 11-7, 11-5 defeat the Londoner will have learned just what is required to aspire to the heights currently occupied by England No.1 Perry who sits at No.6 in the PSA World Rankings.
While Atkinson believes that for Perry a case of home comforts can provide the ideal platform for her defence of the CIB Black Ball Open next month.
Reflecting first on Kennedy, Atkinson said: “We were discussing in commentary on SquashTV about Georgina playing in that top 20-30 bracket or even inside the top 20, but we will have to wait and see. It’s just amazing for someone like Georgina to have come along, not having played at that top level and beaten a player like Millie Tomlinson, it was fantastic.
“For a lot of people watching the final it may have seemed that she has come out of nowhere, but Georgina has been playing a lot in the US in recent years in the collegiate system and from what I’ve heard she was very well known over there as she was virtually unbeaten in American college squash.
“Yes, in terms of PSA she may well be a bit unknown however I’m sure SJ [Perry] and Millie both knew all about Georgina and what she was capable of and how good she is. It will be great to watch her start to get on tour and see just how far she can climb up the rankings.
“In terms of the final it was great for Georgina to test herself against a player of SJ’s pedigree and also the style she plays but SJ was able to break up that physicality that Georgina brings to the court.
“Georgina is incredibly physically strong and very quick onto the ball, works incredibly hard and is exceptionally fit but SJ, with the way she plays, was able to negate that and take that away and Georgina couldn’t make it into that type of physical battle she would have wanted.
“So, although that may not have been enjoyable for her, the experience she will have gained from it will have been really valuable. She will definitely have seen the things she will need to improve on if she wants to make it up inside the top 20 and kick-on.”
However top seed Perry dropped just one game en route to a final against her younger compatriot that saw the England No.1’s deception and hold, break up Kennedy’s high-octane pressing game before coasting to a 23-minute success.
It was an assured performance that Atkinson believes bodes well for Perry when she begins the defence of her Black Ball title in Cairo in just over three weeks’ time.
Sarah-Jane Perry celebrates against Joelle King in their CIB Black Ball Open semi-final
“SJ has several games under her belt now and that will have helped her preparation for the next Black Ball tournament, which is in just over three weeks and she showed that she is quite a bit above the rest of the field. She really underlined that, in terms of confidence, she is just getting more consistent with the level she is playing at.
Atkinson, who enjoyed two spells at No.1 between December 2005 and July 2006, continued: “So, it all worked out really well for SJ, as although it wasn’t huge in terms of being a big title, it will certainly have given her the confidence of winning several matches back-to-back and claiming a title that any tournament win does for you.
“Definitely, SJ has always had the ability and she can do things that are very difficult to teach players and she has natural ability to hold players, break up their movement and she has a great instinct about where to put the ball and use the angles creatively.
“She is also a really entertaining player to watch and the only thing that counted against her was perhaps a lack of consistency while at times she was also likely to have a little argument with the referee, could be a bit vocal and allow that to break her concentration.
“But now that all seems to be much better to me and some of that comes with maturity and experience and to me it looks like it is all coming together for SJ and it will be interesting to see how she will go when she goes into the big tournaments having won the Black Ball and now facing a different pressure and maybe some expectancy.
“Even though SJ won’t be top seed she is certainly no longer an underdog and more will be expected of her now and SJ will be expecting more of herself and it will be fascinating to see how that all pans out.”
Meanwhile Atkinson has no doubt about the benefits some valuable competitive match time will have provided for the rest of the field.
“I think all of the girls will have taken a lot from the week. Most of these players aside from the top three will have had virtually no competitive matches for the last few months, so the rest of the girls will just have valued getting these games under their belt and enjoyed being back on the competitive match court.
“I think the main aim was just for the players to get match time and most of these girls have now missed a whole year of competitive matches and experience. Most of them got at least three matches if not more and that will have given them a lot in terms of where they are at and looking forward to when hopefully squash gets back up and running.”