By RJ Mitchell
Georgina Kennedy has revealed her determination to use her recent run to the final of the AJ Bell English Squash Championships as the springboard for a concerted attack up the PSA World Rankings.
The World No.167 confounded the rankings to dispatch World No.27 Millie Tomlinson in the semi-final before ultimately finding World No.6 SJ Perry a bridge too far in the final.
Now the 23-year-old is desperate to hit the Challenger Tour as she bids to build a ranking that is more accurately reflective of her high-octane pressing game and all-embracing court coverage which she also revealed was inspired by the legendary Nicol David.
But as she contemplates a potential trip to India, Kennedy admitted that she learned more from her brutal 23-minute, three-game final defeat at the hands of Perry, than any other match in her short professional career.
“Getting the opportunity to play someone like SJ was unbelievable. I haven’t been on court with someone of her quality ever really, at least in a competitive match, and getting that experience was invaluable,” Kennedy said.
“SJ taught me so many lessons in there and I think I learned more from the final than any match I have ever played. So, it was a great learning curve and just a really good and invaluable experience for me.”
“Based on current form you could argue SJ is the best player in the world right now and I really got a lesson on why that was. Her ability to hit into the space so quickly and disguise it so well it really broke my movement down so effectively and of course that is one of the main strengths of my game.
“Against SJ it just didn’t matter how quick I was as she just didn’t let me use my movement and she gave me so much to think about and really SJ was just amazing, so all credit to her.”
While her final appearance against Perry provided the climax of her impressive run in Manchester, it was the defeat of the established Millie Tomlinson in a 41-minute four-game semi-final that was perhaps the more important result for Kennedy.
“I was thrilled with how my semi went with Millie. I had already played her in November in an AJ Bell Challenger event, and I was behind the whole match and although I managed to win 3-2, I just felt like she was dominating me for the whole match,” the Englishwoman explained.
“So, I was excited to play her again to prove to myself that I could play better against Millie and give her a harder game. Also, I’ve been working a lot on my drops and my short game with my coach [Ben Ford] and it just came together in the semi-final and it felt good.
“My motivation has really stemmed from wanting to prove myself and that, even although I haven’t been on the PSA scene, to show that I can compete with these top 30 players. I was just really grateful to get the opportunity to do that.”
Kennedy has no doubt about the importance of the AJ Bell sponsored English Championship after finding her budding professional career put on pause by the COVID pandemic:
“It has been really difficult with the COVID situation as I graduated from Harvard University last May and my thinking was, I wouldn’t play any professional tournaments while I was at college. I thought there would be all the time in the world after I graduated, and I wanted to enjoy my time as a college student.
“Then the pandemic happened, and I really regretted not playing tournaments as it meant I couldn’t get into the Platinum Events as my ranking was so low. So that has been tough.”
The Harvard graduate was also keen to underline her gratitude to her support team: “I have trained really hard for the whole lock down and I’ve been able to see my coach, Ben Ford, almost every day and that has been unbelievably helpful for my squash. So, I really wanted to prove myself at the English Championships as I had not been on the PSA scene,” she said.
“I was based in Nottingham from August but then with the lockdown I moved back home to London and thanks to the England Squash hubs, I train at Berkhamstead and Hatfield and train with Ben Ford at Bexley.
“So being home in London I have been on court with Ben maybe three or four times a week and I can see the improvement in my game almost weekly. Ben has just been amazing, investing so much time in me and I’m really grateful and also for the support from Nottingham Uni and of course my sponsors at HEAD.”
Looking forward to the unfolding of the Challenger Tour and her forthcoming pursuit of vital ranking points, Kennedy said: “I’m going to do my best to get my ranking up as quickly as possible and I am hoping to get a wild card to one of the next Challenger Events.
“I will travel to wherever I have to, and I know there is a tournament coming up in India I may go to, but I will do what I need to get my ranking up. My goal is to focus on squash. I am doing a part-time masters at Nottingham University and I’d like to shout out to them as their support has been unbelievable, so I have a lot of stuff to keep me entertained when I’m travelling 12-hours to India!
“But I just need to refine my squash, improve my short game, and hope for the opportunity to play against these top girls as that is the biggest learning curve you can get out there.
“Whenever there will be a Challenger event I will try and enter it to try and get the ranking points I need to build my ranking. I’m not sure if I will get a wild card for the Manchester Open but I’m hoping for one and then maybe if a big tournament like the British Open happens then perhaps I will get a wild card for that.
“But I just need to get the ranking points, that is the aim, and I will go wherever I need to get them.”
Turning to her inspirations, Kennedy has no doubt about who is at the top of the list: “I’ve always been inspired by Nicol David. I just loved the way she played, and she was just such a physical player and I like to think that is my game as well and also big on movement and retrieval.
“But the English girls have also been so inspiring and there are three main girls I have always looked up to and they are Allison Waters, Laura Massaro and SJ.
“They are such different players and I like to take different aspects of each of their games to inspire me, but they are all incredible and I am really lucky to be inspired by so many great English players.”
Kennedy was also delighted that her recent glory run to the English Championship final attracted rave reviews from SquashTV expert analyser and former World No.1 Vanessa Atkinson: “Reading that article on the PSA website was so nice and it was just lovely to read what a legend of the game like Vanessa had to say about me.
“For a former World No.1 and world champion like Vanessa to say these kind things just gave me a real lift. It has been hard to stay motivated in lockdown sometimes and reading that article just made all the hard work and training worth it and gave me a nice feeling.”