By RJ Mitchell
Georgina Kennedy is determined to learn vital lessons from her first ever PSA World Tour final, which came last weekend as she lost 3-0 to World No.2 Nouran Gohar in the DAC Pro Squash Classic, Detroit.
The 24-year-old, who went into the PSA World Tour Bronze tournament as the World No.51, is projected to shoot up the rankings after a giant-killing run. On her route to the final, Kennedy downed World No.8 and No.2 seed Joelle King in the quarter finals after recovering from two games down to beat World No.21 and No.7 seed Sabrina Sobhy in the first round, and was a game up when semi-final opponent Tinne Gilis withdrew hurt.
But despite a set of hugely impressive breakthrough results, Kennedy says there was one mistake she will not repeat the next time glory beckons against a big name.
“I was so excited to have the opportunity to play Nouran, as on current form she is probably the No.1 in the world. But if you don’t go on court backing yourself to win then you won’t have a chance and I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t have the confidence I would be able to get close to Gohar in that match,” revealed the Englishwoman.
She continued: “Based on the form she has been in, part of me was a bit starstruck to be honest and Gohar really showed me why she is winning all these events at the moment.
“Nouran is so relentless, she hits the ball so hard, and I don’t think she made any errors in the whole match, she was just quality, and I was just so happy that I got the chance to share a court with her but that match just taught me what is required to get to the top.”
Kennedy (left) said she's leaving Detroit a far better player for having faced Gohar (right).
Kennedy added she would be leaving Detroit with a far greater understanding of what she needs to do to further progress. She explained: “Detroit has really showed me what is required to make it up the rankings. Because of COVID I have had to play all the lower ranked tournaments for a while now, recently I had a great win up in Inverness and I loved it there and hope to go back next year if possible.
“But now I am just excited to make my way into the bigger tournaments and I am just so happy now that my ranking will climb, I will be able to get more of these matches and hopefully learn even more.
“It is so important to play people like Nouran Gohar, where you need to get used to the pace she plays at but the only way to do that is to play her and that experience was invaluable.”
Kennedy in action against Melissa Alves in the U.S. Open
Reflecting on her opening victory against Sabrina Sobhy, Kennedy says the belief that win gave her was the building block to her success in the Motor City. “I was at college with Sabrina, and we have played so many times and know each other’s games very well. Also, I had played her recently at Washington and I knew that my primary goal was to beat Sabrina and reach the quarter-finals,” she said.
Kennedy continued: “For me, if I could achieve that then that would have been an amazing achievement as she is just so hard to beat and plays at such a fast pace and she showed me exactly why she is about to break the top-20 rankings in these first two games.
“It was actually really good squash and if I had lost 3-0, I would have come off saying that I had played well, and it was a good match with both of us playing to a high standard.
“But her intensity dropped a little in the third and I was able to get some momentum and after I won that match it definitely gave me confidence going into the next round as I had watched Sabrina and Joelle having some battles on the PSA World Tour recently and they could have swung either way.
“So, with Sabrina and I playing similar games I knew that I had a chance to at least give Joelle a good match, I maybe didn’t expect to win but I certainly went into the match with belief.”
Kennedy made a furious start against World No.8 Joelle King, racing into a two game lead before being pegged back.
That belief proved pivotal in getting Kennedy off to an impressive start against the Kiwi and she took the first two games, only for the 33-year-old to reel her in and set up an exciting fifth game finale.
Reflecting on that match, Kennedy said: “It definitely helped that I won those first two games as then Joelle showed me all her experience and she completely dominated me for the third and fourth when her ball control was ridiculous, and Joelle just kept me pinned behind her.
“Really the end of the match is all a bit of a blur for me as I just remember being 7-5 down in the fifth and then I was 10-8 up and scraped it 11-9 in the decider, but it was genuinely one of these matches that could have gone either way.
“There were a few refereeing decisions that went my way at the end and that definitely helped me. But the way Joelle conducts herself on court is something I really respect and aspire to, and it was such a great match to play in and I’m just really happy it went in my favour!
“My coach Ben Ford told me that I would learn far more from my matches with Sabrina and Joelle, which were both over an hour, than I would do from an easy 3-0 win.
“To find a way to come back from two down against someone like Sabrina and then build a two -game lead and lose it against a player like Joelle, who has been top-10 for so long, and then regroup to get the win, well there were huge learning curves in that, as Ben said, those games really taught me to back myself.
“Especially against Joelle in the fifth game I had to revert to a bit of a B-game and move her about a bit more. Normally I am fast paced and play long rallies, but I was much more proactive in that fifth game and that gave me confidence to use my short game which is something that isn’t my biggest strength.”
Kennedy says she is looking forward to next month's London Open.
Looking ahead, Kennedy is hoping her intensive work with Ford will help her continue her meteoric rise up the rankings. She said: “Ben has been working really hard with me on my short game and my movement and we are on court two or three times a week when possible.
“We are trying to make sure I don’t get to the ball too quickly and also have worked hard on ball control quite a bit over the past few months and over the last few weeks it has started to click.
“There are plenty of improvements still for us to make but Ben is exceptional at adding new layers to my game and I am definitely developing more than one style of play now.”
Next up for Kennedy is November’s London Open, and she admits to be looking forward to playing on home soil once again: “It’s nice next month that I will be back playing in England at the London Open. Alison Waters is the No.1 seed and on my side of the draw I will have all the English girls and it will be interesting.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to assess myself against the girls who are above me in the English rankings and the London Open will be a real gauge of where I am!”