By RJ Mitchell
Georgina Kennedy says that her New Year’s resolution is to make a place in the top 10 of the PSA Women’s World Rankings her own.
The 24-year-old claimed the biggest scalp of her career when she beat World No.5 Sarah-Jane Perry en route to her first ever PSA Gold tournament semi final at the CIB Squash Open Black Ball in Cairo a fortnight back.
That glorious run, which ended at the hands of World No.1 Nour El Sherbini, has ensured that the Londoner will break the top 20 for the first time in the January rankings with her new ranking projected to rise to No.17 from its current high of 25.
Kennedy had been ranked as low as No.51 as recently as October before she claimed her first top 10 scalp by beating Joelle King en route to the final of the DAC Pro Squash Classic in Detroit before losing to World No.2 Nouran Gohar.
And despite the postponement of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions from January to May, Kennedy remains focused on continuing her relentless rise to the top in the New Year.
“Breaking the top 10 is one of my major goals for the New Year and I really hope to achieve that in 2022. I think in January I will be around 17 in the rankings, and with ToC postponed I am doing a mini training block with my coach Ben Ford and just trying to keep taking my game forward,” said Kennedy.
“Ben has worked hard with me to develop the technical aspects of my game and I just need to keep doing the hard work. Hopefully I can keep making the latter stages of the big tournaments as with that comes the confidence you need to take a few more scalps along the way.
“I do think that I am learning from every tournament and how to deal with the different situations I have faced and getting better at that.
“So for me it is just about continuing to build the momentum, working hard, learning from my experiences and competing as best I can and we will see where that takes me.”
Reflecting on her impressive hot streak in Cairo, Kennedy says that her meeting with World No.1, British and World Champion Nour El Sherbini helped her realise another ambition.
The London Open champion said: “I have always wanted to play Nour as she is just a legend of the game and playing in Detroit against Gohar it was a bit of an under the radar tournament. The Black Ball was such a spectacle, the place was packed, and with SQUASHTV covering the tournament it was a really big deal.
“But it was a massive learning experience as every time Nour went to play a shot it seemed like she had a million options.
“I thought at times I had played some outright winners, but Nour is deceptively fast and she was onto the ball so quick and was able to finesse the ball into the front corners where other players would just scrape it back cross court to keep it in play when under pressure.
“So Nour was just really good and it was a very enjoyable match both on and off the court. That said, I don’t think I adapted to the conditions as quickly as I should have done as the ball was a bit dead, but again that is another learning experience for me.
“Even in the warm up I thought the ball was a bit dead and I could have dealt with that better, but it was just such an experience and my first major semi and I have learned so much from that experience and from playing on such a big stage against an absolute legend of the game like Nour El Sherbini.”
Kennedy (right) takes on Nour El Sherbini (left) at the 2021 CIB Squash Open Black Ball
Despite having faced both the World No.1 and World No.2 in recent months, Kennedy says that her victory over fellow Englishwoman Perry in the second round in Cairo was the match which provided her with the biggest take-away.
“Obviously, I hadn’t beaten SJ in a competitive match before Cairo, and I did learn lessons from playing Nouran Gohar in Detroit as I had not gone on the court with the confidence which I needed to beat a top player like her, so that was great preparation for playing SJ,” said Kennedy.
“That meant that when I went on court with SJ this time, I was really determined that mentally I would get it right, but SJ is one of the toughest people to beat in the game and it was a huge win for me.
“She could be 2-0 and 10-0 down and she just won’t give it up and her mental strength is something she is renowned for. The second game was absolutely crucial, if I had lost that tie-break then I didn’t see myself winning that match.
“When you look at what she did to turn around the Black Ball final last December against Hania [El Hammamy], that just shows that you can never write SJ off, so to beat her and in doing so beat the highest ranked player I have played was just really pleasing.
“Really, it was above and beyond all my expectations in Cairo, but when I saw the draw, I knew that it was a good opportunity as I had avoided Gohar and El Sherbini in the earlier rounds and, to be honest, my goal was to make the semis.
“I knew that would be tough but I believed in myself to achieve that and I am proud to have done that and made my first semi of a PSA Gold tournament.”
Despite her meteoric rise it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Kennedy as the World No.25 admitted.
“At the U.S. Open I had a big win in round two against Rowan Elaraby who was seeded No.8 and a top 10 player and then had a great opportunity in the round of 16 against Melissa Alves, who was a lower ranked player in terms of who I could have drawn, but I just didn’t back it up.
Kennedy (fore) takes on Sarah-Jane Perry at the 2021 CIB Squash Open Black Ball
“So with the match against Farida [Mohamed] coming after SJ and us both similarly ranked, it was a great opportunity for either of us to make a major semi and it was vital to get that win and back up the match with SJ.
“To do that this time was a huge positive from Cairo, it showed the progress I have made from the US Open and has provided me with a great platform to build on in 2022.”