South East London may be better known as the home of another world-class female racket player, but now there will have to be room for two after Gina Kennedy reached the final of the women’s squash singles at the Commonwealth Games.
Kennedy trains at the same club formerly frequented by Emma Raducanu, but now the 25-year-old will have her own bit of bling to bring back to Bexley.
The Harvard graduate beat compatriot and hometown hero Sarah-Jane Perry 3-1 to book a date with Canada’s Hollie Naughton in Wednesday’s gold medal match after the Canadian registered a shock victory over New Zealand’s Joelle King.
But Kennedy isn’t there to just make up the numbers, and her eyes on only one colour of medal.
“I’m not content with silver, I’m not here to just be on the podium,” said Kennedy.
“I’m going to go in there and absolutely want to get that gold medal.
“It’s an emotional one for me, the Commonwealth Games has been my target the whole time. It’s been my goal.
“Leading up to this I kept envisaging what it would feel like, and I’ve had to stop myself because it’s just a dream.
“The dream is now a reality.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
The diminutive Kennedy could not have posed more of a contrast to the tall and imposing frame of Perry but packed a punch with her shots to take the first game 11-6.
But Perry is a seasoned campaigner and showed why she earned silver in 2018 to roar back and take the second game 11-8.
Yet Kennedy still had more to give amidst a frenetic atmosphere, as both players frequently challenged the referee, with Perry exerting her ire on the officials – at one point being told to ‘get on with it’ by a heckler in the crowd.
Kennedy raced through the third game 11-5 before edging the fourth 14-12 despite wasting five match balls.
And the world no.8 admitted she did not think she had the mental strength to deal with a fifth game.
“I did not want it to go to a fifth because I think at that point, her mental strength is her biggest asset, and if it went to a fifth, I really would have struggled,” added Kennedy.
“Physically I felt fine, but if you hit one wrong shot at the wrong time, the rally is done – she is so good at punishing you. I’m really relieved it didn’t go to a fifth.”
The match was a coming of age for Kennedy, who overcame her “role model” Perry on one of the biggest stages squash has to offer.
“SJ is such an amazing sportswoman,” said Kennedy. “To beat her on this stage is more than I could ever have asked for.
“She’s such a fighter, I thought that was an incredible battle, I thought we both played our best squash – which is exactly what you want and why it could have gone either way.”
Kennedy now faces Hollie Naughton in the gold medal match on Wednesday and hopes the support of the home crowd can her through to victory in a match she knows will be hard-fought.
“The crowd was incredible today and SJ is a Birmingham girl, so the crowd might have been slightly more on her side but at least tomorrow I’m playing a Canadian,” said Kennedy.
“I’m hoping the crowd will be on my side tomorrow.
“I thought she [Naughton] played incredible today against Joelle [King].
“It was a surprise result, but she fully deserved the result, I’ve never seen her play that well.”
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