"Winning a big title is the only way” | Gina Kennedy aims high as 2023 starts with a bang
England’s Gina Kennedy is making a ferocious start to 2023. Having already scythed her way through the Carol Weymuller Open and the Cleveland Classic without dropping a game, she’s in no mood to stand around.
She is, after all, a competitor of meteoric rises. Just a year before her jaw-dropping Commonwealth Games gold last summer, she was ranked 170th in the world. Now the eyes of the current World no.10 are firmly set on becoming one of the very best.
And yet 2022 wasn’t a year without setbacks.
A horrendous flare-up of ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the digestive system, combined with hamstring problems and food poisoning to keep her bedridden and curtail the first half of the season early. But in her conversation with England Squash, the 25-year-old is keen to move past this challenging narrative and focus on what’s to come.
“I’ve had a successful start to the year and I’m really thrilled to have a few good top ten wins already. By the end of 2023, being in the top six would be a great goal,” she says.
Such lofty ambitions are realistic. In the final of the Carol Weymuller Open, at Heights Casino – which, incidentally, has never been a casino – she played a deadly hand to beat the then world No. 10 Olivia Fiechter. In the quarter-finals of the Cleveland Classic, she dispatched world No. 5 Amanda Sobhy on her way to winning a tournament featuring five out of the world's top ten.
Ahead of the PSA tour tournaments, she kicked off the year by winning at the Edinburgh Sports Club Open, beating world No. 4 Joelle King along the way, and cites this as great preparation for the year ahead.
“Playing Edinburgh before coming to America was such a confidence-booster for me. Having that experience of playing without the pressure of PSA points was really good. I took that into the Carol Weymuller.
“I wanted to play Edinburgh because I hadn’t had many matches against girls. When I train in London, I hit with boys a lot, but I wanted that match practice against females and that exposure.
“But it’s also about not overdoing it, which I learned the hard way last year. Often I felt like more was better. I felt like I needed to hit more balls to feel sharper.
“But I’m 25. If I want a long career, that extra 40 minutes on the court in the morning before the match isn’t going to be beneficial in the long run. But of course, I’m still definitely going to be on the higher end of the training spectrum compared to others.”
Often, athletes can struggle to recover their former glories after injury or illness. Not so for Gina. She started the new year in barnstorming fashion with 18 wins in 20 matches, claiming three titles out of five. Her first defeat was at the hands of Hania El Hammamy – one of the world’s top three players.
One of Gina’s ultimate ambitions is to topple the trident of Egyptian players at the top of the sport, comprised of El Hammamy, Nouran Gohar, and Nour El Sherbini. With all three in their 20s, there should be many showdowns between them and Gina to come.
“I’m trying to figure out how to break them down. They can be broken down – people have shown that this season. But they keep going and that’s what makes them champions. They’re just so consistent.
“With their culture of playing since they were super young, playing twice a day for six hours a day, they’ve got such a presence on the court and they’re just so strong and I do think there’s a gap between the top three and the rest of us at the moment. I want to play against them more, train with them more, and get the exposure of being on court with them.”
With 11 PSA World Tour titles to her name now, Gina has already achieved so much in the sport. “Thinking of the Commonwealth Games still gives me goosebumps and puts a huge smile on my face,” she says. How to top that? “Winning a big title is the only way really – the Commonwealth Games again, a platinum, a British Open or something.”
National coach David Campion sees vast potential in England’s star. “She’s got fantastic athletic qualities and is mentally tough, ultra-competitive. And over the last period she has started adding layers to her technical game, her movement and hitting.
“I wouldn’t put anything past her. She’s very diligent and has a winning mindset. If she wants something, she finds a way to do it. Gina is an impressive individual, when she puts her mind to something, she is so determined to make it happen.
“Underestimate her at your peril.”