In February, two highly talented racquet stars were made life members of Park Langley Club in Beckenham.
One will be familiar: the golden girl of tennis, US Open champion and darling of the British game, Emma Raducano; Another perhaps less so, a squash player by the name of Gina Kennedy, whose rise has been almost as meteoric, going from outside the world’s top 150 to inside the top 10 in just one year, is now the favorite for gold. I am included. Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
If things had been different, Kennedy might have been another Radukano – or rather, Radukano would have been another Kennedy, six years older.
“I was playing tennis here and my friend’s dad owned the club at the time,” Kennedy explains, speaking. Standard game At the bar in Parkingleigh, where she still trains. “He wanted his daughter to play squash so he asked my parents if I would play with her.
“To be honest, I mostly stuck with it because it was less of a time commitment than tennis. There was talk that I would have to be homeschooled so I could have more time to play tennis and my parents wouldn’t. Wanted me to follow this path.
Kennedy could just as easily have finished Laura Mayer or Kelly Hodgkinson, a brilliant runner who once won the London mini-marathon, only to end what was her teenage best. It was a game.
“I just couldn’t handle the pressure,” she says. “I just thought winning was the only option and I just hated it, I was crying two weeks before the race.
“I never got that with squash, I felt I could control it more, I guess. If you lose a few points you can get back into it but the thought of running and not winning is terrifying. was
Pictured as an exceptionally gifted, all-rounder, it will come as no surprise that Kennedy’s talent quickly became apparent on the squash court, leading her to multiple national age-group titles and eventually to Harvard University. The dominant force. On the American college squash scene.
“You think about what you see on TV and, to be fair, it’s just like that,” she says of her time in the States. Parties in these big mansions with red cups! I loved it there, I had such a great time.
It all came to an abrupt end, when the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020 and Kennedy was given a week to get out and go home, but he credits the absence of competition during the lockdown with his incredible progress. She credits giving time to lay the groundwork. Professional circuit in 2021.
Like Raducanu, though, he has found the notoriously difficult second album more challenging since then.
“I’m at my highest rating. [No8] But, to be honest, my confidence has probably been at an all-time low lately,” she admits. “Just because I always play top girls now and they’re still a level above.
“Last year, I was just winning all the time and you feel on top of the world. The level is different but winning is what feels good and even if I’m losing to the world No. 1 or No. 2, Even then it shakes your confidence a bit.
“It’s definitely tough and tough in the early rounds of the competition, because I’m now the one with the target on my back. Before it felt like a good opportunity to try to take some scalps, while Now everyone is gunning for me.
With the Egyptians missing from the top of the world rankings, the Commonwealth looks like an ideal opportunity for Kennedy, who goes into the women’s singles competition as the No.3 seed.
The Games will also represent something close to achieving an ambition Kennedy set as a child, long before it became clear where his sporting calling lay.
“My dream was always to be an Olympian,” she says. “Obviously, we’re not the Olympic Games but going to the Commonwealth, getting our Team England kit – 12-year-old Jenna would love that.”