There must be something in the water in Bromley. The London suburb is home to Emma Raducanu, the tennis star who earned an improbable victory at the US Open, but she is not the only emerging talent to hail from the area.
Like Raducanu, British squash player Gina Kennedy has enjoyed a recent rise up the world rankings, shooting from 167th to 10th in just one year. And that’s not where the parallels end.
“She [Raducanu] plays at my club,” Kennedy told GiveMeSport Women. “I met her for the first time on Saturday. I see her training down at my club, and we go to the same physio clinic and strength conditioning clinic.”
“Raducanu was the wildcard for Wimbledon, where she got to the round of 16. It was kind of similar to my first event. I was the wildcard and I ended up beating a top 10 player and a top 20 player.
“My Mum was telling me it was like what Emma’s done, so I suppose there are some similarities.
“Of course what she’s doing is on a much more global scale – the pressure that she must be experiencing is way more, just because tennis is in the public eye while squash is so under the radar.
“I don’t know how I would deal with it if everyone was watching my every move, so she’s very inspirational.”
Kennedy played tennis herself when she was young and also ran for Blackheath and Bromley Harriers.
She fell into squash by chance, agreeing to give the sport a go when her friend’s Dad asked if she would play with his daughter.
It’s been an impressive rise for @ginakennedyy 🔥
From World No.185 in May 2021 to the top 10 in 2022 🤩 pic.twitter.com/lzqGSXmARg
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) February 1, 2022
“I picked it up completely by accident and just fell in love with it,” Kennedy explained. “I couldn’t even tell you why, I just loved it. I loved all sport though. So, I didn’t choose to stick to just squash until I was about 13 years old.
“I was probably a better runner than a squash player at the beginning, but I would really struggle with nerves. Even as a young child, two weeks before an event I would be sick with nerves.
“So it just wasn’t worth it. Whereas with squash, I never felt that kind of intense pressure.”
At 24-years-old, Kennedy has only just started playing on the PSA World Tour. Her journey to the top is relatively unusual, having spent four years studying at Harvard University.
“I missed four years playing on the Tour, from 18 to 22, which are quite big developmental years. So if I spent four years just focusing on squash like I do now, what would my level be?
“But for me personally, the biggest thing that I took from it was actually outside of squash, taking myself away from the game and experiencing other things. It teaches you a lot about yourself.
“Being a professional athlete, it’s hard. You’ve got to be disciplined, you’ve got to invest everything in it. You have to be strict with diet and sleep.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it when I was 18 years old, basically. I know some people can and they do well, but yeah, I probably couldn’t. So I think I just grew up a lot and it helped how I approach being a professional athlete today.”
The moment @ginakennedyy won her biggest PSA title to date 🤩
📹 Cleveland Classic pic.twitter.com/xuosbS9euA
— PSA World Tour (@PSAWorldTour) February 1, 2022
Kennedy also felt she benefitted from the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought sport around the world to a standstill.
“As soon as I graduated, COVID hit, so there were no tournaments,” she said. “My ranking was stuck at 180th and I wasn’t getting into any events.
“But then I spent a full year of just training and just focusing on squash, which I hadn’t done before. I was always doing school or doing other things. So, that year I was able to just train, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was competing.
“It was actually really helpful. I think it really brought on my level quite a lot, to the point where I was able to enter these events and do well in them.”
Once on the PSA World Tour, there was no stopping Kennedy. She won 50 out of 55 matches, reached 11 finals and earned nine titles over the year.
This saw her rise up to world number ten at the start of this month, something Kennedy is “still trying to process”.
Out of breath just thinking about this rally. 😮💨
🎥: @PSAWorldTour pic.twitter.com/QtCYsXUKlG
— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) January 14, 2022
A busy schedule awaits, but the squash star is particularly looking forward to playing at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Four English women will be selected to play at the tournament, and as the country’s second-ranked player, Kennedy is on track to qualify.
“It was my main goal to get selected for the Commonwealth Games,” she said. “Now that I know that’s achievable, and I’m probably going to be there in the summer, I’m just really looking forward to it.
“It’s good that I’ve had the experience of the past year of beating a few of the top girls and overcoming the players who I’ll be competing against, it does give you confidence. It will be exciting. It’s definitely all to play for.”
Kennedy’s achievements may have got less recognition than Raducanu’s, but that does not make her journey to the top any less remarkable.
Given Kennedy will likely be competing at a major international event on home soil this summer, she will hopefully be given her dues soon.
Starting the New Year with a career high ranking of #17 📈
Thankful for my team and my sponsors – excited to see what 2022 has in store! pic.twitter.com/QXgSF3F3v8
— Gina Kennedy (@ginakennedyy) January 2, 2022