Interview by RJ Mitchell
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Sarah-Jane Perry has revealed that she is nursing a dream that the PSA World Tour can restart with a rescheduled British Open.
The game’s greatest tournament occupies a special place in Perry’s heart as her ‘home major’ but it is also where she came closest to landing one of the games blue ribbon titles, when she lost the 2017 final to fellow Englishwoman Laura Massaro in four tight games.
With squash courts across England set to re-open on Saturday and the game universally starting to come out of cotton wool as, some of the world, begins to look to move away from the lockdown measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hopes are growing that an announcement for the resumption of the tour in some form will not be far away.
All of that has left the England No.1 crossing her fingers that the squash’s grand old lady, which was first staged, for female competition as an amateur event way back in 1922, when Joyce Cave defeated her sister Nancy, will once again be dusted down and enjoy centre stage.
Having ended last season in a rich vein of form that saw her reach one final at the Cincinnati Cup and two Platinum semi-finals, Perry is understandably keen to tread the boards again with her first scheduled appearance set for her home club of Kenilworth this weekend.
“It would be a dream if we could get the British Open staged this year and certainly one of my most cherished wishes,” said the Englishwoman.
“In terms of home events then the UK players don’t have that many and in respect of the British [Open] it is the oldest and most prestigious of the lot, it has a preeminent place in the world of squash with all the history attached to it and the great players who have won it, and I really hope if there is any way it can be staged in the final quarter of the year then we can find that way.
“Of course it is hard to predict how things will unfold until we have a vaccine [for COVID-19] and the big issue is going to be to get the best players across to the UK to insure we do the British justice. Assembling the strongest field to ensure we are doing the tournament’s legacy and tradition justice is undoubtedly vital.
“But if we can find a way, and I know how hard the PSA are working to get the World Tour back up and running in a COVID safe environment, then I really hope we can make the British happen.
“Clearly from a personal perspective I have some great personal moments from playing in the tournament in the past and making the final back in 2017, when I lost to Laura [Massaro] and when you have made the final of a tournament as important and historic as the British, then it has a special place in your affections and when one year is gone you’re always looking forward to the next.
Sarah-Jane Perry in action against Laura Massaro in the 2017 British Open final
“So, I just think if we can get it staged then it will provide a huge boost for squash in general and make a statement that COVID has not beaten us.”
Perry has been in constant touch with her coach Rob Owen and as she looked forward to her impending court date the relish in her voice, even down the line, was evident.
“Obviously, the squash courts open in England on Saturday and I do have a court booked at Kenilworth, surprise, surprise! Solo court practise will be vital in terms of helping with timing, feel and touch but what I am really looking forward to is getting back on court with my coach Rob Owen.
The British National champion continued: “I think what I really enjoy about working with Rob is that we are very much on the same page both from the perspective of how we want my game to progress and how we analyse opponents and the latter is as important as the former, almost.
“So, I am just really looking forward to getting back to where we were before the suspension and enjoying a couple of quality sessions with him every week. This has been the most I have been back home this year and that means we have a real opportunity to get a lot of quality work done going forward from next week.
“This will allow us to be more selective, make the technical tweaks that need doing and get my ball striking back to a decent level before really ramping up my movement work. So, it is just a great opportunity to do essential work over a concerted period of time, like a pre-season, before squash gets going again.”
Reflecting on that form surge that came in the weeks before the PSA World Tour was suspended, a sadly distant four months back, Perry is confident that with the clearing up of some niggling injuries, she is set to reclaim her best form.
“Before the suspension I felt like I was getting into a decent place and that my level was improving and approaching where I wanted it to be. I was delighted to make the final in Cincinnati in the Bahl & Gaynor, although obviously disappointed to lose to Amanda [Sobhy] in four games, that gave me a great springboard into the last two Platinum events at the Windy City and the Black Ball.
Perry in action against Hania El Hammamy at the Black Ball Open
“But although I made the semis in the both of these two, and that was really pleasing, they were vastly different tournaments in terms of how I played.
“In Chicago I really had to grit my teeth, dig deep and find a way. I had back to back five setters with Yathreb Adel and Rowan Elaraby before losing to Nour [El Sherbini] in the last four and I had to fight every inch of the way to make that semi.
“Then in Cairo at the Black Ball, I felt much more dominant in terms of how I was playing until my semi with Hania [El Hammamy], in which I perhaps dropped off a bit, but the fighting spirit I showed and how hard to beat I made myself gave me a lot of satisfaction.
“So all of that was really positive and then the suspension came and you just have to deal with that but now we are much closer to being back and you have to focus on what is in front of you and I am hoping that all of that has given me the basis for a big season ahead.”
But when it comes to the resumption of the PSA World Tour, Perry also has big hopes for several of her fellow Englishwomen who are starting to make their way up the rankings list: “I think we can be genuinely excited about the talent coming through in the English women’s game.
“Jas Hutton made some good strong improvements to her game last season and enjoyed some really positive results. Lucy Turmel is also one who I think can make great strides over the coming season and then we have Georgina Kennedy who has come back to us from the American collegiate ranks and she is a great athlete and one I really believe who can be a player to watch.
“So, I am very optimistic with the way things are going and the players coming through and I just really look forward to the day when things can get back to normal and all these fine young players can get their careers back on track and blossom on the PSA World Tour.”