Sarah-Jane Perry (Eng) 3-2  Hania El Hammamy (Egy) 4-11, 9-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-9 (75m)
What I find fascinating about Sarah-Jane is her ability to start awfully/not that well, no length, no weight on the ball, no real aggression or action, just reaction for about 30m, and then finding her magic while her opponent thinks the match is won and relaxes in a sentiment of false security.
This match reminded me a Qatar final a few years back, when Laura Massaro managed to win a mammoth match against Nour El Sherbini. It was the same “I shall not surrender”. The same “one more shot, just one more shot, and another shot”.
After the match she had yesterday against Joelle King, only clinching the match 13/11 in the 5th after 73m, she could have been a bit flat mentally. Not so much physically, the players work hard to back it up. But it’s more that mental energy you need to make you believe in yourself, in your ability, to trust the process, and keep pushing.
That, all of that, Sarah Jane did beautifully.
Did Hania put a foot wrong? La, no, at no point. I know she was heartbroken, that she had the impression she messed it up for herself, for all the people around her, but no, she didn’t. She made 15 errors in 5 games. As in, average 3 per game. Sarah Jane made 11… And even in the games lost by Hania the Egyptian scored more winners than her opponent.
Now, Hania who had the same number of minutes spent on court as Sarah Jane, has a game based on keep the pressure up by a strong and accurate basic game, retrieve whatever is thrown at her, and kill the opponent off by exquisite touch at the front. But when the legs start to wobble, the whole pyramid trembles. And today, after taking two games, she let Sarah Jane get in front of her. That was the beginning of end.
So you can look under a microscope, and wonder why for example in the 4th, two no lets that seemed very like no lets were overturned to lets – those two points would have given Hania the match. With ifs and buts…
You know, when you have a player at that level that serves three time out, you know the brain is tired, and needs a rest… Maybe when Hania finishes her University and has the possibility to work 100% on squash, she will have more energy, who knows…
Yet it started so well for Hania, 11/4 in 10m, 9 winners for the Egyptian, one for the English.
Second started so well too, 4/1, 6/3, 7/4. Errors at that point got SJ in the game 7/7, 8/8, 10/8. Very close, 11/9 after SJ’s tin but it’s already too close for comfort…
The third looks terribly like the second score wise. They are close, so close. And you feel that if Hania was calling the shots before, now she is at the back, doing too much work, SJ is the boss, not letting much going pass her. At 9/9, Hania feels she can make it, but rushes a bit, and it’s stroke for SJ and a tin, 11/9 in 14m.
The fourth is the one that Hania will feel she could have done better. Once again, those two no lets overturned in lets did a lot of damage in Hania’s head, I feel, although she didn’t say anything but the way she cut the ref short a few rallies later proves my point.
Close as it comes, 3/3, 4/4, 6/6, 7/7, 8/8. And finally, match balls. Two of them.
At that point, I had the same feeling as when Greg Gaultier had his match balls against David Palmer in 2006. “If he doesn’t win here, he’ll have trouble closing the match,” had commented Jahangir to my ear at the time. The two match balls came and went, and Sarah-Jane – solid as her nickname – takes the next 4 points, 12/10 in 19 very long minutes… 8 winners for Hania, 6 for Sarah Jane… We are in a decider.
What a good start for the English in the 5th, 4/1, but it’s SJ’s time to wobble, making 3 errors in a row, and Hania is back ahead, 8/5, 9/6. A harsh stroke starts a string of points for SJ, 5 to be exact, with the Gazelle making an error on Sj match ball, 10/9. The Gladiator clinched the match out of the Egyptian racquet, literally. We can only bow and salute this extraordinary lady’s talent et determination.
“A nice victory from the jaws of defeat…”
I was up 2/0, and I started playing a completely different game, I don’t know why, I was not tired. I feel that I messed it up, I am disappointed. Maybe I just relaxed, and all credit to Sarah Jane, she played very well.
I know I could have lost earlier in the tournament, and that I should be happy to reach the final, but I’m not satisfied to just reach the final, I feel I disappointed everybody…
I don’t think my tactics matters today. Until the ball hit the tin in the last rally, I was focusing on what I was trying to do and not thinking about winning. I needed to be more aggressive with my shots.
Hania is an extremely amazing player, she’s defending champion and she’s been making every match brutal for whoever steps on court with her. Today was no different, I had some chances in the second and didn’t take them, but I knew If I kept pushing I might get a chance.
I tried to stick to my game plan, but as I couldn’t get enough on the ball, my length was not good enough and it was just not working. So I had to change it, and just find a way to win. Once I manage to put more on the ball, I was putting more pressure on her, and as she was retrieving an awful lot, I thought she might start to feel it and make a few errors. Which she did.
And if your flair’s got to get out, might as well it come out at 9/9 in the 5th!
Every match this week has been a challenge in a different way. I’m happy I made less errors than yesterday. Actually, it’s more relief today, it’s more determination. Had I lost today, I would have been disappointed. But had I lost yesterday, I would have been heartbroken!
I feel really good about the team I’ve got around me and I really feel like I can build on this, push on and test the top ranks of the game where I know I can go. I know on the commentary they like to mention my coach, Rob Owen, quite a bit. He’s been a fantastic help and influence over the past few years, he’s got an incredible squash brain and I try to learn from him.
Thanks to my friends and family, my partner, my mum, all my sponsors, especially Marcus, who I sent a message just before saying thanks for everything, especially the kick up the but you gave me eight weeks ago, This ones for you Marcus, all that ghosting was worth it and I get to bring this home.
A nice victory from the jaws of defeat…