Kennedy and Coll win Commonwealth Games titles

England’s Georgina Kennedy and New Zealand’s Paul Coll are the 2022 Commonwealth Games singles champions after they beat Canada’s Hollie Naughton and Wales’ Joel Makin in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,000 inside the University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash Centre.

Appearing in her debut Commonwealth Games, 3/4 seed Kennedy put in yet another remarkable performance to cap a year in which she has risen from a relative-unknown World No.185 to World No.8 and a national star, drawing comparisons with clubmate Emma Raducanu.

Kennedy, as she had in victories over Yeheni Kuruppu, Nicole Bunyan, Rachel Arnold and compatriot Sarah-Jane Perry in Birmingham, today blew 5/8 seed Naughton away with her devastating speed and court coverage.

There was an intriguing clash of styles in game one, with Naughton’s power and Kennedy’s pace well matched as the scores reached 6-6.

Kennedy, though, soon kicked on and took the first game 11-7 before doubling her advantage with a dominant 11-5 win in the second.

Naughton responded well in the third and blasted her way to a 10-4 lead, before Kennedy incredibly saved all six game balls to force a tie break.

Kennedy had one hand on the gold medal when she had match ball at 11-10, before a determined Naughton pulled the game back with a 14-12 win.

Somehow, Kennedy moved even faster in the fourth game and went on the attack as she raced away to a 6-1 lead. This time, Naughton was unable to recover, and Kennedy took the title with a 11-5 victory.

“I’m a bit lost for words really,” Kennedy said afterwards. “Yesterday when I won the semi-final I was filled with emotion and at the moment I’m just in shock a little bit!

“I wish I could put into words what this means to me, but I honestly can’t. It’s a dream and this dream has become a reality now. I’ve been thinking about how it would feel for so long and I’ve been building up for this for two years now, and now it’s happened, I’m just a bit speechless!”

Coll is presented with his medal by squash legend Jahangir Khan

More history was made in the men’s final, as Coll became the first Kiwi to win a singles gold medal after twice coming from behind in an epic encounter with Makin.

Coll went into the match with an 11-2 head-to-head record over Makin, including a victory from two games down in the semi-finals of the 2018 Games.

It was the University of Birmingham graduate Makin, though, who began quicker and the World No.7 made the ideal start to the match when his attacking strategy caught Coll off guard as he won the first game 11-3.

Makin continued to show excellent ball control in a tight second game, but was unable to prevent an improving Coll – who was ranked World No.1 between March and May of this year – from edging the contest 11-9.

Makin, who enjoyed the vast majority of the crowd’s support, responded fantastically in the third game. The 27-year-old attacked the front of the court with relish to reclaim the lead with an 11-8 win, as the incredible athleticism of both men drew gasps and applause from the fans.

Neither player elected to change the ball for the fourth game, which became a shootout as both men played thrilling squash. Coll, though, was able to keep his nose ahead throughout and took the match into a fifth game with an 11-8 win.

Although Makin continued to throw everything at Coll in the final game, the 2018 runner up looked ice cold in his bid to erase the pain of four years ago. The Kiwi began to dominate the court and had five gold medal balls at 10-5. Makin went all out and saved two, but Coll eventually brought a thrilling match to an end with an 11-7 win.

After sharing a long embrace with his New Zealand teammates , Coll said: “I was battling with wanting it too much earlier.

“It’s such an amazing team environment. I was hunting at the end and everyone who came out gave me a lot of energy to push through.

“I’m over the moon and I can’t wait to go back to the village with the gold draped around my neck.”

From left to right: Joel Makin, Paul Coll, Saurav Ghosal

There was another historic accomplishment in the bronze medal matches as India’s Saurav Ghosal became the first Indian to win a singles medal when he downed 2018 champion James Willstrop.

Ghosal played a brilliant game and constantly nullified Willstrop’s threat with combinations of drops and then accurate lobs over the 1.9 metre tall Englishman.

This plan worked well and the Indian took the first game 11-6, before seeing out the match with 11-1 and 11-4 wins.

“Today is the hardest match I’ve ever played. Mentally, it was so hard. I’ve learnt so much from him,” Ghosal said.

From left to right: Hollie Naughton, Georgina Kennedy, Sarah-Jane Perry

In the women’s final, England’s Sarah-Jane Perry avenged her defeat in the 2018 Gold Coast final with a brilliant comeback to beat New Zealand’s 2018 champion Joelle King.

Birmingham-born Perry was in a desperate situation at two games down and trailing 8-4 in the third. The 32-year-old, though, showed remarkable mental strength to come back and take the game 12-10, before levelling the match with an 11-6 win in the fourth.

In an absorbing fifth game, Perry saved two bronze medal balls and then had one of her own saved, before eventually taking the match with a 14-12 victory to the roars of the crowd.

“I’ve had some comebacks in my time but that’s right up there. Thanks to everyone for believing and everyone who puts that confidence in me,” Perry said.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Men’s Gold Medal Match
[1] Paul Coll (NZL) beat [2] Joel Makin (WAL) 3-2: 3-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8, 11-7 (102m)

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Women’s Gold Medal Match
[3/4] Georgina Kennedy (ENG) beat [5/8] Hollie Naughton (CAN) 3-1: 11-7, 11-5, 12-14, 11-5 (56m)

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Men’s Bronze Medal Match
[3/4] Saurav Ghosal (IND) beat [5/8] James Willstrop (ENG) 3-0:11-6, 11-1, 11-4 (42m)

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Women’s Bronze Medal Match
[2] Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG) beat [1] Joelle King (NZL) 3-2: 6-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-6, 14-12 (76m)

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