Sarah-Jane Perry lived up to her gladiator nickname in Birmingham’s squash Colosseum to win Commonwealth Games bronze, before crediting Gina Kennedy for inspiring her.
The 32-year-old, who was beaten by Kennedy in the semi-finals, recovered from two games down to beat New Zealand’s Joelle King in a five-game epic at the University of Birmingham.
A dramatic showdown between the top two seeds, who contested the gold medal match four years ago, was punctuated by a series of protests and heated clashes with the referee.
But the Birmingham native showed her fighting spirit to avenge her defeat in the final on the Gold Coast and complete the podium - and said Kennedy’s post-match comments spurred her on.
“I tried not to look too much at social media last night, but you can’t help it and she is a fantastic person as well as an incredible player and I listened to a quick snippet interview,” she said.
“She said she almost didn’t want it to go to five, she wanted to push in that fourth because she knew how much of a fighter I was and I really used that energy and proved her right.
“I was an absolute fighter and I’m not called the gladiator for nothing.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
Perry made a bright start before being overhauled by King, who took the opener 11-6, before the English star was given a warning for her language at the start of the second game.
The Warwick University graduate looked befuddled as she insisted to the referee that she hadn’t said anything X-rated, but it appeared to fire her up as the home favourite pulled 7-4 ahead.
King reeled her opponent back in again, though, and after Perry was frustrated by another call from the official the two players found themselves locked together at 8-8.
The New Zealander went on to complete the comeback, clinching the game 11-9 as Perry began to become more and more frustrated, protesting a perfectly good shot on the final point.
Perry was not done yet, though, recovering to take the next two games 11-8 and 11-6 to set up a decider, a back-and-forth epic that she clinched 14-12 to finish on the podium.
“I just had to keep going, keep focusing on the point in front of me. I just kept fighting, kept telling myself to keep fighting and I’ve come back from deficits before,” she said.
“That’s right up there with my best comebacks and I’m extremely proud of myself for leaving it all out there. In a certain way it does feel better (than silver) because I’ve won the last match.
“You really have won that bronze medal. I was extremely proud of that silver medal and I’m extremely proud of this bronze medal and having so many of my friends and family able to see me win it and hopefully inspire some of the kids in the audience.”
As well as both players questioning the calls of the referee throughout the hour-plus battle, they came together in a heavy clash in the final game, and Perry felt the improvements she has made to her mental approach came to the fore in a tempestuous encounter.
“It’s not always been my best asset, but I’ve worked a lot on that, my sports psychologist is here today, and she used to play to a very high level herself, Jenny Denyer,” she said.
“She’s got a very good insight into what’s it’s like to be out there and it’s invaluable to me and we have been working together for a very long time now.
“I was trying to make it physical and keep her working when it was working for me and then reset when I needed to. I thought I did that reasonably well today. I didn’t deal with it well yesterday.
“So, I tried to deal with it better today and focus on the next point. I think there was a stroke against me in that tiebreak at the end and I just tried to re-focus and get on with it. I'm proud of the way I did that."
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