Nerves pulsated through Kieran Merrilees’ veins as he took on Lin Dan - the Greatest Of All Time - in front of a home crowd at the TOTAL BWF World Championships, but it was a battling performance he can look back on with pride for years to come.
An opening-round tie with the five-time World champion was not the draw 27-year-old Merrilees had hoped for but, spurred on by the opportunity to play the world’s finest on Scottish soil, he was determined to relish every second of his time on court.
His tension was apparent in the early stages of their match at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, as Lin stormed into a comfortable 11-1 lead.
But Merrilees soon found second gear, and fought with all his might to pull himself back into the opening set, Lin eventually pulling over the line to take the early advantage with a 21-15 score.
The second set was a much less dominant affair for double Olympic champion Lin, with Merrilees taking his fair share of points from the Chinese shuttler.
But while Lin eventually prevailed 21-10, Merrilees insists it was an experience he won’t be forgetting in a hurry as he looks to boost his performances in the future.
“It was a great experience out there, I was finding it hard to prepare myself mentally because you’re playing against the best player in the world,” he said.
“It was difficult to see a winning scenario, but if I’m honest I was really struggling through that match, I was so nervous the whole way through and I could have been sick.
“He’s played some unbelievable shots that hardly anyone in the world is getting back. I thought I had won the rally but he would get it back and then put me under pressure too.
"I was quite lucky because I got back into the game a little bit, had a chance to get some rhythm back for the second game.
“My legs felt like jelly, it was very tough so it was nice to be able to come back and fight.
“It was difficult to prepare, but I’ve been able to learn a lot from it, perhaps next time I’ll try and cut myself off before a match and up my concentration, but it’s easier said than done when you’re playing against Lin Dan.”
While he refuses to shed light on whether Glasgow will be his final TOTAL BWF World Championships, there is little doubt that Lin has set his sights on a sixth World title.
But he was quick to praise Merrilees’ efforts on court, insisting he was impressed by the challenge he posed.
“This is the first match and normally the first match is not easy, because I need to get myself in a good mindset,” he said.
“This was a very important match so I did a lot of practice and preparation, so I need to make this mindset last until the end of the Championships.
“Kieran played his very best and it was important for him to do that today in front of the Scottish fans.
“I haven’t thought much about becoming World champion again, I will just try to do my best.”
The TOTAL BWF World Championships 2017 will be staged at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena from 21-27 August.
It is being delivered by BADMINTONscotland in partnership with Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council and with funding support from EventScotland and The National Lottery through UK Sport.
Tickets available at www.glasgow2017.com/tickets