November

Blair: Excitement building for Scottish Open Grand Prix

Robert Blair knows more than anyone how vital a home Badminton World Championships can be.

As a 16-year-old aspiring international, Blair was among many transfixed when the competition came to Glasgow in 1997 and it undoubtedly influenced his push into the elite.

Two decades later, with the 2017 World Championships having been and gone in the city and the Scottish Open Grand Prix now just a couple of weeks away, the player-turned-coach is hoping others can follow him in catching the badminton bug.

As a six-time Scottish Open champion, with five of these wins coming in the mixed doubles, few have captured the competition quite like Blair, winning his first title 16 years ago.

Now retired, the 36-year-old’s role has varied somewhat to that of a coach, but that doesn’t mean the passion is any less for Scotland’s last Scottish Open champion, victorious with Imogen Bankier three years ago.

“Normally the Scottish Open is the highlight of the Scottish badminton year, this year we’ve been lucky enough to have the World Championships as well which was great for the fans, seeing our players and the top players in the world play together,” he said.

“Normally a big event like the World Championships can supersede an event, but having the Scottish Open immediately after really helps bring those new fans in.

“We remember what it was like having the crowds there 20 years ago, it had a long-lasting effect on me and how much I wanted to play and watch, so hopefully it will be the same for this new, young group of players that want to take part.

“I was lucky to have quite a long career, I won some things which was very nice, but there’s also a lot of work and effort that goes into it, you don’t just turn up and win things.

“It’s a great feeling when you’re there and getting good results, there’s a feeling of exhilaration so you do miss things like that. I was lucky enough to get one or two wins along the way, too.”

Like many, Blair will be keeping a close eye on Kirsty Gilmour from November 22-26, with the home hero the top-seed favourite in the women’s singles.

That will come in an Emirates Arena that has almost become a second home for Gilmour, reaching the World Championships quarter-finals to surpass expectations barely a couple of months ago.

Now, with confidence high and the partisan crowd backing her, Blair believes that can only work in her favour in the bid to become the first Scottish champion in her discipline since Susan Egelstaff, in 2009.

“Playing at the Emirates is amazing, I was lucky enough to do that during the Commonwealth Games which really ended my career nicely in front of friends and family,” he added.

“Kirsty has spent some time getting used to this, for a few years she’s been the top player and represented us at the big events.

“She’s been to the final of the Scottish Open, maybe a few of the losses have helped make her more determined, hopefully some of the younger players can be inspired by her and by that.

“The World Championships were a bit of a breakthrough for her, she really beat some truly world-class players and pushed Saina [Nehwal] as far as she could.

“She’s always been a good player, but that was a real step up to show that players have to be afraid of her.”

Retiring last year, Blair’s attentions have turned to the sidelines, part of the coaching setup in the Scotland team.

That will see him nurture a plethora of qualifying hopes for the Scottish Open Grand Prix and he admits it has been an enjoyable process.

He added: “It’s that step into the unknown, not to be afraid by success, raising expectations as you go.

“Now, from the sidelines, it’s all about preparation.

“When they’re on court you can do a few things to encourage or offer advice, but everything they need comes beforehand in the preparation to give them the best possible chance of success.”

The Scottish Open Grand Prix is being staged at the Emirates Arena by BADMINTONscotland with support from Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Council and EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.

Tickets are on sale now