Having both faced Lin Dan the last time they competed at the Emirates Arena, at the world championships in August, Kieran Merrilees and Emil Holst will be hoping for slightly easier starts to their Scottish Open campaigns. We caught up with them both ahead of next week’s event
Kieran Merrilees needs little invitation to recall his early memories of the Scottish Open Grand Prix.
For a Scottish player featuring on home courts, these happy experiences are far from out of the ordinary in badminton, or sport as a whole – particularly for a man with plenty of international competitions under his belt.
But for Merrilees, these fond recollections are of times before he had even picked up a racket.
Going with his dad, Ronnie, during his formative years to watch the stars, it is these experiences that the 28-year-old knows hold plenty of significance in his life – both on and off the court.
“This was the tournament that I went to when I was younger and didn’t even play badminton,” he said.
“It’s quite a special tournament for me, I used to go with my dad every year to watch it before I got involved with playing just because I enjoyed watching it.
“Watching the competition and seeing how these guys played when I was so young was a big inspiration for me, it was a big part of me playing and taking it forward.
“I started playing properly when I was 12 or 13 when I was at school, Gordon Thomson (two-time Scottish champion) was there too so I had good badminton players to be up against and I’ve followed it on from that.”
And while Merrilees knows there is no place like home, the feeling of familiarity is not one he wants to affect his badminton on a day-to-day basis.
But when you’re competing in Glasgow in the very same year as it hosted the TOTAL BWF World Championships, things like that are easier said than done.
By his own admission the World Championships were far from an ideal tournament for the Scot, playing against ‘The Greatest’ Lin Dan and missing out in straight games in a performance that wasn’t his best.
And while many would hope to reflect solely on the positives from his time on court, Merrilees is not one of that particular persuasion.
“To be honest, I don’t really think about the Championships at all and I try not to look back on it too much,” he added.
“But I’ve taken things away from that. I try not to let nerves play too much of a part, I’ve been able to do that a bit more in my play which has been useful.
“I just want to try and perform to the best of my ability. I’m keen to take things round by round and not look too far ahead, there’s going to be some tough games ahead so I need to be taking things round by round.”
A World Championship and Scottish Open Grand Prix in the same year has provided a rare double for Merrilees – the chance for his friends and family to come and watch.
But beyond that, the three-time BWF International tournament Challenge champion is hoping there are others who can follow in his own, young, footsteps to pick up a racket in the near future.
He added: “Hopefully the World Championships has created a buzz around badminton, particularly in Glasgow. I’m sure there will be quite a lot of youngsters watching and hopefully we can be inspiring them to take up the sport.
“If we can have the knock-on effect from that then it would be so great, it certainly makes a difference when you’re playing.”
Viktor Axelsen became his country’s first badminton world champion for 20 years in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena and now Emil Holst wants more Danish domination in Scotland.
Holst is seeded third in the men’s singles at the Scottish Open Grand Prix and compatriot Rasmus Gemke is also seeded.
The 26-year-old reached the quarter-final of the competition last year, but his most recent outing in Glasgow saw him take on five-time world champion Lin Dan.
This time Holst is hoping to make it all the way to the final, where he could face friend Gemke.
“I have high expectations this year, I hope I can win the title – that’s my goal,” he said.
“That’s where my focus will be, of course there will be some difficult matches along the way.
“There’s Rasmus from my own country, he’s in the opposite side of the draw so I will only play against him if I get to the final – that could be a lot of fun.
“It’s always something special when you play against a guy you train with and Rasmus and I actually also play in the same club in Denmark.
“We’re going to stay in the same hotel room in Scotland, we’re good friends and respect each other.
“If we face each other in the final, we’ll both be very happy for each other and it could be a very fun match.”
Axelsen may have been the first Dane to claim world gold since Peter Rasmussen in 1997, a victory which also took place in Glasgow.
But Holst knows Axelsen’s result is just the tip of the iceberg for Danish badminton, with Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen flying high in the women’s doubles and Anders Antonsen constantly on the cusp of podium finishes.
“We train with Viktor every day so we’d seen for the whole year that he has a very high level at training,” said Holst.
“So it was about time he showed the rest of the world how well he can play. It was so nice to see him play, it gives us a lot of motivation and it’s very good for Danish badminton that he shows we are one of the best nations in the world.
“It’s good for everyone, not only for Viktor but the other players from Denmark too. That’s what makes Danish men’s singles so good, because we have each other.
“If you have good colleagues, the chances are you will get better and it’s nice we have Viktor but we also have a lot of other good guys and all of us can beat world-class players – we have shown that.
“It’s also important for Viktor to have us, without us he would never have won the World Championships.
“I think some of us have a chance at future World Championships, of course Viktor will be the favourite in a lot of future years.
“But I hope one day I can feel I’m on my way, but also a guy like Anders Antonsen, it’s his first year on the Superseries circuit and he’s had two semi-finals so I think the next couple of years will be really interesting for Danish men’s singles.”