Posted on 22nd November 2022
By RJ Mitchell
ELEANOR O’DONNELL is hoping that a strong showing at the Irish Open has given her the perfect platform to achieve selection for the European Mixed Team Championships qualifiers in Scotstoun next month.
The Paisley born doubles ace produced a strong showing with England’s Lizzie Tolman in the women’s doubles where the duo reached the third-round last week at the Irish National Arena.
While partnering Christopher Grimley in the mixed doubles the formidable Danish pairing of Andreas Sondergaard and Iben Bergstein, who made it all the way to the final in Dublin, proved just too strong for the plucky Scots duo.
Now looking forward to European Mixed Team Championships qualifier, which will be at Scotstoun from December 15 to 18, O’Donnell is desperate for her Scottish ranked no.2 partnership with Grimley to be given the nod by the selectors.
With the Scots opening their Group A campaign against Luxembourg on Thursday, December 15, Eleanor admits that qualification for Aire-sur-la-Lys in France 2023 would be the ideal way to bring the curtain down on 2022.
The 24 – year-old said: “I think it is always nice when we get something at home, the Scottish Open wasn’t on this year and that was a bit of a gutter for everyone, so having the European Mixed Team qualifiers at Scotstoun is really nice and especially for our friends and families who will get to see us play.
“So coming off the back of the Commonwealth Games it will be really good to have a home support again, and with the players I think everyone will be there even if you aren’t selected!
“As a group we are all really close so everyone will want to support each other and we qualified last time for the finals in Finland and that was great and everyone will be desperate to qualify again for France next time.
“Last time at the finals we beat Finland and lost to Denmark and Germany but there were some great performances, it was just brilliant to be up against the best in Europe and show that Scotland is there to compete and underline that Scotland is a strong committed Badminton nation.
“Especially with the Uber Cup in the female competition getting a bronze medal at that really made that point strongly.
“Plus if we can get the win and make the finals it would give us all a great platform into 2023 as a group.”
Despite her burgeoning partnership with England’s Tolman, Eleanor says that her Mixed partnership with Christopher Grimley remains her priority and one which she believes has plenty of mileage in it.
The Scotland international said: “Mixed is my main focus and Christopher and I are climbing the rankings quite nicely right now but of course I do really enjoy the women’s doubles but mixed is my priority.
“As I said there will be the European Mixed team qualifiers in Scotstoun and at the moment I think everyone will be nominated but you never know and I really hope Christopher and I will get the nod but that call is down to the coaches so we will have to wait and see.
“We lost in the last 16 at the Commonwealth Games to the Singapore pair (Terry Hee and Tan Wei Han) who won in Birmingham and they are having a great season and have beaten a lot of world class pairs and I think they are up at around 20 in the world.
“We had played them before and we knew how tough it was going to be but we gave it our best shot and ultimately in winning the gold they really proved how strong they are as a pairing.”
Yet despite the fact her women’s doubles partnership with Tolman is restricted by the amount of time the partnership can get together on the practise court, Eleanor is full of belief it can continue to flourish.
The No.4 ranked Scottish women’s doubles player said: “I’ve known Lizzie since we were quite young and we played a lot of junior tournaments, although not together, and then with myself Ciara (Torrance) and Julie (MacPherson) being the more experienced girls and only three of us it was a bit frustrating we didn’t have a fourth player in that bracket.
“So Lizzie and I started chatting and agreed that we would be able to train either up here in Glasgow or in England and that it would be good to play a tournament together.
“Then we found we really enjoyed teaming up and as we were basically playing the same tournaments anyway it just made sense to do it together.
“We played the Scottish Open last year and what was great was that we got a few days of training leading into it and then we played the Welsh Open and also in Belgium and the Dutch Open so we had a few tournaments and it was all positive.
“Of course we don’t get to train as much as I do with Christopher (Grimley) for the mixed but I really enjoy playing with Lizzie and it’s just great to be playing women’s doubles again.
“In terms of the Irish Open when we saw the draw we were a bit disappointed as we saw that we would have Linda Efler and Isabel Lohau, the No.1 seeds, in the second round and although it’s great to play a higher ranked pair, and there is no doubt they are world class, maybe not just second round.
“So we were fairly comfortable getting through our first round against a Norwegian pair and then the German girls pulled out and that was almost a bit of a relief and we got to chill that night and then we had the French pairing of Flavie Vallet and Emilie Vercelot on the Friday and to be honest we gave them the win.
“Neither Lizzie or I played well and we had a chat after it and were both quite honest about how we played which is important. We didn’t produce our level there but as I said that is when it can be difficult when you haven’t had the time you would have wanted as a partnership to prepare.
“We just hadn’t got as much court time as we would have wanted and although the French girls did play a good match we didn’t do ourselves justice.
“Looking forward I don’t think we will play anything until around March as the tournaments in January are mainly in Asia but the plan is to continue partnering Lizzie.
“Although women’s doubles is not my main focus right now it is just nice to be playing it again and I think we will keep the partnership going for a while yet and see where it takes us.”
When it came to her thoughts on the difference between the mixed and women’s games it was interesting to see why Eleanor prefers the former as she explained: “In mixed it is more about me being the front court player and that is where I like to be and also where I am strongest so that is maybe why I prefer it.
“In the women’s doubles you can go more side on but again we try to get me at the front and winning points at the net but it is possible to play sides.
“Really you just have to take the rallies as they come but for me I am always looking to get to the front court.”