By RJ Mitchell
Callum Smith believes that lessons learned in a titanic Commonwealth Games clash with former England No.1 Toby Penty this summer have now given him the impetus to take his game to the next level.
The Scottish No.1 will meet Ukraine’s Danylo Skrynnik tomorrow in the first round of this week’s AIG FZ Forza Irish Open and is desperate for a victory in the Badminton Europe International Challenge event which would book a meeting with no.2 seed Nhat Nguyen which he believes will provide a true gauge of just where his game is now.
As he projected forward to an important week the 20- year-old has been impressively candid on the areas of his game he needs to improve and says he is clear about what he needs to do to perform at the elite level.
Yet he has no doubt that lessons learned against Penty will prove plenty as he prepares for battle at Dublin’s National Indoor Arena.
Smith said: “Playing in the Commonwealth Games in the summer was massive for me and I made the last-16 there where I lost to the English No.1 Toby Penty, who is winding down to retire and that match was probably the best I’ve ever played in a tournament.
“He was still ranked around the top-50 at the time and the Commy Games were basically his last tournament before he retired and with it being in England it meant a lot to him.
“But I played really well and I had five game points in the first set and just couldn’t finish it off and possibly if I’m being honest nerves got to me a little.
“Obviously he had been around for a long time, had played at the Olympics and had his home crowd behind him and he just made all that experience count and in the second game he made no mistakes and gave me nothing cheap and I went down 25-23, 21-11.
“So, 1000% this was the biggest learning experience I have had in match-play. I sat down with my coaches after and we went through things and there were so many positives we could take into training but also discipline was the main thing.
“Toby was really disciplined and where I was looking for cheap points he ground it out but the experience was invaluable and I feel like I have built on that in training since then.”
Callum continued: “My target this week is a crack at Nhat Nguyen who is a quality player and ranked No.28 in the world. Eventually my target is to beat players like him but realistically at this stage of my career a meeting with Roth would be a good result from this Irish Open.
“If I can make it that far then obviously I want to give it my very best and really take it to him and do everything I can to make the quarters but first of all it’s all out getting the win in the opening round.
“It’s a 124-qualifying so it is a tough tournament with a lot of really good players.”
Looking at the parts of his game he needs to improve under national coaches David Gilmour and Ingo Kindervater, Smith was in no mood to hold back and he said: “I have trained full-time for the last couple of years and at 20 I am really hungry to take my game to the next level.
“To do that I know that my discipline needs to be better. If I’m honest if a rally goes on for any length of time I get impatient and try and finish it off a bit too early. When that happens I end up making a mistake by trying something fancy when I should be concentrating on keeping my shots consistent and played with more purpose.
“I’m in the national coaching set-up and as a result I have two coaches and I work with both Ingo (Kindervater) and David (Gilmour) and at present I’m ranked in the 300s but I’m at the sort of age where I am looking for a breakthrough.
“For me ideally going forward it is about having a tournament structure that really allows me to focus on my training and keep improving as quickly as possible.”
In terms of the specific areas Callum is looking to improve he was once again candid: “There are parts in my fitness I can improve and explosivity in terms of how high I can jump and my speed around the court. So all that stuff can be improved but I am pretty happy with my physicality overall.
“The first lockdown really benefitted me as I needed to add more power to my frame and add a bit of muscle and my smash has definitely gone to another level in terms of power.
“I am normally quite a fast-paced player and I try and put pressure on my opponent by hitting quick and flat and I’d say being on the attack and playing aggressively is my type of game.
“I also feel like I am quite tactical but every game I am learning new things and take stuff from each match to build on.”
Projecting forward beyond the Irish Open, Smith has no doubt that 2023 needs to be a big year for him while he was also keen to thank his sponsors for their continued support.
The Scottish No.1 said: “A couple of weeks after the Irish is the Welsh Open and I like playing all the local tournaments as it is not only good financially but also the food is good and that is something that can’t be underestimated in terms of importance.
“I have played in Europe but next season I want to go beyond Europe and that is something I will be putting in my tournament plan over the next few weeks when I draw it up.
“I am also very grateful to my sponsors in Yonex, Uplift Forklifts and Sandy McLean while sportscotland have also been supportive. Their continued support is vital to me and it’s good to let them know how much I appreciate them.”