By RJ Mitchell
ELEANOR O’DONNELL is hoping that a promising performance at last week’s Hylo Open can pave the way for a memorable end to 2023.
The Scotland international and Mixed Doubles partner of Chris Grimley played in Saarbrucken to negotiate a tough qualifying tie with promising German duo David Eckerlin and Amelie Lehman (14-21, 22-20, 21-14) before losing out to the fifth seeded Dutch pairing of Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek (16-21, 21-19, 16-21).
With appearances at the AIG FZ Forza Irish Open and Yonex Welsh International Championships coming later this month, Eleanor is keen to build on the positives from last week’s campaign before she competes in the European Women’s Team Championship Qualifiers in Azerbaijan (December 2023).
The Scottish No.3 ranked mixed doubles player said: “We had played Tabeling and Piek at the Europeans in Madrid last year and it wasn’t our best performance so we were a bit nervy going into it last week.
“Plus we had played the young Germans the day before and neither of us played well, we just couldn’t get our rhythm and were just happy to come through it in three sets.
“But when it came to the Dutch we were really relaxed and just felt like we had nothing to lose against a world class pair and it was a really good game.
“We had sat down with Ingo (Kindervater, Head of Performance) and developed a very good game plan and we stuck to it well and that really worked for us.
“Christopher and I haven’t been on court much recently as he has been away playing men’s doubles with Matthew (Grimley) and it was nice just to be on court playing the way we can against world class opposition.
“We have dropped down the rankings because we haven’t played much together since the start of the year and there are no easy games but we are looking forward to the challenge of playing in the Irish and Welsh.”
While Eleanor will be teaming up with Chris Grimley for the Mixed Doubles in Ireland and Wales she will be partnering Brooke Stalker in the Women’s Doubles for these events.
With the AIG FZ Forza Irish Open starting on Wednesday 15 November, Eleanor admits she has plenty of preparation work to get in with Brooke.
Eleanor explained: “It will be nice to play with Brooke, she usually plays with Ishbel McAllister but we are playing these two events and we will spend a bit of time on court before we go.
“It will be important to prepare and get used to each other’s game styles and then once we know the draw we will need to work out our game plan and take it from there.
“It is nice to have a set partner you have played with for a long time but it will be good to play with Brooke and hopefully help her out with my experience.
“There are no set rules of how you play and you just have to see what works best in terms of the formation.”
Projecting further forward to next month’s European Women’s Team Championship Qualifiers in Azerbaijan, while quietly confident, Eleanor was in no mood to underrate the size of the challenge awaiting the Scottish women at the Ashberon Olympic Complex.
The Scotland international said: “I’d like to think we will come out on top but it is not guaranteed. Azerbaijan has some good players as do Estonia and Slovakia, so there will be some tough matches in there and we will need to fight hard to win the group.
“But team events are always great. It is nice to be going away with the girls again as we have a great team spirit and it’s the same team we were away competing at the Uber Cup.
“When you have a good team behind you and the spirit is strong it makes a real difference.”
Eleanor is likely to be partnering up in Azerbaijan with Rachel Andrew in the Women’s Doubles and although this is a new partnership it is one which has already had promising results.
Reflecting on this Eleanor shared: “Rachel usually plays with Sarah Sidebottom but she had hip surgery and we have now played a couple of tournaments together at the Belgian and Dutch.
“We made the quarters of the Dutch which was great and hopefully we can kick-on from that for the qualifiers and do Scotland proud.
“But it is something we are all really looking forward to.”
Meanwhile there was disappointment for Kirsty Gilmour in the semi-finals of the Women’s Singles in the Hylo Open after she lost out to Line Kjaersfeldt of Denmark 21-16, 21-17.
Despite starting strongly and building a 9-4 lead in the opening set Kirsty’s hopes of a final appearance at the HSBC BWF World Tour Super 300 event were undermined by a string of tight calls in which the shuttle dropped in by the finest of margins.
But after beating World No.16 Aya Ohori, to produce her best run of the season en route to the semi-final, the Scottish No.1 enjoyed a superb campaign in Saarbrucken.