By RJ Mitchell
CIARA TORRANCE has described the Scottish Women’s badminton team’s 5-0 success over hosts Azerbaijan in the opening Group 4 tie of the 2024 European Women’s Team Championship qualifiers as the perfect start.
A place at next year’s finals in Lodz, Poland, is up for grabs and with a daunting Saturday finale against Estonia ahead, it was imperative that the Scots get off to a flyer at the Ashberon Olympic Sports Complex, in Khirdalan, Azerbaijan.
This was achieved by a dominant display in which not a single set was dropped against the hosts.
With the five-tie match lasting a total of just 140-minutes the team will go into tomorrow’s second match against Slovakia fresh and acclimatised to the conditions with spirits high.
Reflecting on all of this Ciara said: “We knew that they had players who could hurt us with and also with the likes of Keisha Fatimah AZ Zahra they had real quality but we went out and right through the team were very clinical and solid, so we got the job done in the best way we could. Absolutely it was just the perfect start.
“The travel here was pretty tough with two flights over night adding up to seven and a half hours, a two hour plus stop over travel to and from the airports and in Azerbaijan they are four hours ahead so it was a draining journey out here but we rested up well yesterday and were very solid today.
“Also to have someone of Kirsty’s (Gilmour) class to lead off, well she just never lets us down in the European team matches and Kirsty always bring such good tempo and good rhythm to start the match off in these type of championships and it is just great to have her to get things going.”
Turning her attention to the No.1 doubles match which saw Ciara and Julie Macpherson defeat AZ Zahra and Maftuha 21-9, 21-11, Ciara admitted that control was crucial: “AZ Zahra has a big smash but on a singles court there is more space to hit to, so we kept her away from the back of the court as much as possible and tried to play at a faster tempo than them, especially with the serve return aspect and that paid off.”
Ciara also admitted she is enjoying playing the role of senior player at an elite European team championship: “It is a new thing for me and it feels good knowing the standard we are at and that people can take pointers off us – it’s quite nice really!”
With Kirsty Gilmour using all her tactical guile to get the Scots off to the perfect start with a 21-18, 21-16 victory over Keisha Fatimah Az Zahra the tone was set for a pitch perfect performance and so it proved.
The World No.25 took control from the start and built an early lead in the opening stanza that was never really threatened despite some powerful overhead shots from the Azerbaijan No.1 as Kirsty closed out the opening set with something to spare.
With AZ Zahra’s shot discipline deserting her early in the second set Kirsty made her class tell as she diffused the overheads and started to frustrate her opponent with dexterous angle changes.
An error from the host’s no.1 from a Kirsty smash, ultimately handed the second set and an encouraging opening win to the top Scot with something to spare over a dangerous opponent in just 38 minutes.
In the second singles, Rachel Sugden faced Era Maftuha and after the Scottish No.2 had cruised to a 21-14 first set success, the second game became a real battle with the lead changing hands several times as Maftuha proved to be a challenging opponent.
With the Azerbaijani No.2 overturning a 16-19 deficit to earn a set point alarm bells rang loud but Rachel forced an error from a backhand lift to level and two superb smashes in succession claimed a 22-20 victory to put the Scots two up in 38 – minutes.
Next up in the third and final singles Scottish champion Lauren Middleton faced Hajar Nuriyeva and the Scot was soon in the driving seat as Lauren built a commanding early lead in which she demonstrated just too much game for a fired up opponent.
With one superb change of direction flummoxing Nuriyeva, who subsequently ended up being sent to the floor after being wrong-footed as Lauren built an 18-9 lead, this soon translated into a 21- 10 success.
The second set once again demonstrated that Lauren had the answer for every question her determined opponent asked and the Scot was never behind as she cruised to a 21- 8 victory handing her country a 3-0 lead.
With victory assured, the first women’s doubles featuring Scottish champions Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance against Azerbaijan’s leading pair of Keisha Fatimah AZ Zahra and Era Maftuha was next up.
But with the Scots craft and accuracy minimising the opportunity for AZ Zahra to bring her firepower to the fray Ciara and Julie soon exerted complete control over their tie to claim the opening set 21-9 in the most emphatic fashion.
With the Scots steadily tightening the screw, the second set was soon heading in the same way as Ciara and Julie regularly out manoeuvring their opponents to dictate and then dominate play and coast to a 21-11 second set success.
In the second doubles, Rachel Andrew and Rachel Sugden decisively dispatched Leyla Jamalzade and Hajar Nuriyeva 21-5, 21-7 in just 19-minutes. The girls delivering an impressively efficient performance particularly as the match victory had already been secured in emphatic fashion.
Next up is tomorrow morning’s meeting with a Slovakia side who were whitewashed 5-0 by Estonia in their opening Group 4 match.
Looking forward to this second serving Ciara admits there can be no drop off in standard and said: “We must go into the Slovakia match with exactly the same attitude as today. There can be no drop in standard, intensity, or professionalism. So we are looking for another solid performance.
“Julie and I will probably play against Natalia Slobodova and Katarina Vargova tomorrow and I’ve actually trained with the latter as a junior so that will be interesting but the main thing is it is a case of the same again when it comes to standards.”
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