EWTCQ: In-form Kirsty Gilmour up for the challenge

By RJ Mitchell

KIRSTY GILMOUR has admitted that she will need to be on top of her game when she faces Estonian No.1 Kristin Kuuba in tomorrow’s decisive 2024 European Women’s Team Championship Group 4 qualification meeting with the Eastern European state.

The Scottish No.1 was her usual imperious self in dismissing Slovakia’s Natalia Slobodova 21-4, 21-8 in just 22-minutes as the Scottish women celebrated a 5-0 success for the second day-in-a-row. Which means that Kirsty will go into her clash with Scottish Open runner-up Kuuba fresh but also untested.

Looking forward to what will be a winner takes all clash Kirsty said: “This will be my toughest match and it will definitely require lifting my game to the next level and operating at full capacity. I have played Kristin a couple of times before and always come out on top but she is a really good player who is up there and without doubt top-eight in Europe, so I will need to have my wits about me.

“I will have my running shoes on and if Kristin wants to go for a run that will be fine by me!

“That is why it was so important to get the job done as clinically as we could in the first two matches, we always knew it would come down to Estonia.”

Dissecting just what she expects World No.45 Kuuba to bring to the court, Kirsty said: “She has got some good skills and is really strong with real power behind her.

“So I will be doing my video analysis with Bob (Blair) and doing my homework on her favourite shots and tendencies but I will be ready for it for sure.”

But Kirsty admitted that Estonia, who are expected to defeat hosts Azerbaijan in this afternoon’s other Group 4 tie, are a cut above the other opposition in the section.

The World No.25 said: “Not only is Kristin a top class singles player but their top doubles pairing (Kati-Kreet Marran and Helina Ruutel) are also a fine combination who are right up there quality wise, so these are two key matches within the tie and the rest will just come down to who plays best on the day.

“But I have confidence in the team and we have some great momentum going into this one and we are all looking forward to it.”

With Kirsty claiming complete control from the get-go against Slobodova of Slovakia, the Scot raced through the first set with a loss of just four points.

In a testament to Kirsty’s professionalism, there was to be no let-up in accuracy or attitude as the second stanza was soon added for only another single digit loss.

Reflecting on this victory, Kirsty said: “Natalia was a young opponent and for me it was about getting my movement sharpened-up and staying focussed.

“What was most important was that I set the tone and give the rest of the girls a foundation to build on and they really took that.”

Scotland were soon two ties to the good when Rachel Sugden proved similarly ruthless, dispatching Olivia Kadlecova 21-12, 21-8 in just one-minute more (23m).

The Scottish No.2 looked to have lifted her level from her opening encounter against Azerbaijan and remained in complete control throughout, showing some mature shot selection in the process.

In the third singles, Lauren Middleton made even shorter work of Johanka Ivanovicova 21-14, 21-10 in 19 minutes, an impressively athletic performance that underlined her status as Scottish champion to claim overall victory in the tie.

A fourth success was soon notched by No.1 doubles pairing Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance against Slobodova and Katarina Vargova – this time 21- 6, 21-10 in 22 minutes.

With Julie and Ciara proving a cut above their determined but well-beaten opposition. This left Rachel Andrew and Eleanor O’Donnell to defeat Ivanovicova and Kadlecova 21-11, 21- 13 in a supremely clinical performance, done and dusted in a mere 27 minutes, to claim what was the Scots second successive victory in a staggering total of just 113 minutes!

Reflecting on all of this, Kirsty praised the professionalism of her teammates and she said: “We were really clinical right throughout the order with no wobbles, no matches ending up closer than they should have been and we are all feeling pretty good.

“It was all about being business like and making sure we got through both these ties as quickly as we could and we have got to be happy with how we have managed these opening matches and the fact we have put ourselves in exactly the position we wanted to be in going into the toughest match with Estonia tomorrow.”

Meanwhile the Scottish men suffered an agonising 2-3 loss to Ukraine in their opening Group 5 subgroup 1 clash in Milton Keynes.

With the men going again tomorrow against Slovakia in a must win match Kirsty said: “We are keeping up with how the boys are doing in MK and although it was a tough start for them they can still salvage it.

“Everyone wishes them good luck and we are keeping our fingers crossed for the boys.”

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