By RJ Mitchell
RACHEL SUGDEN has revealed that the challenge of qualifying for the top tournaments in Europe has become an Olympic sized task.
The Scotland No.2 women’s singles star has just completed a four tournament tour of Europe competing in Sweden, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Austria as she bids to climb the BWF ranking ladder.
With the Olympic qualification period kicking-off on May 1st the need for points on the board has caused a stampede of players heading for Europe from the far east which is driving the quality to unforeseen heights in women’s singles which is widely regarded as one of the most competitive of the game’s disciplines in any case.
Rachel explained these rising levels can only have a positive impact on her game and she said: “Because it’s the start of Olympic qualifying everyone is entering every tournament and you get elite level players entering lower level tournaments they wouldn’t usually play.
“In Slovenia I lost out in the last round of qualifying to a Japanese player 22-20 in the third and I played an Indonesian in Sweden and there are also a lot of talented Indian players competing.
“So it makes every match tough and I’m having to play through qualifying in a lot of these tournaments where last year mostly I was in the main draw and not having to play three matches just to make the first round proper.
“So it’s really tough to bring the level of quality mentally and physically when you know that every match, even in qualifying, is going to be a battle.”
During this four tournament European swing Rachel has based herself in Budapest where she has been training with world No.75 Vivien Sandorhazi and she shared: “To be honest I quite like to get away from home every so often as it takes you out of your comfort zone and a new environment adds a freshness to my work.
“I’ve been based out in Budapest where I’ve been working with my old coach Gregor McVean and the Hungarian player Vivien Sandorhazi and she is trying to qualify for the Olympics, so Vivien is a great training partner who is playing at a very good level and it has been great.
“It has also just been really enjoyable working with someone different and we have also done some work with a few younger guys which has been good.
“It has also been great working under Gregor as you are working with a fresh pair of eyes who maybe sees things a bit different to people you are working with every day.
“I do still need to improve the mental side of my game and I have been working on that for the past year and it is better but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“In the long run there are aspects of that I need to work on and if I can get them sorted that will make a really positive difference on my game.
“A change of environment just freshens everything up in that regard and being in Budapest has been positive for me in many aspects.”
With players from the Far East and India now competing in Europe, Rachel has been exposed to different styles of play and she rightly views this as another positive experience as she develops her game.
The World No.173 said: “In Luxembourg I lost to an Indian girl in three sets and in Sweden I lost to an Indonesian and both players were high level and there were tough matches but it was good to play against the Asian players as in most European tournaments you play against Europeans.
“With the Indian players they are very mobile and like to just rally but they also have a habit of throwing something different at you whereas the Chinese and Indonesian players have more deception and very good technical skills.
“In fact they tend to have some shots that they just hit straight winners from and there is very little you can do about it.
“But that is all a bit of a learning process in having to adapt your game to cope with all of that and it can only benefit my game in the long run.”
Taking stock of her European swing, Rachel reflected: “I feel like I have gained quite a lot of experience from the four tournaments I have played and I’m particularly happy with the level I played at for the three matches in Slovenia – although obviously disappointed to miss out making the main draw.
“In the other tournaments I wasn’t quite playing at the same level so next time I need to try and get back to my level from the Slovenian.
“At the Austrian I was a little bit worried about the playing conditions as the shuttles were quite fast and when I played there last year I struggled with that and mentally it impacted on me and how I played.
“But towards the end of the game I managed to let go of the fear of overhitting and play through that.
“I am thinking about taking a month or so to put together a good training block and consolidate what I’ve learned over these tournaments before going again with more tournaments.
“But I will discuss all that with David (Gilmour) and Ingo (Kindervater) and take it from there.”