Kirsty Gilmour: Determined to make a strong start to the New Year

By RJ Mitchell

KIRSTY GILMOUR has underlined her determination to start 2024 on the front foot.

The Scottish No.1 will open her competitive calendar with a first round match against Turkey’s Neslihan Arin in the HSBC BWF Super 1000 Petronas Malaysia Open tomorrow.

Which is the first of a three tournament sequence that takes in the Yonex Sunrise Indian Open and Daihatsu Indonesia Masters.

With Kirsty also heading the race to represent Team GB in women’s singles at the Paris Olympics, the Scot is determined to make a strong start to the New Year.

The Scottish No.1 said: “So I have three tournaments coming up and you always want to hit the ground running, although that is obviously easier said than done given the quality in women’s singles right now.

“But you are determined to get through as many rounds as you can and I feel like I am in a good place and that I got some quality training in the bank over the festive period and we will see how it will go.”

Turning her attention to the meeting with the Turk, whom she boasts a 2-0 head-to-head against, the last meeting coming in a three-set victory for Kirsty at the Orleans Masters in 2019, she said:

“Neslihan is quite a tall player and I will implement some tactics that can be effective in that respect.

I think it is quite a good draw in terms of not being a top-10 player but it is still a tricky draw as Neslihan is a bit of a newbie to the top tournaments.

“That said she has real quality and it will be testing but I feel quite ready for it.”

Lurking further into the draw there is a potential re-match with former World No.1 Akane Yamaguchi, who is currently ranked No.3 in the global ratings.

In their last meeting the Scot was within a whisker of defeating Yamaguchi before going down 7-21, 21-16, 24-26 at last year’s Hong Kong Open.

With Kirsty holding a match point in the final stanza in her best showing against the Japanese a re-match would be a mouthwatering prospect.

As Kirsty reflected: “Obviously we had a really tight one last time and I’d definitely like to push her even further and if and when it happens I will be ready for her.

“It’s always tough going up against a former World No.1 but if it happens there is no pressure on me and also a great chance to see how my game is at the start of the year.”

As Kirsty explained getting the balance between some seasonal family down time and keeping training ticking over can be tough over the festive period: “I try to enjoy the festive period as much as I can, within reason and being sensible, but it is great to enjoy good quality family time, although maybe not as much of the festive food but I had a really good time and just being at home was great.

“That said, three weeks at home and I feel like I am out of practice with the packing! But it’s exciting to be back on the road and looking forward to the new competitive year.”

Going forward Kirsty will continue to have former three-time All England singles champion Tine Baun in her corner in a coaching consultancy role.

This is something she is confident will continue to pay a rich dividend: “Yep that is all still on the go and will probably run until Paris (Olympics). I just love being able to pick Tine’s brains about so many things and she has been a great addition to my support team.

“With the plan we have in place and the way we monitor things we can see the progress I am making and it also allows us to see how it translates into my tournament play and the combination of Tine and Ingo (Kindervater) has been great for me.

“It’s nice to know at the ripe old age of 30, that I am still able to improve and develop certain aspects of my game as at this stage of my career.

“Really if that were not the case and I wasn’t enjoying it that would be tough. But that is not the case and I have headed out to Malaysia in a very positive mood.”

Projecting forward to this summer’s Olympics Kirsty is currently at No.23 in the ‘Race to Paris’ Olympic Qualification ratings.

With the next highest UK player England’s Freya Redfearn at 121 and Scotland No.2 Rachel Sugden third at 163, Kirsty’s place on the plane for the French capital is almost guaranteed.

But the Bellshill born ace is setting her sights higher: “I’m pretty safely qualified for the Olympics but nothing is official until the start of May.

“But I am in a very strong place and my focus now lies in shooting for a seeded position, which would be a great achievement and set me up for a very positive Olympics I’d hope.”

With the unfortunate retirement of Eleanor O’Donnell before Christmas due to a debilitating battle with illness Kirsty was keen to pay a heartfelt tribute to her friend and playing colleague: “Eleanor has been such a big part of my career and we have overlapped in so many ways and it was really nice to spend some time on court with her despite me not being a doubles player,” shared Kirsty.

The Scottish No.1 continued: “Eleanor is not just a colleague but a friend for life and she is one of the good ones and it’s just such a shame she has had to stop.

“But what she has had to do while managing her condition has been incredible and I’m just excited to see what she does next.”

Meanwhile in the Men’s Doubles Alex Dunn and Adam Hall will face the Popov brothers from France in their opening match.

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