By RJ Mitchell
MATTHEW WARING has admitted that 2023 will always be a year to remember for him.
The Lanarkshire Lad started off by making the final of the Scottish Men’s singles championship where he lost out to defending champion Callum Smith while only a 16-year-old.
Then after joining up with the Scottish elite squad Matthew’s development accelerated and he recorded a victory at his first ever senior Scottish Open in October.
Over the weekend the young Scot made it through to the quarter-finals of the Slovak Junior 2023 where he dispatched seeded opposition before losing out to India’s fifth seeded Stithapragnya Reddy Saddi (18-21, 18-21).
This week Matthew travels to Cardiff where he is playing the Welsh International before bringing the curtain down on 2023 representing the Scottish Men’s Team for the first time in Milton Keynes at the European Team Championship qualifiers – all of that while continuing his schoolwork at Cardinal Newman High.
Reflecting on all of this Matthew said: “It has been an unbelievable year. I remember New Year’s Eve really well and I wasn’t doing much and was just sitting watching the countdown to the bells and I never ever thought this was all to come in 2023.
“Especially my first Scotland senior call up for Milton Keynes is just tremendous. I just did not expect to get picked for the team and at 17 it’s an amazing opportunity.
“I only found out because I was looking on the website and there was a wee subpage detailing the women’s squad and then I saw the men’s and my name was there and I was like wow!
“But then I saw that it stated this was provisional and I was like: ‘Oh no!’ but then I got it confirmed by Ingo (Kindervater, Head of Performance) at squad training and it was tremendous.
“Really it has been an amazing few months, it’s been tough physically and mentally getting up early in the morning and mixing all of the work with my schooling and exams with high performance training but it has really paid off in the end.
“Now I need to make sure I keep moving forward in 2024 but 2023 is certainly a year I will never forget.”
Matthew heads for Cardiff as one of a 10-strong Scottish contingent in the men’s singles qualifying tournament with national champion Callum Smith also making his return from injury in the event.
After his fine run at the Slovak Junior the young Scot has Italian opposition awaiting at the Welsh National Sports Centre, in Luca Zhou, and Matthew admits it will prove a step up in class.
He said: “I know that Luca is about 19 or 20, so about three years older than me and I know he is decent, so I am not expecting anything and really looking at this in terms of the experience I will get.
“I approached the Scottish Open in the same way and I managed a pretty good win in the qualies, so again I am just looking at the experience and what I will be able to take away from this.
“It has been a pretty hectic period with having played at the Slovak Junior at the weekend but I am determined to try and produce my best badminton and see where that takes me.
“I can use this as a reference going forward as it will happen again in terms of going from one tournament to another and that will be important going forward.”
Looking back at October’s Scottish Open Matthew admits the lessons he learned at the Emirates Arena will be vital in the valleys this week: “I was just really pleased with how I was able to hold my nerve and also to stay with Rohan Thool over some long and brutal rallies which really proved to me I can keep up with the seniors.
“I am still only 17 but I managed to go head-to-head with a guy who had won three golds in England which is really high level and I was definitely the underdog for that one but it proved to me that I am definitely going in the right direction.”
Matthew’s promising performances at the Scottish Open drew warm words of praise from Scottish badminton legend Dan Travers and it is something the young Scot admits gave him real encouragement that he is going in the right direction.
Matthew said: “My brother Anthony, read it out to me when we were having lunch and I nearly choked! To have someone like Dan Travers, a real legend of Scottish badminton saying nice things about me was awesome.
“When you consider everything he has done it is unbelievable and in fact all of his advice we have actually been working on since then funnily enough.
“But it was just really nice to hear that he had positive things to say about me and it meant a lot and was really encouraging.”
Projecting forward to the European qualifiers Matthew admits he is still coming to terms with his first inclusion for a senior Scottish team event and he said: “This is all new for me and it is just such an honour to play for my country never mind at junior level but now at senior.
“I know Callum (Smith) well and James (Robertson) and Josh (Apiliga) too and having been in the squad over the summer I know pretty much everyone and all of that helps.
“But it will still be a bit of a surreal experience being there down at Milton Keynes and I’m just delighted we aren’t playing our qualifiers in Azerbaijan like the girls!”