Petronas Malaysia Open and Yonex Sunrise India Open: Bob Blair Reflects

By RJ Mitchell

BOB BLAIR has described the far east swing that has seen our best players compete in Malaysia and India over the last couple of weeks at two of the biggest tournaments on the HSBC BWF World Tour as “invaluable”.

The action in Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi exposed the cream of Scottish talent to top end world class opposition who do not operate within the usual European environs our players compete in.

With Blair acting as lead coach for the trip the former world men’s doubles championship finalist has been able to assess how our best have coped with challenging physical conditions, a variety of playing styles as well as an ability to flourish over 6,000 miles from Scotland.

With the Scottish playing party returning back home yesterday, Blair was keen to offer his overview on the merits of the action at the Petronas Malaysia Open and Yonex Sunrise India Open and he said: “For coaches it has been invaluable to see them under this level of scrutiny and pressure and having to deal with difficult conditions and learn how to adapt and play a different style.

“Kirsty (Gilmour) has more experience at this level but some of our guys are just starting to get used to performing against this quality of opposition so it was a big learning experience and hopefully it will pay off in the upcoming Olympic qualification process and beyond.

“It is tough to win at this level as there are only a few tournaments of this quality so these are the type of events where our players will gain more experience and see what parts of their game are up to scratch and what parts need improvement.

“That process is vital for them and of huge value to us as coaches.”

Scotland’s No.1 women’s singles player Kirsty Gilmour made it to the second round at New Delhi last week after a first round defeat in Kula Lumpur in what were exceptionally challenging conditions but Blair is adamant there were plenty of positives for the World No.17 to build on.

He said: “In her first round at the Yonex, Yvonne Li could have been a tricky game for Kirsty but she played a very disciplined match which was nice. You kind of need to do that in these slow halls when it is often a bit dangerous to be too aggressive as you can leave yourself exposed.

“So Kirsty played a very sensible steady game and used the type of tactics that make her very tough to beat and she was very impressive.

“In the second round she faced a Thai player in Supanida Katethong whom she was one all with in their head-to-head so it was always going to be tight. Kirsty started well and was very disciplined but perhaps lost her way slightly, she was almost winning too comfortably and the Thai player then relaxed and Kirsty in turn tightened up.

“So it was a case of momentum turning against her and it was a tough mental blow to lose the first set after having a good lead and then it became a bit of a struggle and ultimately ended in defeat (21-17, 21-14).

“So, Kirsty will have to go back and look at the good things and of course make some adjustments but after struggling with the conditions in Kuala Lumpur she played some good quality badminton in India.

“She was more patient, more disciplined and she will need to focus and maintain that. Where things have gone wrong is with a couple of mental slips when things have then gone against her and this has caused a losing a run of points.

“Going forward Kirsty needs to work out how to stop that turning into a decisive issue.”

In the men’s doubles in India there was a vastly improved performance from Alex Dunn and Adam Hall who met the Chinese Taipei pairing of Lu Ching Yao & Yang Po Han for a second successive week losing an epic three-set encounter 23-21 in third stanza.

Blair reflected: “Alex and Adam are starting to realise the margins are so fine that if you are a bit off with your focus, as they were last week with the conditions of the hall, you can lose very easily but when you are playing at your best level they are in the fight with everyone and then it’s about the ability to close off matches.

“Fortunately it just didn’t go for us, as we played a very good game and especially so Alex who had been struggling with a back issue and the guys are very disappointed as they were up and should have maybe got the win.

“That said this Chinese Taipei pairing have been one of the form pairings of the last two months so it was good for Adam and Alex to see they can compete with a team of that quality. Going forward for them it is about belief in the final couple of points to help get over the line.”

Turning his attention to the Grimley twins, who lost to No.5 seeds Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy 21-13, 21-15, Blair admitted it was a sharp learning curve against the world championship bronze medallists: “It was very good experience for Chris and Matthew as a younger pair who are trying to establish themselves at this level. Clearly it was a tough draw against a team who were bronze medallists at the worlds and are playing well.

“It was a competitive match but the Indians really showed their quality but it was vital for the Grimleys to get a gauge of where they are at in terms of all that, so again, an invaluable experience for them.”

When it came to the women’s doubles, where Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance lost 21-11, 21-9 to the Japanese world ranked 21 partnership of Rin Iwinaga & Kie Nakanishi 21-11, 21-9, Blair said: “Women’s doubles is a tough one as the scores can be unreflective of the game where in mixed and men’s doubles you can win a lot of cheap points.

“Really there was not anywhere near the size of gap which the score would suggest and in actual fact our girls played well.

“The difference was the capability to finish off and win the big points was just lacking but it has been a good couple of weeks. Julie and Ciara were very good in the first week but it is all about consistency and that is the main learning point for them.”

In the mixed doubles Adam Hall and Julie MacPherson lost 21-11, 21-14 to the red-hot Korean partnership of Kim Won Ho & Jeong Na Eun and Blair said: “This was similar to the ladies doubles with a solid performance but the Koreans were just too good. Last week they beat the Olympic champions and this week they beat the second seeds so they are playing at a very high level and have improved immensely over the last two months.

“So, we just have to say they were a bit too good.”