By RJ Mitchell
KEITH RUSSELL has revealed his delight at the outstanding weekend of badminton produced by the Scottish National Badminton Championships with a record 136 competitors across the five disciplines at Scotstoun.
There was genuine world class quality on display in the Men’s, Women’s and Mixed Doubles finals, though it was perhaps the breakthrough runs of two of our outstanding teenage talents in the Women’s and Men’s Singles which caught the eye.
16-year-old Matthew Waring produced the standout performance in the Men’s Singles when he administered the coup de grace to No.2 seed James Robertson in the last four before coming up short in the final to Callum Smith, who at just 20, was racking up his third consecutive national title.
16-year-old Katrina Chan created the shock of the Women’s Single’s event when she defeated ¾ seed Basia Grodynska in the last eight encounter which hinged on an epic 24-22 first set tie break. Katrina then came within a whisker of repeating this in the semi-finals but fell just short in a nerve-shredding deciding 23-21 tie-break with Chloe Hunt.
Not surprising that with youth very much to the fore, the Badminton Scotland CEO was pleased with so many aspects of a truly memorable 2023 Scottish Championships: “This has been the biggest entry in living memory for a Scottish National Championship and that is very pleasing – especially coming back from Covid and lockdown,” revealed Russell.
He continued: “It’s the first time ever we have had qualifying for the women’s singles and that has demonstrated the accessibility as well as the quality across the sport and that is really important for us.
“It is particularly pleasing that this dynamic was shown in the number of younger girls who took part and just how well they did.
“It was a bit disappointing that Kirsty (Gilmour) was unable to take part but again you look at the talented young players that came through and that is just really exciting for us.
“Matthew Waring, who at 16 may well be the youngest ever finalist at a Scottish Nationals, did really well to get past James Robertson in his semi.
“Maybe Matthew’s s first set in the final was not his best but he lifted his level in the second and showed huge potential in the process and there were others in that category as well.”
What was particularly pleasing for the Badminton Scotland CEO was the depth of quality on show at Scotstoun, something he is confident augurs well for the future of our sport in Caledonia.
Russell said: “The quality of the top end of badminton in Scotland, and the number of positive comments I have had from people who have been around badminton for a good while in this respect stating they have never known us to have this high-line of talent, was really pleasing.
“We had a men’s doubles final with Adam Hall and Alex Dunn and the Grimley twins where we had almost top-20 versus top-30 in the world.
“In the Mixed Doubles with Adam Hall and Julie MacPherson defeating Chris Grimley and Eleanor O’Donnell and again the same in the Women’s Doubles with Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance just too strong for Lauren Middleton and Eleanor O’Donnell, these finals were both pretty much in that same bracket.
“In the Women’s Singles Kirsty Gilmour, who is 17 in the world, didn’t play due to injury but what a great win for Lauren Middleton with her first national title while in the men’s Callum Smith came through strongly to claim his third Scottish at just 20.
“So we’ve never had that breadth of talent overall and for me the doubles finalists in particular were world class and you could pay a lot of money in European and Asian competitions to see that standard of badminton.
“So lots of things are going in the right direction that we can move and on and progress from here.”
Reflecting on the degree of support from the badminton community Russell was positive about the level of engagement at Scotstoun and he said: “The crowd across the two and a half days was good.
“It is one thing we always struggle with in terms of how you present badminton in a way that captures the athleticism and dynamism of the sport and Scotland is not the only country in Europe where we have had to work really hard to get the spectators in.
“The Nationals were also broadcast for the first time on Recast and so you can go back in and watch some of these world class matches again if you want and we will continue to work hard on all of this.
“So it was as good as we’ve had previously in terms of the support but we want to grow it. We have a world class group of athletes and we will do everything we can to give them the backing and platform they deserve.”
Looking forward to next week’s European Mixed Team Championships in France, Russell is targeting a top – four finish as he crosses his fingers for an opening victory against the Auld Enemy to replicate the Scottish Rugby team’s heroics at Twickenham over the weekend.
He laughed: “We’ve just beaten England down at Twickenham in the rugby and I’m sure we can repeat that over in France in the European Mixed Teams!
“Seriously though Ingo’s (Kindervater: Head of Performance) measure is to try and make that third versus fourth play-off and we know that with Denmark and France, a strong Germany and of course England that will be tough.
“Also in the men’s singles we are developing Callum (Smith) and that means he will be challenged in his singles although these matches are essential to develop him further.
“In turn that does put us under pressure and you would have Kirsty (Gilmour) having to win her singles, although obviously she has won a silver medal at the Europeans and is more than capable of doing that, with maybe the exception of Denmark.
“Then you are maybe going into the doubles which can go either way. So for me success would be qualifying for the semis but I would back this group of players to achieve our target if we can produce the performances of which we are capable.
“Getting to France was a real achievement in itself and almost more so the way we did that with confidence and real belief to go and do the job against good teams from Sweden and the Czech Republic.
“So having the professionalism to get that done was great but then the European finals are where we should be and the next step from that is making those semis but I firmly believe the players have the ability to do that.”
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