BY RJ MITCHELL
ROBERT BLAIR believes the Yonex All England Championships have proven that the gap between our game’s leading players and the biggest names in badminton is narrowing.
A strong Scottish contingent posted a mixture of impressive victories and promising performances at the Utilita Arena Birmingham last week with the pick of the bunch coming in the Men’s Doubles where a fit again Alex Dunn and Adam Hall defeated the World No.9 ranked Korean pair of Choi and Kim 21-15, 21-14.
There was also a battling performance from Kirsty Gilmour in the women’s singles when the Scottish No.1 pushed three-time former World Champion Carolina Marin all the way over two fiercely contested sets.
In the Mixed Doubles Julie MacPherson and Adam Hall lost out over two tight sets to the World ranked No.13 Dutch pairing of Tabeling and Piek however a back injury to Ciara Torrance forced our women’s doubles partnership of Ciara and Julie MacPherson to scratch in their first round match.
Yet all of that has allowed the Scotland coach to project forward confidently to this week’s Yonex Swiss Open and Blair said: “There is now just a very small gap between the top-30 in the world and it’s about how you play the key points as we go into the Swiss”.
“If we can play with more belief and really take our chances at the crucial stages in matches we will get a few more victories.
“The Men’s Doubles was fantastic, especially as Alex had an injury issue in the build-up, so he exceeded what we could have expected considering the disruption to his training.
“It was a very good win for the boys against the No.9 ranked pair who had just won the German Open last week and were obviously in a very rich vein of form.
“I’d imagine the Koreans may have thought they could have a nice round and get back on the trail again but we had a look at them and the way they played suited our style well. Adam and Alex were very disciplined in their tactics and really controlled the match plus they were superb in the areas they needed to be. It was an excellent win.
“The second round was a step up in standard against the Japanese pair of Hoki and Kobayashi, who were world champions in 2021 and are ranked No.4 in the world.
“Alex and Adam had played them a couple of times before and the Japanese had been clear winners so it took a bit of time to settle but once they got into the match they were very competitive.
“It was just that hesitation that let the Japanese get four or five points ahead and let them be settled and play their better stuff and the scoreline (17-21, 17-21) reflected that.
“You can’t let top players settle and to some extent if they had gone in with the same purpose and intent they had in the first match it could have been different. At times their consistency just dropped.”
In the Swiss Open this week Adam and Alex have drawn the third seeded Malaysian pair of Ong and Teo and Robert reflected: “It will be a tough game against another strong pair although they were out first round at the All England so we will see if they are off form. Adam and Alex had a big battle with them a couple of years ago and they need to go in with a bit more belief and really prove they can challenge the best in the world consistently.”
There was bitter disappointment in the Women’s Doubles when the recurrence of back injury sustained by Ciara Torrance forced her and partner Julie MacPherson to scratch halfway through the second set of their first round match with the Japanese pairing of Hirota and Fukushima.
This will also mean the girls will not compete in Switzerland this week as Ciara concentrates on her recovery.
In the Mixed Doubles Robert felt it was a case of what might have been after Adam Hall and Julie MacPherson made a strong start against their highly ranked Dutch opponents and he said: “The Dutch are a very good pair and although Julie and Adam started very strongly and were in control early on, towards the second-half of the match the Dutch put pressure on the net in the mid-court and we backed off.
“From being in a dominant position it is a little disappointing we didn’t stay in the battle a bit more and challenge for that area, but gave them the space to take control of the match.
“As a more experienced pairing, who were close to beating everyone at the French Open a few months back, it was always going to be a challenge. So again it was about not letting them take control at the crucial moments.”
In Switzerland it is the World No.24 ranked Chinese Taipei pairing of Ye and Lee who await, and Robert added: “Ye and Lee are a good pair we need to get our tactics and consistency spot on. If we control the match to suit our skills we are capable of getting the win.”
In the Women’s Singles Robert had no doubt that Kirsty Gilmour was not far away from defeating the former Olympic champion Marin and can take plenty of positives to Basel this week: “Kirsty was very good but it’s the top tournament in the world and Carolina Marin is extremely good so Kirsty had to be at her absolute best to get through.
“The first set was very competitive and at 19-19 it was key to keep the pressure on Marin. After Carolina took the first set she relaxed a bit and played with more aggression.
“In the second Kirsty withstood the barrage and brought it back but the key was winning that opening set and maintaining pressure. Kirsty played well over the whole match, but may look back on that key part of the first set as a pivotal segment.”
Looking forward to Kirsty’s Swiss campaign there is another familiar foe in wait: “The Swiss is still another strong tournament but there are a couple of the big names missing. In the first round Kirsty will have a young Asian qualifier. She will have the edge in experience and hopefully can make that count,” said Robert.
The Scotland coach concluded: “If she comes through then it is likely to be the No.7 seed Busanan (Ongbamrungphan) who she has had a few battles with in the past. They know each other’s games well and Kirsty is very close to her standard. With a good performance from the All England behind her, hopefully she can make a difference in the crucial points this week.”
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