By RJ Mitchell
CALLUM SMITH believes that a Team Scotland mentality can bring success at this week’s Yonex Estonian International.
The three-time Scottish champion will continue his comeback from a career threatening ankle injury in Tallinn where he will meet Lithuania’s Jonas Petkus in the opening round of qualifying on Thursday morning.
Smith will be accompanied in the first round of the Men’s Singles qualifiers by fellow Scots Sen Thomas who faces Norway’s Danila Gataullin and Angus Meldrum who takes on Ali Ahmed El Khateeb of Egypt.
Over in the Women’s singles is Rachel Sugden will face fifth seeded Hungarian Agnes Korosi on Friday.
On Thursday, Rachel teams up with Angus Meldrum in the Mixed Doubles when they face Estonian duo Karl Kivinurm and Sandra Kamilova.
But with no coach accompaniment for this mission on Baltic shores, the Scottish No.1 believes the importance of collaboration with his team-mates could prove crucial to all three’s hopes of a strong showing in the Estonian capital.
Callum said: “When there is no coach the players step up and all try to help each other out and it’s always good to have support from your team mates.
“It’s vital when you are a long way from home that you all stick together and Sen and Angus are in qualies with me so as long as our matches don’t clash we will all look out for each other.
“So if I’m free I’m happy to help these guys and vice versa. We all want our team mates to do well and we will do everything we can to help each other.
“It’s great to be back in competitive action, we got a lot of training over the festive period and only missed a couple of days, so we still managed to get some good sessions in, even if they were slightly less than normal.
“Personally speaking I have a busy January with three international tournaments in a row with Estonia this week, then Sweden and then on to Iceland and then the Scottish Nationals.
“But hopefully Sen, Angus and I can all have a good run in Estonia and get the New Year off to a positive start and we will all be doing our best for each other to make that happen.”
When it came to this week’s opponent, Callum has already done his homework: “I believe Petkus is quite a tall player and I will just take it point by point. It’s my first tournament of the year so I am looking to put in as strong a performance as I can and really build on that to go on and qualify for the main draw.
“My coach David Gilmour and I did sit down and had a look at Petkus and got as much footage of him as we could ahead of the match and also took in who I could get in the second and third round of the qualies if I can get that far.
“As I mentioned with no coach going out to Estonia it is important to get as much prep done before you go out as possible on opponents.”
When it came to his hunger to make 2024 a big year Callum’s determination was palpable and he said: “I have never had three competitions together in the one month before but this year I am looking to play a decent amount and try and build a higher ranking, make a name for myself, and then play against better players.
“The better players I am against, the more I can learn and improve. But it’s about being disciplined and no matter how long the rallies are, just keep it simple and not go for cheap points.”
Callum only made his return to the competitive match court in Cardiff, in November at the Yonex Welsh International Championships, following an absence of just under six months after suffering torn ligament and bone bruising to his right ankle in June.
After only just missing out on the main draw in the final round of qualifying in Wales, the Scottish champion followed that up with a strong showing at the European Men’s Team Championship qualifiers.
Reflecting on all of that he said: “Actually I think my performance in Wales was better than at the team champs. David (Gilmour, coach) and I both agreed even though I lost that game in Wales 21-19 in the third, that it was levels above where we thought we’d be at this stage, so we took a lot of positives away from that.
“Then in the European Men’s Team champs against Ukraine my game wasn’t too great, I went out too fast and hard in the first and I ran out of steam a bit in the third.
“So I was trying to find cheap points and wasn’t able to stick to my game plan but there was plenty to work on in training and in particular, as I said earlier, not to try and rush points but to remain disciplined, keep it simple and not to try and finish points too early.”
Despite the Scottish Men’s team’s failure to qualify for the European finals Callum says the mood in the camp remains bullish: “We were gutted we didn’t qualify but as a team we kept our spirits high and it was just nice for me on a personal note to end the year playing for Scotland again and so it was important not to dwell on the fact we didn’t qualify.”
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