Toughest Draw Possible for Kirsty

BY RJ Mitchell

KIRSTY GILMOUR believes she has been handed the toughest draw possible in the 2024 European Championships.

The three-times silver medallist will face Spain’s experienced world ranked No. 63 Clara Azurmendi in the opening round while the winner could in turn face France’s Qi Xuefei with whom the Scot played a marathon 80-minute plus encounter in the recent Yonex German Open.

But when it came to her history with Azurmendi, Kirsty is in no doubt that a strong start will be vital, if she is to justify her No.4 seeding.

A-Game Needed for Azurmendi Opener:

Considering all of this Kirsty shared: “I would say this is probably the toughest draw I could have had in the first round. I’m actually surprised Azurmendi is unseeded, but I guess it only goes to eight seeds and I am happy to have retained my top four seeding.

“Clara is quite a tall player so you have to get your trajectories correct as you can’t go hard and fast, you really need to make her move full distances and with the taller players they are further away from the floor so you have to make them scramble down the way.

“But I haven’t played Clara before at a European Championship, although I have played her at a mixed team qualifying event and I think it went down on Tournament Software that she beat me 21-4 but I wrecked my foot halfway through that game and I withdrew so that doesn’t count!

“So I haven’t lost to her but I’ve played her at the Women’s World Team Championships in 2022 and the French Open in October, so we have a few head-to-heads and I will look back at the videos.

“I also have lots of notes on my opponents and we will do some studying before we go. But it’s a tough first round.”

Round By Round:

The quality of the draw is such that, should Kirsty progress the severity of the challenges which await, will continue to rise with a semi-final against Denmark’s second seeded Mia Blichfeldt potentially down the line.

Projecting forward Kirsty said: “I had an hour and 21 minute battle with Qi Xuefei at the German Open (L: 21-19, 20-22, 21-23), a couple of weeks back and I’ll be looking to snatch a few of the points that I missed there.

“But I like to take it one match at a time and you have to beat who is in front of you, though it’s kind of names all the way for me.

“That said everyone in Europe is pretty well known to me, although some more than others, but if you averaged out the level of the players on my route to semis it is tougher than the other seeds.

“So you just have to beat who is in front of you, the standard of ladies singles is really high, so no easy games and we might as well get straight into it.”

Words of Encouragement For Rachel:

Scottish No.2 Rachel Sugden has drawn top-seeded and newly crowned All England champion Carolina Marin in her opening match and Kirsty had warm words of advice for her team mate: “I think Rachel just needs to spend as long as possible on the court with Carolina and just try to find out what it is like to face someone of her standing and quality.

“You want to gain as much experience as possible from that, it is Rachel’s first European Championships, so I would say have fun with it, if she goes down the stress route there isn’t so much of a positive outcome there.

“So if she can stay relaxed and just throw everything she has at Carolina and see what sticks and try and have fun with it then hopefully Rachel will come out with a positive feeling.”

Carolina Provides Inspiration:

With Kirsty seven months younger than fellow 30-year-old Marin the Spaniard, as the Scot admits, is an obvious source of inspiration for her: “We are the old birds on tour these days! There are not many girls older than me and Carolina on tour, so it’s a young girls game, and it’s incredible that she has managed to win the All England again nine years after she first won it.

“The margins in singles are so fine and I’ve had so many games recently that have just not gone my way but I just have to take so much encouragement that on another day they would have gone my way with a couple of different decisions.

“So the fact that I beat Carolina at the European Teams in December is quite encouraging.”

Still Game:

Taking stock of her own game Kirsty admits enjoyment is the key to continuing success: “So I’ve been at this quite a long time and I’m just trying to be satisfied with what has gone before and anything passed this point is a bonus and fun, so I’m just trying to enjoy it all going forward.

“As I said I’ve been putting in good performances but the outcomes of the matches haven’t equaled the quality of the performances I’ve been bringing to the court but I’m in a positive place in terms of my game.

“I did have a period of almost panic that I only had a certain amount of time left but I’ve been talking with Ingo (Kindervater, Head Coach Badminton Scotland) and the psychologist and now I am trusting and happy with what has gone before and trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just to enjoy all these experiences.”

Previous Europeans:

Having already won three silver medals at previous European Championships, Kirsty admits there is still a sense of anticipation ahead of the 2024 version while also providing an entertaining anecdote from the past.

As she revealed: “Every time feels new and special but either in 2016 or 2017, I was on the podium and they gave me the wrong medal and I got the bronze instead of the silver and there is quite a funny video of us swapping medals.

“So these first couple were pretty special and the expectation and pressure builds after that but they are all pretty special.”

Scottish Draws:

In the Men’s Doubles Alex Dunn and Adam Hall, who are seeded five, open their account against Norway’s Torjus Flaatten and Vegard Rikheim but are in the same quarter as no.1 seeds and World Championship runners-up Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen.

Chris and Matthew Grimley face Czech opposition in Ondrej Kral and Adam Mendrek with a potential second round encounter against defending champions Mark Lamsfuss and Marvin Seidel awaiting.

In the Women’s Doubles Julie MacPherson and Ciara Torrance, who are seeded No.6, face Estonians Catlyn Kruus and Ramona Uprus in their opening round with a potential quarter-final against French second seeds Margot Lambert and Anne Tran down the line.

In the Mixed Doubles Adam Pringle and Rachel Andrew have drawn Bulgarian pairing Iliyan Stoynov and Hristomira Popovska with a second round encounter with third-seeded Dutch duo Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek next up for the winners.

Adam Hall and Julie MacPherson will face eighth seeded English pairing Gregor and Jenny Mairs in their opener and are in the same quarter as second seeded French partnership Thom Gicquel and Delphin Delrue.