YONEX All England Diaries: Smith determined to show fighting spirit Sport-rated
This year’s YONEX All England Open will provide a return on multiple fronts for Lauren Smith.
The 31-year-old is preparing for two seasons in Birmingham, partnering Marcus Ellis in the mixed doubles and Chloe Birch in the women’s doubles.
Partners on and off the pitch, the European Mixed Team Championships in mid-February marked the first time since the Commonwealth Games that Smith and Ellis played together following Ellis’ hip surgery.
Having struggled with injury in the interim period, Smith is more determined than ever to enjoy her time at the tournament – and on tour – this year.
“One of the biggest and most exciting things for me is that Marcus is back in action,” he said.
“It has been a few unexpected months with him without playing. I tore a ligament in my ankle in October, so I’ve had a lot of injury time off, something none of us are particularly used to.
“Knock on wood, neither of us had experienced any major injuries before when we had been away for a long time, so we certainly weren’t used to being home and not competing so much.
“We had it a bit with Covid when the competition was cancelled. You don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s taken away from you, so we’re both really hungry now to go back and show our strong character, go out there and really fight with people for every point.
“We are really determined to go and come back and find our level again, but we can also do it with a little less pressure because the expectation is a little lower after all.
“We can just go out and hopefully play freely and really flow in matches. I think it will be a very positive week in that environment for us.”
This will also be the first YONEX All England since Birch and Smith renewed their partnership, the two now racing together again after Smith initially withdrew from that discipline.
He added: “I decided to stop playing women’s and focus on mixed, but then I realized that didn’t work for me. Even at 31, I like to put my body to the test!
“I like to challenge myself, but it’s an extra chance to get out there. It’s another game to go and enjoy in front of the home fans, it’s another game to go and win.
“I feel like Chloe and I are playing pretty good right now. There are some fundamentals around match control and momentum that we can improve on, but really what we’re doing in the training room and how our mentality has been, we’re very capable of going out there and causing some trouble.”
With both of Smith’s associations working through the gears to get back to their best, the opportunity to compete in a home tournament is something to relish.
Smith and Ellis have faced Kyohei Yamashita and Naru Shinoya in the mixed doubles, while her women’s doubles campaign with Birch begins against Srivedya Gurazada and Ishika Jaiswal.
And having won silver at the Commonwealth Games this past summer, Smith is hoping to feel the support of the home crowd again.
“There is nowhere where we have the same atmosphere,” he said. “There are very few tournaments now that have our family in the crowd cheering for us. We certainly feed off that atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t say we have a particular performance goal, but what we want to do is show good character on the pitch.
“Even if we’re not playing our best, we want to stay there and fight because the three of us are very capable of turning games around.
“The character we show in those matches is key, and also building on our performances, using our experience and knowledge of our own games and looking back to see how we could have lost a match, what we can do better and try. and build in each game.
“We have a very busy and important qualifying period for Paris starting in May and we want to make sure we are ready for that.”
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