Lauren Smith knows she’s privileged to play in this year’s YONEX All England Open Championships – so she won’t be giving up the opportunity in a hurry.
Carlisle’s leading badminton player had an opening day to remember in Birmingham, winning two matches to progress in both the mixed and women’s doubles.
First came a routine 21-12 21-11 victory over Paul Reynolds and Rachael Darragh, with Smith and Marcus Ellis looking to repeat their semi-final appearance from 12 months ago.
Her day’s work wasn’t done there, returning to the court alongside Chloe Birch, with the seventh seeds progressing thanks to a straight-games win over Ashwini K Bhat and Shikha Gautam.
“The game went really well, we went in favourites and we knew we needed to assert our authority on the game and be disciplined early on,” said Smith on the victory with Ellis.
“We dominated the entire match and kept our focus well throughout, which is what you need to do in the early rounds, to be as efficient as you can.
“There were a couple of things that surprised us and caught us off guard, but we adapted really well.
“It’s incredible to be here. We had a great year last year and it’s a huge privilege to be a part of it. We miss the fans and we want them back.”
The All England, one of only three Super 1000 tournaments on the BWF World Tour, was one of the last sporting events to be staged before COVID-19 struck last March.
Twelve months on and a return to Birmingham with no fans is certainly a bizarre occasion for Smith, with plenty to get accustomed to on and off the court.
But such is the level she, Ellis and Birch have reached in their respective partnerships, even performances far from perfect can produce the top results.
And two straight-game victories have given the 29-year-old plenty of confidence as she grows into the tournament.
On the women’s doubles win, she said: "We were the stronger pair and dominated a lot of the game. We wanted to get used to the hall, because it's playing quite slow out there.
“We were constantly thinking on our feet to change something if it wasn't working, to get better and get the most out of conditions.
“We could have gone on there and been half asleep and scrapped through, but we did what we wanted to do.
“But we've worked on decision-making and shot choice, because in women's doubles especially, everyone's so solid in defence and strong in attack, all about good quality attack and good shot choices, over and over again.
“That's something we've been really trying to work on and we've done it against the boys in training too.”
PLEASE LEAVE IN FINAL PAR - Following a tough year for everyone, the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships marks the first step in inspiring people to get back on court as soon as they can. For more information for the badminton community, visit https://www.badmintonengland.co.uk/return-to-play/