The YONEX All England Open was the light at the end of Marcus Ellis’ tunnel following an injury that left him questioning his future in the sport.
After winning mixed doubles Commonwealth silver alongside Lauren Smith in Birmingham last summer, the 33-year-old underwent hip surgery to deal with ongoing pain.
There was no timeframe in terms of recovery and no assurances that he would be able to resume his professional career, providing the Olympic bronze medallist with the biggest challenge of his career.
“I couldn’t have carried on like I was,” he said. “I was in pain every day, not just in badminton but in everyday life – I had to have it done.
“There were no guarantees I would return to the same level that I was before. I was trying desperately to find other athletes that have had the same things done and have come back to the level they were previously, but I was struggling to find anyone.
“I could have had to retire in all honestly. It was one of those injuries where I could have had the surgery and a few months later nothing could have changed in terms of my discomfort, and I think I would have probably had to stop playing – which would have been absolutely devastating.
“Being able to go through that quite negative part of my career and come through the other side, and my first proper tournament back being the All England, it’s quite a big rollercoaster.
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“It’s certainly something I don’t take for granted and having the All England as a goal for my return was actually really motivating. On the days where I was finding things really difficult, I found it quite uplifting knowing that was at the end once I recovered.”
The YONEX All England will be Ellis’ first BWF Tour event back, though he competed in the England squad at the European Mixed Team Badminton Championships in France in mid-February.
That proved a successful early test of his fitness ahead of a busy run in March – starting with action in Birmingham – and Ellis is aware that sterner tests await.
Ellis added: “It was the first official competition, but as it was a team event I had the flexibility as to whether I would play one match or multiple matches.
“My hip felt pretty good, it’s definitely very different to being in a controlled environment like in training, but overall I think the first experience back was positive,
“Going into the All England, it feels like a different competition again as it’s a completely different event, and if I do want to go round after round I have to be willing to go day after day.
“I have expectations of where I’d like to get to and where I’d like to perform, but for me, just being back and being able to compete at this point is a huge win.
“At the moment everything else is a bonus, and as I play more competitions I will get a better idea of where my hip is really at.
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“I’ve had a great rehab and I do feel really positive. I still don’t feel I’m out of the woods yet, so I want to keep pushing and be as professional as I can.”
Ellis and Smith have been drawn against Kyohei Yamashita and Naru Shinoya in the opening round at the Utilita Arena, with fifth seeds Feng Yan Zhe and Huang Dong Ping potential second round opponents.
Though there are doubts about just where his game and body will be, Ellis’ competitive fires have certainly not dimmed.
“Every single year when I go out there, it feels so special,” he said. “It’s those moments I’ll remember long after I retire.
“There’s been a couple of times that myself and Lauren, we’ve gone relatively deep into the competition, and to be honest having a sell-out crowd in Birmingham, with pretty much everyone wanting you to win, it’s quite a special feeling
“I always say I want to take it one match at a time. It feels like the boring answer but I think this year more than any I have to have that approach.
“Knowing in the back of my mind I know that we can beat everybody, I think that is important to have some confidence going in there.
“We might not play exactly how we want to in my first tournament back but we can also cause some real trouble and be there later in the week.
“I want to give the crowd something to cheer about.”