Smith determined to ‘play freely’ at YONEX All England
This year’s YONEX All England Open will provide a return on multiple fronts for Lauren Smith.
The 31-year-old is gearing up for two campaigns in Birmingham, alongside Marcus Ellis in the mixed doubles and Chloe Birch in the women’s doubles.
Partners on and off court, the European Mixed Team Championships in mid-February marked the first time since the Commonwealth Games that Smith and Ellis had played together following Ellis’ hip operation.
Having had injury struggles herself in the intervening 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,” she said.
“It has been an unexpected few months with him not playing. I tore a ligament in my ankle in October, so there has been a lot of time off injured, which isn’t something either of us are particularly used to.
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“Touch wood, neither of us have previously experienced major injuries when we’ve been out for a long time so we certainly weren’t used to being at home so much and not competing.
“We had it a little bit with Covid when competition was cancelled. You don’t realise how much you miss something until it’s taken away from you, so we’re both really hungry now to get back to it and show our strong character, to go out there and really fight with people for every single point.
“We’re really determined to go and get back and find our level again, but also able to do that with a little bit less pressure because the expectation after everything is a little bit lower.
“We can just go out there and hopefully play freely and really flow in the matches. I think it will be a really 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 back competing together after Smith had initially stepped back from that discipline.
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She added: “I decided to stop playing women’s and just focus on mixed, but then I realised that didn’t work for me. Even at 31, I like to put my body through it!
“I do like to challenge myself, but it’s an extra opportunity to get out there. It’s another match to go and enjoy in front of the home crowd – it’s another game to go and win.
“I feel like Chloe and I are playing pretty well at the moment. There are a few fundamentals of controlling matches and momentum we can improve on, but actually what we’re doing in the training hall and how our mindset has been, we’re very capable of going out there and causing some upsets.”
With both of Smith’s partnerships working through the gears to get back to their best, the chance to compete at a home tournament is one to be relished.
Smith and Ellis have been drawn against 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 Commonwealth Games silver in the latter last summer, Smith is looking forward to feeling the backing of the home crowd again.
“There is nowhere we have the same atmosphere,” she 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 court.
“Even if we’re not playing our best, we want to stick in there and fight because all three of us are very capable of turning around matches.
“The character that we show in those matches is key, and also just building on our performances, using our experience and our knowledge of our own games and look back at how we might have lost a match, what can we do better, and try and build on every single game.
“We’ve got a very busy, very important qualification period for Paris starting in May and so we want to make sure we’re ready for that.”
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