Saturday, August 10, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTON PHOTO
Chloe Birch and Lauren Smith didn’t have a memorable Asian leg in July – they fell in the opening round in Indonesia and Japan – but with the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 at a familiar venue, the England pair are looking forward to the competition.
“I’ve played the Swiss Open for eight years now, so I’m familiar with the hall,” said Smith, who is world No.27 with Birch in women’s doubles. “It’s somewhere I’ve always enjoyed playing. They’ve recently refurbished it and it looks really good. And it takes the jet lag and long haul travel out of the equation. That’s always helpful, it means our prep can be quite good and we don’t have to spend so long in the country before we start competing. So it’s an advantage being in Europe and we’ll hopefully put it to good use.”
What gives Smith and Birch confidence was the encouraging run of form they found mid-season. They won the Orleans Masters, were runners-up at the Denmark Challenge, won the Azerbaijan International, and made the final of the European Games. Their performance at the European Games, where they beat Sara Thygesen/Maiken Fruergaard and Anne Tran/Emilie Lefel, has put them in a good frame of mind going into Basel.
“We played well, got some good results. It was a positive start in July, and we’re looking forward to pushing ahead,” said Birch.
“We got confidence from the opening games. We played well through the week, unfortunately we couldn’t play as well in the final. We showed good performance and not many people wanted to play us, we were strong and clinical… we know there are still things we can work on in the partnership. So we have a lot of confidence. We are looking to work on them.”
The two first paired up in 2016, and after a break in 2017, joined forces once again late last year at the China Open. They won their very next tournament, the Czech Open, and made the semifinals of the SaarLorLux Open.
And while they haven’t yet beaten any of the top pairs, they believe they’re not too far behind.
“If you look at today’s match it was the consistency,” said Smith, referring to their Indonesia Open loss to Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai. “We did a lot of good stuff in there, but we did it in patches, we gave away three-four easy points and when you get to the top level you can’t afford to make those. The best pairs are making like one mistake in an hour. It’s definitely positive, we’re very clear on what we’re working on and where we want to go.”
Birch is one of the very few players – Pai Yu Po being another – who competes in both singles and doubles. With Tokyo 2020 coming up, she is certain where her priorities lie. Her singles play, she says, aids her doubles game.
“I’ve played a lot growing up, I’m only 23, so at the junior level I played a lot of singles and doubles. The focus this year is obviously on doubles, the Race to Tokyo, but I’m still playing a bit of singles. We don’t have that many singles players in our country, so I kind of carry on playing. It’s nice to play singles, it adds another dimension to my game, and it means I can run; I see it as a positive and it means that my movements are really good.”