Empty arena finally takes its toll as badminton star Smith bows out

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Pic: Badminton Photo
Pic: Badminton Photo

Lauren Smith feels a lack of crowds at YONEX All England contributed to her semi-final demise alongside Marcus Ellis in the mixed doubles.

The Carlisle star and Ellis fell in the final four at badminton's most prestigious tournament at Utilita Arena Birmingham for the second year in a row.

Smith and Ellis were soundly beaten by Japan’s Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino, who prevailed 21-10 21-18 and never let the English duo get a look in.

“I'd hold my hands up and say I haven't been as sharp as I'd like to be this week,” said the 29-year-old.

“Maybe it's the empty arena, I've been struggling with that the entire time.

“In that first set, having a bit of atmosphere might have helped lift us a little bit, but I can't make excuses, it's the same or them as it is for us.

“I've personally underperformed this week, which is disappointing because it's a real opportunity to do something good on home soil.”

The frenetic pace suited the Japanese duo, but the English world No.9 pairing landed their fair share of punches in the second game.

They held them to 17-16 but unforced errors in the latter stages saw Watanabe and Higashino progres, making it a clean sweep of Japanese pairs in the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles finals.

Smith, whose hopes in the women’s doubles ended at the quarter-final stage alongside Chloe Birch, regretted a nightmare start that saw them slip into an 8-0 deficit in the first.

“We started really poorly and we weren't up to speed at all in the first set,” she said.

“Whether that was the change of level, a bit of focus, I'm not entirely sure. But it took us a set to settle in to better tactics and get our legs up to speed and play the quality we needed to.

“It was disappointing, because in that second set we stressed them, even though we were never actually ahead.

“You could see in their body language that they were finding it hard and they were worried. If we could have done that earlier and stepped up and shown a bit more, they wouldn't have played quite so freely.”

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/