Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith couldn’t have asked for a better start to the Olympic year as they achieved their biggest triumph as a pair in just their second event of the season.
Their maiden Super 300 title – the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters 2020 – was a moment that the England pair had been building towards over the last couple of years. They’d fallen in the final of the Syed Modi Championships last December; earlier in 2019, they’d won the European Games and featured in the semifinals of the Barcelona Spain Masters.
“We’re obviously very happy. This is the first time we’ve won a Super 300,” said Ellis. “We were starting to think it would never happen for us. We played really well all week, we fought hard. We are proud.”
Their campaign in Bangkok saw them overcome difficult opponents and challenging circumstances. The first round victory over Rodion Alimov/Alina Davletova, who had beaten them in the Syed Modi final, was achieved in straight games. They fought back from first-game losses in both the quarterfinals (against Choi Solgyu/Shin Seung Chan) and semifinals (against Goh Soon Huat/Shevon Lai Jemie), before achieving their memorable title triumph against Indonesia’s Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja.
“There was a long rally in the third game,” said Smith, recounting the phase during which the final swung their way. “They probably should have won a few times but we were really stubborn, and didn’t allow them to do that. And that grew our confidence and took the sting out of them as well, so that’s something we pride ourselves on, that we never allow the shuttle to hit the floor without trying to get it back.
“I don’t think I played my best in the second end of the match, so to go back to that side in the third game, and to have that belief and confidence that I could play better than I had done and for Marcus to stay strong for me to come back into the game was a good test of character. We’re proud of how hard we fought.”
The England’s pair consistent performances have them currently perched at No.10 in the Race to Tokyo, just ahead of compatriots Chris Adcock/Gabrielle Adcock. At the Indonesia Masters the previous week, Smith had talked about focussing on their own performance and not worrying about other contenders.
“I feel refreshed after the break during Christmas,” Smith said. “We had a lot of competitions last year. It’s the Olympic qualifying year now, so mentally it can be a lot more tiring year than usual. It’s about not getting bogged down in Olympic qualifying, there’s still a lot of tournaments in the four months, and just focus on playing well rather than what everyone else is doing. That’s the only thing you can control.
“We’re both trying to qualify in the other doubles as well. So we need to play a range of tournaments. We will be busy in February-March, there are four or five tournaments in a row. But it’s not too different from what we normally do. So we make sure that when we have a week or two to train we get the most out of that.”
What improvements to their game have they been working on?
“We often say we can improve at the beginning of every rally,” said Ellis. “The serve, return and third shot is something every player is always fighting to be the best at. In mixed doubles it is so important, if you dominate the start of the rally, you have a shot at winning the match – it’s simple as that. You see the top guys, they dominate the beginning of the rally. For us, that’s something we’re always working on. We’re happy that this week, we played the Indonesians or Malaysians, they’re top ten pairs, and for us to compete, it shows good progression.”
The arrival of Danish great Joachim Fischer Nielsen as coach has provided an edge to the team’s preparations.
“As Joachim is recently retired, he has some great insights into what the level is like at the very top,” states Ellis. “He was no.1 in the world for a long time, so he knows what it takes – whatever it is, tactical changes, self-belief, things like that, he’s a great asset not just to us, but to our whole team. Hopefully we can move forward.”
Highlights | English pair Ellis and Smith triumph over Faizal and Widjaja as they attain their first HSBC BWF World Tour Super 300 title 🏸#HSBCBWFbadminton #ThailandMasters2020 #HSBCRaceToGuangzhou #WorldTour pic.twitter.com/70PYnt627k
— BWF (@bwfmedia) January 26, 2020