For Chloe Birch, taking the next step is all about a change of mindset.
Having played alongside Jess Pugh at the YONEX All England Open a year ago, Birch and Lauren Smith resumed their partnership later in the season and went on to win a memorable Commonwealth Games silver in Birmingham.
It was not the easiest year for Birch, who had to deal with switching partners and then spending time off court after Smith sustained an ankle injury towards the end of the season.
But the 27-year-old believes there are plenty of positives to build on ahead of a busy season – with the YONEX All England a key part of that.
Birch said: “For us, it’s always a big one in the calendar. Obviously, it’s a home tournament, and it’s such a prestigious event that we look forward to it every year.
“Last year was a bit of a weird year all round for me. There were a few ups and downs with the change of partnerships, starting to play mixed doubles as well, but obviously then Lauren coming back for the Commonwealth Games, and Lauren then getting injured.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster of a year, but since Birmingham we knew – on six weeks training for the Commonwealth Games – what level we had performed and how we could get better, so that gave us a lot of confidence.
“Now we’ve got back on court, and we’ve gelled back together again, it is going well. We’re just learning game by game again to figure out what we need to do for our partnership.”
Birch and Smith are both experienced players, long-established on the tour, though as the duo look to build towards the YONEX All England – and ultimately the Olympic Games in Paris next summer – there is plenty to work on.
For both women, that’s about challenging previous thoughts and expectations to provide their opponents with a tougher test.
“We’re both physical players and we play quite a physical game,” Birch said.
“We’re currently trying to work on making it a little bit more tactical.
“At the minute, our opponents expect us to play a strong game, but not necessarily be so good going forwards, or so good at placement or switching.
“We’re just trying to add that extra edge into our game so that people don’t really know what to expect from us.
“The top players in the world are always looking for how they can beat you and that’s what we’ve really realised, that’s how they’ve beaten us – having that extra edge.
“It is difficult because you go from me and Lauren trying to be quite a consistent pair, not wanting to make too many errors, playing quite a strong game – and then you must think making one or two errors is okay because you’re trying something new.
“Sometimes in training it’s just getting over the frustrations and accepting these frustrations are going to be there, but to get better as a pair and to get better as badminton players we need to do something a little bit different.
“It is frustrating, but hopefully when it comes to our games, it will be a lot less frustrating.”
With the tournament moving ever closer, this year will largely be about Birch and Smith continuing to move in the right direction – though a big win also wouldn’t go amiss.
Americans Srivedya Gurazada and Ishika Jaiswal await the English pair in the first round, with a potential second round clash against fifth seeds Pearly Tan and Thinaah Muralitharan.
“It’s definitely about continuing to build,” Birch added. “We’ve highlighted some areas which we do want to get better at if we want to challenge the best in the world.
“It would be great if it came off for the All England this year but it’s not a short-term thing. We’re thinking of Paris – that’s another 18 months away now.
“It would be amazing if we upset one of the top ten in the world on home turf – that’s something we’re looking to do. But if we do some of the stuff, we’ve been working on in training well, we’ll also take that as a positive.”
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