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Badminton: Return of Blair positive step on road to Glasgow

It's a man's world, it is claimed.

Well, in the microcosm that is Scottish badminton, it most definitely is not. For a decade, it has been the female contingent of the Scottish team which has carried the hopes of the sport in this country.

Whether in Olympic qualification or world, European and Commonwealth medals, the girls have led the way. If Scotland is to have any hope of claiming a team medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, the men need to step up to the plate. And soon.

There may be a glimmer of hope. Robert Blair was born and bred in Scotland but defected to play for England in 2001. A clash of personalities with members of the coaching and management team resulted in him returning north of the border and, this week, he will compete at the Scottish International Championships for the first time since his repatriation.

Scottish badminton has never been able to boast strength in depth, particularly on the men's side, so Blair's presence is a huge boost. The 31 year-old's trophy cabinet includes a World Championship silver medal in men's doubles, as well as European and Commonwealth medals. At his best, Blair was a genuinely world-class doubles player and, while age may have robbed him of some of his physical attributes, there can be no question that a player of his calibre is a welcome addition to any Scotland team.

Blair is facing a struggle to add significantly to his medal haul in the twilight of his career – he expects to retire after the Games in 2014 – but he feels that standing on the podium in Glasgow is not out of the question. "I think it's possible to win a medal, probably the mixed doubles is my best chance because it's the most open event," he says. "Whoever I play with, I think we can challenge the Asian players and have a shot at getting a medal."

Blair's return to Scotland in 2010 was an intriguing development, with his latter years in England tainted by reports of infighting with coaches and fellow players. He is, though, happy to be back and "wishes he had left England earlier". He views the next two years as an opportunity to help the young players he trains with day-in, day-out. "I like the challenge of it," he adds. "I enjoy helping them and I look forward to building a new partnership. Two good players playing together doesn't always mean you'll have a good partnership, so I like the challenge of having to organise ourselves as a pair."

This week, Blair will play with Edinburgh's Jillie Cooper, with whom he has had a relatively successful start to the season. She has undoubtedly benefited from his experience. They are unlikely to face a serious test until the quarter-finals, where they are scheduled to meet Anders Kristiansen and Julie Houmann of Denmark. If they manage to prevail against the third seeds, it would show serious intent and would be an impressive victory.

Blair is not the only glimmer of hope, however. Keiran Merrilees has been Scotland's No.1 player in the most testing of disciplines – men's singles – for the past three years. A player with an abundance of talent, the 23 year-old's results on the European circuit have been wildly inconsistent. If he can eradicate the below-par performances which blot his record, he could become one of Scotland's most valuable team members at Glasgow 2014 in his second Commonwealth Games.

Merrilees opens his campaign today against the No.8 seed, Austria's Michael Lahnsteiner, in a winnable game but, if he is to emerge victorious, he must learn to harness his frustration which often surfaces when he is playing journeymen.

The next 20 months leading up to the Games will pass in the blink of an eye. What better way to start down the road to Glasgow for Scotland's men than to put in some promising displays at the Emirates Arena this week . . .

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