The scene was both familiar and highly unexpected last night as Kirsty Gilmour departed Perth’s Bell’s Sports Centre with two trophies having completed her set of senior titles at the Yonex Scottish Badminton Championships.
Britain’s top singles player for the past four years the 23-year-old duly demonstrated her fitness on her return to competitive action after a six month, post-Olympic lay-off, by lifting that title for the sixth successive year. However having opted not to defend the women’s doubles title she had claimed in each the four previous seasons with a string of different partners, she and Patrick MacHugh formed a scratch partnership which was designed to get her a some extra match practice but ended with another title win in the mixed doubles.
“I’m firstly just happy to be here,” said the 23-year-old, who underwent knee surgery in the autumn.
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“It’s been 17 long weeks out and it’s so nice that everyone cares so much but I’m thinking of just wearing a sign saying ‘My knee is fine.’ Everyone has been really nice and encouraging though and it’s been great to be back competing.
“I would say I had a few more nerves than in previous years just because it is my first tournament in over six months, but I’m here and it went even better than planned.”
What was striking and doubtless encouraging for new Scotland head coach Tat Meng Wong who was watching his new charges for the first time after arriving in the country from Malaysia last week, was the way in which Gilmour’s natural competitiveness kicked in.
Clearly she and MacHugh were having fun, most obviously when she played most of a lengthy rally smiling broadly as she struck overhead after overhead from the back of the court, but as well as looking fully fit she also seized the chance to hone her match sharpness, which will be further tested at the forthcoming Austrian International Challenge before she steps up a level at the Swiss Open next month.
Having done the donkey work on Friday evening when they won their quarter and semi-finals, she was able to concentrate on her singles defence before the mixed doubles final rounded off yesterday’s finals day.
It, in turn, began and ended with her facing teenager Julie MacPherson who had started the day anxious to avoid repeating the full set of results she had experienced when losing in the finals of the singles and both the women’s and mixed doubles last year.
Since Gilmour had been ranked 14th in the world before undergoing that surgery there could have been no clearer favourite in the singles and the top seed duly cruised to a 21-11, 21-7 win. Gilmour’s presence in the mixed doubles also represented a major obstacle, but MacPherson recognised an opportunity to break her duck in terms of senior titles, so was delighted when she and Eleanor O’Donnell managed to overcome top seeds Rebekka Findlay - who won that title with Gilmour last year – and Caitlin Pringle 21-19, 19-21, 21-16 in what was the best of the day’s finals.
“I wasn’t expecting to win any of them last year, but I knew we had a chance in the doubles and maybe in the mixed and I really wanted to win one this time,” beamed the 19-year-old.
The mixed doubles final was highly competitive too with MacHugh getting the better of Martin Campbell with whom he had, earlier in the afternoon, regained the men’s doubles title that they won two years ago.
That had been their main target and they got the better of top seeds Adam Hall – last year’s winner with Robert Blair – and Alex Dunn in straight sets 21-17, 21-17, ahead of that bonus success for MacHugh.
“It was good to get the doubles back and then the mixed was an unexpected one because it was pretty much last minute when I asked Kirsty to play and it’s paid off,” he said.
“It’s always a bit of an awkward one playing your regular partner because you know them so well, but it was quite a good match in the end and Kirsty brought more of an unorthodox mix to the table.”
The men’s singles crown was also reclaimed by the 2015 winner, Kieran Merrilees claiming what was his fifth title in all after missing last year’s championships as a result of a freak injury.
His lucky escape, after coming close to severing a tendon when a glass he had been washing smashed in his hand, has been well documented and is now well behind him, but he admitted to having been worried ahead of yesterday’s match because of niggling back and hip problems.
“I was a little bit nervous this morning because although I won comfortably I was struggling a bit, so I’m happy to get through it,” he said following his 21-8, 21-13 victory over Matthew Carder who had taken the title in his absence.
“Last year was a bit of a nightmare, though, so I’m just happy to still be playing after that.”