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How Smith and Birch nearly cracked the Japanese dominance
Date: 10/16/2020 7:32 PM
Published by : Alan Raftery
Lauren Smith and Chloe Birch, European Games silver medallists, were dramatically close to causing a huge upset against this year’s All England winners, Yuki Fukushima/ Sayaka Hirota. How did they close the gap?

Smith/ Birch are 16 places behind the world number two pair and were preparing for a tough quarterfinal against the Denmark Open strong favourites. However, the English pair were dominant in the opening game, which was in complete contrast to their previous two encounters, where it was two straight games to the Japanese in just over half an hour. Today was very different with them taking the opening game 21-13.
 
-I think we came out with a slightly different style than what they expected, so I think it caught them off guard, Birch said.

Asked to elaborate on what in particular did they do differently. 

-I don’t want to give away too much, because they might be listening, Smith joked.

 
Smith then explained what they have been working on in the seven months without competitive badminton.
 
-We are quite a physical pair usually and have pace in our shots. We have been trying mix between that and a little bit more control. We are also trying to get me at the net, with Chloe being really agile at the back. Using that quick switch to be dangerous, but having that added control. That makes them sit back for our pace, and they have to come forward, which makes us much more effective.  

Did not feel fatigued or beaten
Fukushima/ Hirota were forced to really think, with a lot of conversations being had between them and their coach, and change up their performance in the second game. Birch knew this was coming when she says. 

-We know they are a world class pair and they were going to come out in the second and give it everything they had, so we just had to stick to our game plan and execute as best we could. But against one of the best pairs in the world, you have to do that in every single rally, and I think at some points we went off track, which probably cost us that third game. 

The Japanese duo, who are one of the big names in contention for gold at the Tokyo Olympics next year, took the second game 21-16, and then limped to a 21-19 victory, being pressured by the English pair throughout. Although it is always disappointing being so close to a big victory, there are a lot of plus points to take from that performance, as Smith states. 

-I definitely think there are a lot of promising things in there. Many things we have worked during the months we have been away from the court, but it is paying off now. To come away from a match against such a good pair and not feel too fatigued or feel that you haven’t been beaten is really great. 

Smith/ Birch are now looking towards the European Mixed Team Championships Qualification in December, with their group hosted in England, and then the Asian legs of the World Tour tournaments early next year. 

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