Friday nights in Birmingham don’t usually end at the NEC, but it was a party atmosphere on the badminton show court as Lauren Smith and Chloe Birch booked their place in the last eight of the women’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games.
Cumbrian Smith and partner Birch battled past Malaysia’s Yee See Cheah and Pei Jing Lai amidst a raucous atmosphere in hall one.
Every point for the home pair was met with cheers as the crowd did their best to drive the duo home.
“It was brilliant,” said Smith, who also secured safe passage in the mixed doubles alongside Marcus Ellis.
“We knew that was a really tough match, we had to really focus, especially as we haven’t had many doubles games in this hall yet so we knew that was going to be tricky.
“Despite a slow start we really got the tactics right at the end, we worked really hard, made it horrible for them.
“The comeback in the first set hurt them a lot and that’s a credit to our character.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
Smith and Birch edged the first game 21-19 after the Malaysian duo had looked in control before taking the second as the noise reached fever pitch.
And Birch hailed the impact of the crowd and hope it is a sign of things to come.
“The crowd has been amazing,” added Birch. “Towards the end I was getting goosebumps with every point we won they were so loud.
“To have this show court, to show badminton at its best, has been amazing.
“There’s already so much talk behind the scenes of how amazing this has been and how good the crowd interaction is, and how many fans we’ve got in the stadium.
“I really hope this is the start of something for badminton in England and we can really start to have more of these showcase courts and show what badminton really is.
“There were so many young people out there today, I hope I inspire them to pick up a racket, kick a ball, anything to do with sport.”
It was Smith’s second game of the day having raced through her match with Ellis against Uganda’s Daniel Wanagaliya and Husina Kobugabe.
And the 30-year-old was pleased to have been able to get some extra rest ahead of a busy schedule.
“We knew this game was going to be tough so I knew I had to be efficient, save as much energy as I could,” said Smith.
“Not just for today, but as the tournament goes on – the schedule is pretty brutal here.
“I pride myself on my fitness and I know myself, Chloe and Marcus are all really tough when it gets physical. It’s an advantage to us.”
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