English National Badminton Championships 2012
03-05 February, Bolton Arena

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CLARK - retiring, but ... ] ROBERTSON - the last one ] CANN - aims to regain ] [ RAJ - seeking a handful ] DRAWS released ] SEEDS announced ] PREVIEW ]

Raj – seeking a handful

By Richard Eaton

Rajiv Ouseph is in the best position of any British player to qualify for the Olympics over the next few weeks. He is also in prime position to win the men’s singles title a record five successive times at the English national championships over the next three days.

And the one makes the other more likely.

Ouseph’s confidence-boosting situation has arisen because he has built a lead of 50 world ranking points over the next best British player, helping remove some of the anxiety during the daily business of building for London 2012.

The tall, imposing Middlesex man with the much-improved smash, the deftly destructive net game, and the Teflon willpower, has thus acquired an optimistic frame of mind which may make him look a bit of a shoo-in to win the English national championships a fifth successive time.

“Olympic qualifying is a difficult time, but I imagine it has been more stressful for some other players, the doubles players who are competing against each other, than me,” Ouseph said.

“It’s become slightly easier for me. I just need to be top ranked in GB and with a reasonably high world ranking. Now it’s getting closer to the finish and if I stay in a good position I shall feel more comfortable.”

He knows that comfort can easily drift into complacency. Even a hint of that can be disastrous. His friend, sparring partner, and nearest rival Carl Baxter is determined to make up for losing to him in the last three finals. And things can change. It is not so long since Ouseph came off a dip in form which had not been expected.

That can easily happen in Super Series events, with their small draws which make for tough matches right from the start, usually after a great deal of travelling for European players. Even for someone inside the top 20, as Ouseph has often been, defeats in the first and second round can happen with a depressing frequency.

So he accepted a change of policy with his schedule. He played a few international level tournaments, helping boost his ratio of wins and his confidence. It worked very well.

He won the Irish and the Scottish international titles towards the end of last year, and followed these successes with a fine performance in a three-game defeat to Peter Gade, the former world number one from Denmark, in the Copenhagen Masters. Then last month he delivered a career-best win over Taufik Hidayat, the former Olympic and World champion from Indonesia, in the Korean Open.

“Dropping down a level helped my confidence,” he acknowledged. “I feel better for it. Now it’s a big incentive for me to try to win five national titles in a row.

“No-one has done that before, and it’s an important event for me because I grew up watching it on TV. I still need to show that I am the best in the country.”

The seedings say that two left handers, Ben Beckman, and Toby Penty, a six-foot three-inch 19-year-old, are their likely challengers in the semi-finals.

If the final turns out to be Ouseph against Baxter again, it may become a game of double bluff, for they know each other so well. “We push each other in training and I don’t think I would be the player I have become without him,” said Ouseph generously. “I am grateful he has been around in my era.”

It remains to be seen how grateful he feels about that come Sunday night.

Richard Eaton

CLARK - retiring, but ... ] ROBERTSON - the last one ] CANN - aims to regain ] [ RAJ - seeking a handful ] DRAWS released ] SEEDS announced ] PREVIEW ]

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