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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Badminton Star Chris Adcock

20 March 15 interview: Scott Oliver
photos: Calvin Coull

Chris Adcock won badminton gold medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games and is eyeing up even shinier prizes. Meanwhile, he’s skippering his hometown franchise – University of Nottingham – in the inaugural National Badminton League (which is on the telleh). We caught up to talk shuttlecocks.

You’re a local boy, aren’t you?
Yeah, I lived here until I was eighteen. I went to school in Calverton, grew up in Ravenshead, so I’m a Notts lad, but due to where the National Badminton Centre is I had to relocate down to Milton Keynes.

Did you choose to play for UoN?
Actually, it was done in an auction. I was lucky enough that Nottingham bid the highest for me. With the local links, that’s great. It’ll help us get a bit of profile, and I was really happy to get picked for my home town.

Surprised they didn’t go for Matthew Nottingham…
Ha ha. Good name, but he’s not from as good a place as here.

So, how did you get into badminton up there in Ravenshead?
My elder brothers both played, so I always went along and watched them as a youngster at the village club in Ravenshead. Then I quickly progressed to county level and from there to the England level.

Was it always your number one sport?
I played lots of different sports. I was a keen footballer – I was on the books of Mansfield Town for a while, a little bit for Leicester City – but it came to the point where I needed to make a decision. There were a lot of very good footballers around, and I was Europe’s best [badminton player] at that point, so I thought I’d go with the one I was best at.

So what’s the attraction? How would you sell the sport to those who might not get it?
Coming to see it live is an amazing experience. You don’t realise how fast world-class badminton is played. You’re talking about a shuttle travelling almost as fast as a Formula One car, and it still comes back over the net. It’s hard to explain, or even envision it on TV, but live you really feel that. It’s exciting. No two games are the same and the crowd can be really intimate and get into it.

Is it better than tennis and squash?
I’m obviously gonna say yes. Tennis televises very well and there are so many worldwide players, but badminton is played by a huge number – it’s the top sport in China, Indonesia and other places in Asia. Badminton is played by a huge number of people in England. It’s just a case of whether we can get them into the system and make them world-class players in the future.

Presumably Sky TV’s money will help incentivise that…
When people ask me, “What do you do?” and I say that I’m a badminton player, they say, “But what’s your job?” Then you explain it’s a professional sport, with more and more sponsors and money coming into it. Hopefully it can progress from this first year of the televised NBL, and we can make it a big sport in this country. It’s a really accessible game and it’s growing all the time.

So, what’s your forte?
Mixed doubles. I used to play all three [singles, doubles, mixed] until I was sixteen, then I had a really bad injury – I actually broke my leg on court, which sounds silly, but I was going through a growth spurt and the muscles were stronger than the bone – so that took me out for a year, which gave me time to reflect. When I came back the physios suggested I look more at doubles, where you’re not so stretched. I progressed in that quicker than singles, so it went from there.

You play mixed doubles with your wife. If either of you fluff a match point, does it get tense at the breakfast table?
While it’s a massive part of our lives, we try not to bring badminton home with us too much. We’ve played together all the way through juniors. We had a couple of years apart – playing with different partners – then we were put back together and have gone from strength to strength. We’ve been in the top six in the world for the last fifteen months, we won our first major in Hong Kong, and we brought home the Commonwealth gold medal, which was very emotional to win in front of friends and family, and obviously a great milestone for both of us.

Any desire to go back to singles?
No, it’s hard to go back. They’re very different the way you train your body, the shots you practise, so I think I’ll be a doubles player for the rest of my career.

Has Cotgrave’s ex-Olympic mixed doubles silver medallist, now Sky commentator, Nathan Robertson, offered any advice?
We’ve got a hell of a lot of respect for each other. Nath’s a great guy and what he achieved was tremendous. He’s always there for advice, and it was good to have someone like that to look up to when I was younger. Unfortunately, we’ve often found ourselves competing against each other. It would have been great to be on the same side, but being primarily mixed doubles players that’s not going to happen.

In tennis mixed doubles, women can find it difficult coping with big male servers. Is that balance a bit closer in badminton?
At world-class level some of the women have got as good a defence as the men. It’s crazy how the level’s improved, but that’s the way people have to be now otherwise you don’t compete. Obviously, the man’s physically stronger and the ideal formation is to get the girl at the front, but it’s becoming a lot more versatile and the girls are doing a lot more. That’s how the game evolves.

What’s the etiquette about smashing directly at the opponent? Do things ever get spicy?
Everyone’s really competitive, everyone wants to win, and you do what you can within reason to win a match. Everyone understands that, and everyone playing at that level has that same intensity, so as long as you win the point – obviously you don’t want to hurt anyone – but some gamesmanship does go on…  

What’s the most satisfying shot to play well?
Well, there aren’t many lefties around, so when people put it up into what they think is my backhand side and I play what we call a forehand drive.

Where does the professional tour take you for tournaments?
Everywhere. It’s growing so much and you’re getting world-class players from so many different countries. In Europe, the big nations are England, Denmark, and Germany, but then the women’s world singles champion this year is from Spain. There’s Asia, obviously – China are the world’s leading nation, but there’s also Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea who are all very strong.

Favourite place to play?
It has to be Birmingham: the Yonex All-England Championships. It’s an amazing event with a fantastic history, and it’s the one everyone wants to win. Aside from that, it’d be in Indonesia. The fans are crazy and it’s just great fun.

Was the Commonwealth gold in Glasgow the top achievement so far?
We were the favourites and number one seeds and were under a lot of pressure, so it was a feeling of relief and ecstasy at the same time. I also got a silver medal at the World Championships in 2011, beating three seeded pairs en route which was massive at that point in my career. But winning your first major, and with your wife – that’s hard to top.

How long do you think you can play on, and what’s your main ambition before you call it quits?
I’m 25, so I’ve potentially got another ten years in the sport. There’s so much more to do. I’m not even close to what I want to achieve. I want to win as many majors as I can. I want to go one better in the World Championships. And I want an Olympic medal – the right colour, too. Rio’s not too far away, and Tokyo after that’s a realistic option. That’s what drives me every single day.

What would happen if your coach said he’d found a better mixed doubles partner for you?
I can honestly say I can’t see that happening. Gabby’s driven, has incredible skill level, and is a world-class girl. They don’t come around very often, so I’m obviously lucky enough to be married to her and also be playing with her!

Lastly, if you were bringing a mate to Nottingham, what would you show them?
It’s just a really nice town. I love going to Lace Market for a few drinks and a meal. It’s good shopping – my wife’s good at dragging me around. And I’d always say the football clubs - although I don’t favour either - having a soft spot for the Stags.

University of Nottingham play Surrey Smashers in the National Badminton League, Albert Hall Conference Centre, Sunday 22 March 2015, £12.

National Badminton League website

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