Gail Emms got her badminton ‘comeback’ off to a winning start at the English National Badminton Championships in Milton Keynes today.
The 36-year-old 2004 Olympic silver medallist and former world, European and Commonwealth champion teamed up with last year’s mixed doubles runner-up Marcus Ellis to defeat Ben Stawski and Alex Langley in their second-round contest after an opening bye.
But their performance was not without a minor hiccup at the start. Ellis and Emms let slip the opening game as she looked a little rusty before settling down and turning things round 13-21 21-10 21-6.
Emms, who won this mixed doubles title six times with three different partners before retiring after the 2008 Olympics, will now face 2012 champions and the world’s fifth-ranked pair in Chris and Gabby Adcock when the tournament moves to the arena:stadiumMK tomorrow for the quarter and semi-final stages.
The Hong Kong Open winners began their bid to reclaim the title by beating Conor Bambrick and 2009 women’s doubles champion Suzanne Rayappan 21-9 21-19 despite trailing 16-13 in the second.
They are bidding to become the first married winners since David and Jenny Horton in 1967.
Emms will be back in action tonight in one of the last matches on the schedule when she tackles the women’s doubles with three-time former champion Ella Tripp.
Emms, who has also won the women’s doubles six times (four times with Donna Kellogg and once each with Jo Wright and Natalie Munt), can expect to meet Langley again in the second round after another bye when the Nottinghamshire player teams up with Helena Lewczynska, who like Emms represents Hertfordshire.
The first big shock of the 92-match first day programme came in the mixed doubles where Peter Mills and Jenny Wallwork knocked out third seeds Chris Coles and Alyssa Lim, who partnered Ellis to last year’s final.
Mills and two-time former mixed champion Wallwork won 21-12 21-19 and are on course to face the Adcocks or Ellis and Emms in the semi-finals.
But the closest of matches came when Matthew Nottingham and Lauren Smith got the better of Harley Towler and Lewczynska 21-13 18-21 21-19 after trailing 19-17 in the decider.
There was also disappointment for Kent’s five-times runner-up Carl Baxter, who went down 21-13 21-15 to Surrey’s Ben Beckman.
But that was to be expected as Baxter now has a full-time job in the City while Beckman, son of former women’s singles and doubles champion Karen, will be a member of the England team which leaves on Monday for the European Men’s and Women’s Team Championships in Basel.
It means that if defending champion Rajiv Ouseph, who is chasing a seventh consecutive title, comes through to the final he will face a new opponent for the first time since beating Aamir Ghaffar in the 2008 final.
That match went to three games and since then Baxter is the only player to have taken a game off Ouseph in the 2010 final.
Ouseph, from Middlesex made a confident start, beating Staffordshire’s Farid Akroum 21-5 21-9 as he looks to extend his record for consecutive title triumphs.
The record for consecutive wins is Simon Archer’s eight men’s doubles titles but Ouseph will have his eye on bettering Darren Hall’s 10 men’s singles titles from 14 consecutive finals.
The English National Championships are being staged by BADMINTON England in conjunction with Yonex, the new Official Sports Equipment Partners to the National Badminton Championship series, and tickets are still on sale and can be bought by calling the box office on 0844 902 7777.
Watch live coverage of the Nationals finals online this Sunday, from 12pm to 5pm, at badmintonengland.co.uk/tv.