Britain’s Marcus Ellis was sidelined for around six months following hip surgery after winning Commonwealth silver with Lauren Smith in AugustMarcus Ellis and Lauren Smith’s off-court romance has brought a deeper connection on the badminton court – but it has some disadvantages.
“I almost am even harder on myself because I want so badly to play well for Marcus as well as for me,” Smith, 31, told BBC Sport.
“You want to go and play well and achieve things for yourself but actually, because we want to do it for each other, there’s that added sort of weight on your shoulders.”
Ellis, 33, and Smith carry British medal hopes as the All England Open begins in Birmingham on Tuesday, with coverage of the final stages of the tournament live on the BBC.
The English pair won silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and think their relationship has given them a competitive edge.
“You see each other in every single light, in every situation, know probably what they are thinking,” Ellis said.
Since winning their Commonwealth medal in Birmingham last summer, both have had spells sidelined with injury, including Ellis having what he feared might be career-threatening hip surgery.
“The aim was always to be back for the All England. That was my aim when I had to set my date for injury,” the 2016 Olympic men’s doubles bronze medallist said.
“In training I feel very good, maybe not 100% but I consider myself in quite good shape and I’m certainly ready to put myself out there again in a competitive environment to see where I’m at.
“At the moment, I’m just very thankful to be back playing even close to the level I was before because there wasn’t any guarantees that was going to happen actually.”
‘Something for the crowd to cheer about’No home players are seeded at the All England Open, with Badminton England’s performance director Morten Frost pointing last week to “the consequences of not having had funding for six years”.
Badminton had its funding cut to zero by UK Sport before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle, although it later received a small share of an additional funding pot.
It has now had its funding increased to £3.2m for the 2024 Paris Olympics cycle, and Ellis is hopeful about British chances going forward – starting with the All England.
“At the minute, it’s a very open door, there’s no one pair or player that’s really dominating so I say, why not?” Ellis said when asked about the chances of British success. “I think there’s definitely an opportunity there. Hopefully between us, we can give something for the crowd to cheer about.”
Last year, England’s Ellis and Smith entered the mixed doubles contest as sixth seeds before exiting in the second round. Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino won gold and the Japanese pair will now be looking to make it three titles in a row.
Smith is also competing in the women’s doubles with Chloe Birch, while other Britons competing include Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour, who is the only British singles player.
Tournament schedule and BBC coverageAll times are GMT and subject to late change
Tuesday, 14 March
10:00-20:00 – Round of 32Wednesday, 15 March
10:00-20:00 – Round of 16Thursday, 16 March
10:00-20:00 – Quarter-finals Friday, 17 March
10:00-15:00 – Quarter-finals – Red Button, iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app 15:00-20:00 – Quarter-finals – Red Button, iPlayer, BBC Sport website & appSaturday, 18 March
10:00-20:00 – Semi-finals (uninterrupted coverage) – iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app10:00-14:30 – Semi-finals – Red Button, iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app17:30-20:00 – Semi-finals – Red Button, iPlayer, BBC Sport website & appSunday, 19 March
10:00-15:00 – Finals – Red Button, iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app