Team England has endured a winter of sweeping changes and retirement denials but the squad’s singles and doubles players will set off this weekend for back-to-back Super Series openers in Korea and Malaysia in buoyant mood.
Last month, England lost Donna Kellogg, the doubles specialist, and Jill Pittard, the national women’s singles champion, to retirement. Nathan Robertson also scoffed at suggestions that he was about to step off court while men’s doubles pair Chris Adcock and Robert Blair denied splitting up and will play together for one more year.
However, Badminton England, the national governing body, is confident that the current crop of emerging players can fill the void left by two such experienced internationals.
According to ambassador Gail Emms, who retired in 2008, Gabby White, Jenny Wallwork, Rajiv Ouseph and Chris Adcock are the players to watch in the build up to London 2012 with the England quartet capable of achieving "special results".
White and Wallwork will play together in the women’s doubles while 22-year-old Wallwork – who replaced Olympic medallist Emms – and Robertson will continue their mixed doubles pairing.
Robertson believes the pair can also break into the world’s top 10 this year. He said: "We said that 2010 would be a good year for us and now we can start challenging the best. I want to continue to help the younger players."
Middlesex’s Rajiv Ouseph can look forward to a successful year, too. He climbed 16 places to No 24 in the singles rankings to become England’s top-ranked player and will defend his national title in Manchester next month.
He said: “Last year was an all-time high for me and it is now definitely a goal to get into the top 20.”
In a key year following the National Championships, Badminton England will also host the 100th All England Open Championships in March and the European Individual Championships in Manchester the following month.
Emms’s four to follow
Up to best ever world No 24 after leap-bounding year on the European and world circuit. In June Middlesex’s Ouseph, 23, was crowned Badminton Europe’s men’s singles champion in Assen, Holland. A former European junior champion, the right-hander is now regarded as a leading hopes for London 2012, having won the Volant D’Or in Toulouse and Open victories in Scotland, Ireland and Canada since the end of November.
The 22-year-old England No 2 has the unenviable task of filling the shoes of Gail Emms, who won Commonwealth, European and World titles with new mixed doubles partner Nathan Robertson. Emms believes Robertson’s new partner’s "feisty" nature will work in their favour.
Leeds-born player has been identified as a future star in the doubles for England. Along with fellow hopeful Chris Adcock, won a mixed doubles silver at the world junior championships two years ago. She claimed two bronze medals at the 2007 Australian Youth Olympic Festival, won her first national cap at the age of 12 and hasn’t looked back.
Bright prospect in both men’s (partnering Robert Blair) and mixed categories. Won 12 National titles as a junior, becoming England’s most successful junior player. Double gold medallist at both 8 and 6 nations in the U15 and U17 groups. Perhaps the best bet for 2012 is the pairing of Blair, who has been competing for England since 2001.