Badminton star Holly Newall says 2016 has been the best season of her career so far, after making her senior international debut earlier this month. The 18-year-old was part of the Scotland team during qualification for the European Mixed Team Championships in Slovenia, winning two of her three matches as her nation just fell short of reaching next year’s finals.
She followed that up with victory in the Czech Junior Championships, before reaching the first round of the Scottish Open last week. Next month’s Welsh Open is her last tournament during a breakthrough year following a tough season hampered by a serious shoulder injury. Holly admits the last month has been the craziest of her career with many on-court improvements made.
“I am really pleased with my season and I feel I have improved a lot,” she said. “It was probably the best experience of my life in Slovenia. Representing Scotland at senior level was just fantastic. We played well but just missed out on getting through. I got three caps that weekend and walking out on court for the first time was crazy. I was so nervous because I did not want to let the team down.
“I was extremely happy when I managed to win my first point and secure the win against Latvia. I played well in my first two matches but then I played Sabrina Jaquet from Switzerland, who was an Olympian. It was a fantastic learning curve for me. I won two matches at senior level so it worked out very well. The team got on fine and there was a great bond with everyone.”
Holly’s progress over the last year has caught the eye – jumping up to sixth spot in the European Under-19s rankings after winning the Czech Junior Championships. Earning a place in the main draw of the Scottish Open, having secured two qualification victories, meant she was the highest ranked Scottish player due to the enforced absence of Kirsty Gilmour, 23, who represented Team GB in Rio.
“It’s a big ask isn’t it when you’ve got Kirsty who’s number one in Britain, number 15 in the world, but I’m trying to aspire to follow her and do well for Scotland,” Holly told The Herald. “She’s a supreme athlete. She’s trained so hard all of her life and when she went to the Olympics it brought the whole squad together with her doing so well and making Scotland proud.
“I don’t train with her much at the moment, but hopefully with our new Malaysian coach coming along next year I might have the chance to hit with her because for me personally she’s a role model for Scotland and probably everyone else in this country,” added Holly, who has been working with SportsAid alumna Kirsty’s fellow 2014 Commonwealth Games medallist Bob Blair.
Holly received SportsAid support in 2012 and became part of the SSE Next Generation Programme through the charity in 2014. SSE gives support to 100 of the best up and coming young British athletes from a variety of sports on their way to the top. Holly insists the scheme has made a major impact on her young career, as she pursues her dream of competing at an Olympic Games.
“I’ve been on the scheme for two years and it has helped me massively,” she said. “They support us with funding, which was really important for me last year because of my injury – the financial support really helped with my rehab and recovery. If I didn’t have the support of SSE, my parents would have had to fund that out of their own pocket and it costs a lot of money.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Holly can continue receiving the support they rely on. To donate, please text ‘NEXT01 £5’, ‘NEXT01 £10’ or as much as you can give to 70070.