England Geared to Spark in Vantaa

It was back in 2007 in Glasgow, Scotland, when England had their best finish of fourth place at the Sudirman Cup. They were edged 3-2 in the semis by favourites Indonesia, who finished runners-up following a 3-0 defeat to China.

Fast forward to 2021 and following a somewhat turbulent year of hosting COVID-19 secure tournaments, the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021 is set to get underway at the Energia Arena in Vantaa, Finland. As I made my journey to the Finnish capital city of Helsinki, also onboard the same Finnair flight were the majority of Team England.

Stallwood (left) is one of two players in the squad to earn an England cap in Vantaa.

“We’ve all been working really hard,” Steven Stallwood says, 38,000 feet somewhere above Denmark.

“None of us are willing to step on court and just give the match to the opponent,” added the men’s doubles player. The 22-year-old will earn his first England cap after being named in the squad heading to Finland.

Referring to England’s best Sudirman Cup finish, Stallwood said: “Fourth was extremely good. Even back then we were all a bit surprised, but really excited at the same time. Our focus this time is allowing younger players, myself included, to get used to competing in these high level tournaments. We haven’t just come here to play, we’re here to win. We have the spark in us.”

A promising mix of the young and the experienced means England are in good spirits, with five of their squad – Chloe Birch, Marcus Ellis, Lauren Smith, Sean Vendy and Ben Lane – returning from competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“Our men’s doubles pairings are solid, which could potentially get us a couple of wins,” enthuses Stallwood.

There is also “real promise in women’s doubles with Jessica Hopton and Jessica Pugh“, he adds.

“All of us are just excited to be able to compete after not playing much last year. I’m representing my country for the first time as well. I’m extremely proud to be here.”

Childhood friends but a recent formation, Stallwood says there will always be new knowledge to gain on the badminton court for him and Callum Hemming.

“We’re shaping up to be a really strong pair,” he smiled.

Van Leeuwen, 16, is excited to get going at her first Sudirman Cup.

Team England is made up of upcoming talent and among the fresh faces named include the 16-year-old Estelle Van Leeuwen, who has already played at the Spanish Junior International 2021 and the European Mixed Team Championships in Finland earlier this year.

“Just being here at the Sudirman Cup comes with pressure, but I’ve just got to embrace it and be proud I’ve made it here instead of thinking of everything else around it,” said Van Leeuwan.

England are in Group D, where they have Malaysia, Japan and Egypt for company.

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