Walton's Toby Penty believes he is the man to end Rajiv Ouseph’s English National Badminton Championships dominance – despite not hitting a shuttlecock in six months, writes Chris Bailey.
Despite lifting himself to number 67 in the world last year, Penty heads into this season outside the top 100 after tearing a tendon in his knee following August’s World Championships – where he reached the second round.
This means that the 21-year-old heads into this weekend’s National Championships in Milton Keynes having not played competitively for half a year.
However, despite the setback Penty is still expected to be in the hunt for a medal and is the number two seed in the men’s singles competition.
At the other end of the draw and seeded number one is Ouseph, who will arrive very much as the man to beat as he bids for a seventh-straight triumph.
But Penty’s time on the sidelines has done little to dent his confidence and he believes that if anyone can stunt Ouseph’s run – it is him.
“The last six months have been quite tough because after the World Championships I was out injured with my knee,” he said.
“It was my first major injury and it was tough to deal with so I am just itching to get back to it now really.
“It has been frustrating watching from the sidelines quite a lot but I am really motivated to be back and hopefully things will go quite well.
“I hope I am the man to stop Rajiv. It has been Carl Baxter and him in the finals for most years so I am hoping for his sake and mine that he has a new challenger and I can give him a few problems he hasn’t had in the past.
“I feel like I can push him in training and we train really well together and get on really well but I think together we can help each other get better.
“But I still want to try and beat him but we want to improve badminton in England and we want this country to be known for singles and not just doubles.”
Penty’s bid for a first National title begins with the challenge of unseeded Harry Yuehang Wang in the first round.
And after flattering to deceive in years gone by, Penty is determined to set the record straight in 2014.
“For me the Nationals have always been a big tournament and as a youngster I was always told of the importance of the Nationals,” he added.
“And I have never kind of felt like I have done myself justice at a Nationals so this year will hopefully be the year where I feel like I can push on a little bit and get to that final and challenge for the win.”
* You can watch live coverage of the finals on Sunday, February 9, from 12pm to 5pm at www.badmintonengland.co.uk/tv and tickets are still available to buy at www.nationalbadmintonchamps.co.uk.