Badminton: Hall homes in

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The Independent Online
DARREN HALL is aiming for revenge and a record in Norwich in the next three days. The former European champion suffered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the English National Championships when he lost for the first time to Anders Nielsen in last year's final. If he atones he will become the first man to win it six times, writes James Leigh.

The player with whom he shares the record of five is his cousin Ray Stevens, who has been coaching him to achieve the success. 'To be honest it doesn't really mean much to me whether Darren breaks the record,' Stevens said. 'I just want him to do well and if possible to win.'

Hall, the top seed, should do that, provided he has overcome the ankle ligament injury that kept him out of last month's Taipei Open. The other singles top seed, Fiona Smith, will be winning the title for the seventh time in 10 years if she succeeds again. Only Gillian Gilks, the former world No 1, who won it eight times, has achieved more.

Here, too, is a family story. Seeded in the men's singles is husband Peter Smith, who become involved in another piece of badminton history eight months ago. In his first appearance in the Thomas Cup finals in Kuala Lumpur he won a one and half hour deciding match that gave England its first victory over the European champions, Denmark, in this event. Smith's tenacity and enthusiasm could again make a surprise possible this weekend.

Fiona Smith's main rival should be Suzanne Louis-Lane, whom she beat in last year's final, while Hall and Nielsen may need to beware the spirit and skill of the improving Peter Knowles.