BIG NAMES BIG MATCHES ON COURT

The big names come out to play today (Wednesday) at the US$50,000 New Zealand Badminton Open with a full round of singles, doubles and mixed including top-20 player, top seed and defending champ, Sairul Amar Ayob from Malaysia who faces talented New Zealand teenager Henry Tam. Also on court is Kiwi No 1 John Moody who had one of his best wins of his career at the strong Thailand Open last week. Moody, originally from Northland plays against Auckland's James Moffat. Regular New Zealand visitor Andrew Smith from England starts his campaign with a clash against Kiwi Nikhil Medara and a potential clash against the semi-retired Geoff Bellingham in the quarter-finals if all goes to plan. Smith, the second seed in Auckland is actually the top singles player for his nation at around 20 in the world down slightly from his high of 18. Smith says that although the sport originated in England and has some top players especially with the mixed combination of Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms who won gold at the Commonwealth Games, it lacks recognition. "It's a big participation sport. More people play than watch. In football more people watch than play," says Smith who has just turned 22 and bases himself downunder for a few months of the year "I think I will be at full strength at the age of around 26-27 years old. Asians generally hit their peak a bit earlier. I spend time in New Zealand as there's some many tournaments close by in Asia and its only a few hours away. It's also a nice place to relax" he says. One of the aims for Smith is the next Olympics in Beijing in 2008, but the London Olympics is even more of an ambition especially with the money being thrown into sport in the UK something Smith admits does help compared to his Kiwi rivals. You can make a living from the sport playing in the UK. It's more difficult for New Zealanders being so far away and having to travel more. Also on court will be Daniel Shirley and Renee Flavell in the mixed and Shirley and Craig Cooper in the men's doubles. New Zealand's Rachel Hindley who is top seed in women's singles has a challenging first up contest against Juan Gu of Singapore. Manchester gold medal winner Li Li, the tournaments third seed starts her tournament with a match against Emma Rodgers from Auckland.




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