WHEN SCOTT EVANS was shown a black card for unsporting behaviour at a tournament in Norway last November, he was so upset that he could hardly eat or sleep for days afterwards.
Now, scarcely three months on, Ireland’s top badminton player looks back on the lowest moment on his professional career and sees it as the incident that changed everything for the better.
By his own admission, the 24-year-old from Dundrum, County Dublin, has always been a bit of a hothead on court. When he picks up his racket, he plays to win, no matter who the opponent is. If it’s not happening for him, it doesn’t take long for his frustration to bubble over.
But the incident which landed Evans in trouble at the Norwegian International was a momentary slip, out of character even for a fiery competitor. Serving to stay in his quarter-final against Yuhan Tan of Belgium, Evans felt that an umpire had incorrectly called his serve on match point out, giving Tan the game.
It wasn’t the first questionable decision that went against Evans that afternoon, nor was it the first time he had come up against the official in question. In the heat of the moment, his choice of language was anything but delicate and he walked off the court without shaking hands with the umpire. That reaction earned him a black card; he had been disqualified for his misconduct.
“A black card is the worst punishment you can get in a game,” Evans explains as he takes a break from his Olympic preparations in Copenhagen.
“I felt I was getting cheated by the linespeople and treated unfairly by the umpire. I reacted out of the blue and used some bad language.
Twenty seconds later, I apologised straight away. Some people will accept the apology and move on, but others will want to make a bigger deal of it.
“I’ve learned to deal with it”
It was the low point of a pretty rotten year. An ankle injury which Evans picked up while playing for his club the previous October took longer than expected to heal. Painkillers and injections didn’t really help; his training routine was disrupted by more stops and starts than he cares to remember.
But now, less than six months out from what he hopes will be his second Olympic Games, the shadow of last year has lifted. Evans regrets the incident in Norway but, looking back, maybe it has all worked out for the best.
“I was able to sit down afterwards and think. If it wasn’t for that, I might still be training badly, so I’m actually quite happy with how it has turned out.
“I used to be quite aggressive on the court and react when decisions went against me. It was not helping me to react like that, it wastes a lot of energy.
“I was always getting in trouble because I have a lot of anger. But I’ve learned to deal with it and deal with it well.”
Just in time too. Evans is currently ranked number one in Ireland, seventh in Europe and 67th in the world. Barring disaster, that will be good enough to guarantee him a place in London when the qualifying cut is made in May.
“There’s always that little bit of doubt. At the moment, I’m probably 90% sure that I’ve qualified, but I still have to put in the work.”
“A few bad decisions”
The memories of Beijing still resonate, as do the lessons which Evans learned. Aged 20, he was the first man ever to represent Ireland in badminton at the Olympics. It was the culmination of a burning desire, the same desire which once motivated him to get up at 5am to train before school and later persuaded his parents to let him abandon his studies and move to Denmark to pursue a professional career.
He lost in the first round, a see-saw tie against Marc Zwiebler of Germany that wasn’t decided until the final few points of the third set. It was disappointing, sure, but if the memory of that defeat still gently gnaws away, it has only added fuel to an already blazing fire.
“I just made a few bad decisions when it got close. I thought too much about winning rather than playing just playing each rally as it happened. Since then, I’ve learned to be a lot more patient in close matches.
“It’s always been on my mind. I realise now that I pushed too much. Since then, I’ve done the right thing sometimes and still lost the match. But I know it’s made me a better badminton player.”
So too has playing full-time and training with Jim Laugesen in Denmark, “the best country in Europe for badminton.” Copenhagen has been home for seven years now. On the three or four occasions a year that Evans does return to Ireland, it’s for a flying visit with family and friends or to add another national title to his collection. Earlier this month, he won the national championships for a seventh consecutive year with a straight-sets win against Stuart Lightbody.
Spending so much time removed from the Irish badminton community is not ideal, but Evans knows that it was the only option if he was serious about his career. And when it comes to goals for London this summer, he’s not letting anyone tell him what he can or cannot strive for.
“Of course, I’d love to get to the final and to win. But first, I’ve got to concentrate on qualifying and then get my body right so I can do some serious training and have myself 100% ready.
I know I can beat some of the best in the world. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
It all depends on what kind of draw you get. If I can make it to the last 16, anything can happen.