Katie Scott catches up with British singles star Fontaine Chapman on all things badminton
How did you first get into playing badminton?
I first started playing badminton when I was about four or five. My sister and I used to have short tennis lessons in Coventry and then afterwards, my grandad would just say ‘let’s have a bit of a hit, a bit of a pitter patter’ and I just took to it straight away. Then I started actually playing properly and trying to learn how to play!
What would you say is your signature shot?
I would probably say my cross court, round the head smash. At the Nationals, I won quite a few points off that. It’s one of my powerful shots.
Why did you decide to focus on singles rather than doubles?
I think because it’s more of a challenge. I was always alright at doubles – I always used to play with Gabby Adcock when we were younger and that was great – but then I watched Camilla Martin at the All England and I just wanted to be her! She won the singles and I just thought ‘yeah, I want to do that’. I did consider going to doubles when I was injured but I was like ‘I’m not taking the easy way out! I’m going to stick with singles!’ I’ve always played singles, so since I was about nine I’ve been competing – and I’m now 26!
What are your main tactics on court? How would you describe your style of play?
Very aggressive and attacking. I’m not the kind of player who will just sit back and who is happy to run around and defend – I definitely have to dictate and try and take control of the match and be positive and aggressive with how I move.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get in to badminton professionally?
Stick with it. It is really tough and you don’t necessarily see the results straight away. I mean, I was injured for three to four years with just one injury after another. My first injury, I did my ACL, so I had an ACL reconstruction. Then, I fractured my left foot and then I prolapsed a disc in my back, so they weren’t little injuries. With my prolapsed disc, there was talk about having an operation but thankfully the injection I had really helped. Slowly but surely – after about a year – I managed to get back into it and they’re a bit like ‘take it easy’ because I was getting a lot of sciatica, so that made it quite difficult. There was another badminton player who actually had his disc removed and got to the semi finals of the All England and I was like ‘it can be done!’ That kept me going. If you want to be professional, you’ve just got to be really tough and a little bit stubborn and not give up on it. There are days when you just think nothing is going right or its too hard, I’m tired, everything hurts, but in the end, when you get the result that you want, it makes it all worth it.
What would you say is the main thing that motivates you?
That I’m not the best I can be. I want to keep going until I actually feel like I can’t do any more, I can’t learn more, I can’t achieve any more. Although I’m not getting any younger, my physical conditioning has improved so much, the shape I’m in now compared to three years ago, my body shape has completely changed – that is encouraging. I’ve lost nearly two stone and have more lean muscle mass. The fact that there have been top European women’s singles players who are in their thirties and have done really well, so I’ve still got time left!
What’s been your favourite competition to play in?
The All England, when I played that last year, it was incredible. To get through to the main draw and to have the crowd behind you and supporting you through it all is…when you watch tennis matches and they say thanks to the crowd, they helped me through, you don’t really understand because you don’t necessarily experience it, but when you do experience it, it really is amazing and it really does lift you and take you through. But I also love playing the England team matches. I think having your country and your team mates behind you really pushes you on. Also the World Championships, is quite special as well – my first one was in Denmark and my family was actually able to come to it so that was really good and then my first experience of being in Indonesia in August last year – the fans there are crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before!
What are your top technical tips for excelling in badminton?
You need lots of hours of practice and I think how you strike the shuttle and striking it in different positions on court is really important – you can’t get away with just playing one type of shot. You need a wide variety. Also, watching matches – there are so many badminton matches on YouTube you can watch. Learning movement and shots from seeing the best in the world do it can actually help. If you can visualise it and try and do it yourself, that helps a little bit. I try and do this with the top singles players.
What is your top tip for delivering a killer smash?
Get behind the shuttle and really put your bodyweight through it, make sure that you are coming forwards. Obviously when you see them jump, especially the men when they jump smash, it looks like they are just going up but they are actually going up and then coming forward on to it. So just making sure that you really get your body involved and into the shot. A bit of a shout as well – it always sounds better!
What about delivering a powerful backhand?
A lot of that is timing. You have to get the right timing and technique through it and that’s where the power comes from, it’s not necessarily with the smash. You can obviously use your arm but a lot of it is technique and trying to make it look a bit effortless. The boys do it a lot better than us girls unfortunately!
What has been your career highlight so far?
Winning the Nationals this year is a big highlight for me. It’s not a world title, but it’s something that I have always wanted to have my name on and being injured for a while, coming back and then being in two finals and not winning – that was really tough – so to actually get through that and win was a big achievement for me. But also, representing England. Ever since I was younger, you just want to get those England caps. To do that now for the last two to three years has been great.
Want to see some more badminton interviews? Check out my chat with doubles duo Lauren Smith and Heather Olver.