Rajiv Ouseph, England’s number one men’s singles player, says this weekend’s English National Badminton Championships could be an important stepping stone en route to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The 23-year-old from Middlesex is top seed for the men’s singles at the Championships, which get underway tomorrow (Friday) at Manchester Velodrome.
Rajiv, ranked 24th in the world, is aiming to win his third successive title in a row  - if successful he would be the first person to achieve the feat since Darren Hall in 1991.
“It’s not something I’m going to think about much, I’m just going to take each match as it comes,” said Rajiv, who opens his account against Somerset’s Stuart Rowlands on Friday morning.
“The English Nationals are a good opportunity to test yourself against the other players in the country,” he added. “There’s a bit of pressure, because you’re expected to win, but it’s good to have that pressure sometimes.
“We’ve had a period of hard training over the winter and I’m feeling good going into the championships,” added Rajiv, who lives in Feltham, Middlesex and trains at the Badminton England’s National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes.
One of Rajiv’s big goals for 2010 is to secure a place on the England team to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which take place in Delhi in October.
Subject to selection, he thinks he would have a good chance of winning a medal in the men’s singles in Delhi – despite the likely presence of Lee Chong Wei from Malaysia, current world number one and reigning Commonwealth Games champion.
 “The world number one is from Malaysia and would be tough to beat. He’s just won a couple of big tournaments, but if you’re in the other half of the draw, realistically I think medalling would be quite achievable.
“The Commonwealth Games are definitely up there for me. Playing at the Games would definitely be an experience for me. It’s just below the Olympics and it’s a multi-sport event - they don’t come around very often,” said Rajiv, who was a member of England’s bronze medal winning badminton team at the Bendigo Commonwealth Youth Games in 2004.
Two-time national champion Aamir Ghaffar represented England in the men’s singles at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and just missed out on the medals, finishing fourth. He now helps coach Rajiv. England have only won the Commonwealth Games men’s singles gold once – that went to Stephen Baddeley in Edinburgh in the1986 Games. 
England finished second to Malaysia in the badminton medals table at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games with two golds, a silver and two bronzes.
The English National Badminton Championships run from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 February and sees the cream of England’s badminton players in action.
Anthony Clark and Nathan Robertson are top seeds for the men’s doubles, where Clark is chasing a ninth win in a row.
Gabby White and Jenny Wallwork are number one seeds in the women’s doubles, where they aim to improve on the runners-up position they achieved last year. They could face strong opposition from number two seeds Mariana Agathangelou and Heather Olver. The women’s doubles draw also features Tracey Hallam, the women’s singles gold medallist at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, who has come out of retirement and partners Kelly Matthews. Hallam won the women’s doubles title at the English Nationals two years ago partnering Donna Kellogg.
Three times women’s singles winner Elizabeth Cann heads the women’s singles draw, with Helen Davies seeded two and Rachel Howard three.
Robertson and Wallwork are top seeds in the mixed doubles, with Clark and Olver seeded two.
It’s a big year for badminton in England – the Yonex All England Open takes place at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham from 9-14 March, while the Yonex European Championships are at the MEN Arena in Manchester from 14-18 April.
For further details see the Badminton England website at www.badmintonengland.co.uk <http://www.badmintonengland.co.uk>
The 2010 Commonwealth Games take place in Delhi, India, from 3 to 14 October 2010. They will feature 17 sports - archery, aquatics (swimming, synchronised  swimming & diving), athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby 7s, shooting, squash, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. With the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Commonwealth Games England is entering a breath-taking four years of sport.

Commonwealth Games England (GCE) is the organisation responsible for selecting and organising England's team at the Commonwealth Games. Team England finished second to Australia on the medal table at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games with 36 golds, 40 silvers and 34 bronzes.

Sport England is a major funder of the England team at the Commonwealth Games. Sport England is responsible for building the foundations of sporting success, by creating a world-leading community sport system of clubs, coaches, facilities and volunteers. Their focus is growing and sustaining the numbers of people taking part in sport and improving talent development to help more people excel.

For further information please contact the Commonwealth Games England press office at Matchtight Ltd on 07765 071683 or 07831 755351, or see the CGE’s website at www.weareengland.org 

For further information about Badminton England please see the badminton England website at www.badmintonengland.co.uk