The kids are alright.
The start to their quarterfinal match however, was far from ideal. Facing experienced Australians Kenneth Choo/Gronya Somerville, Smith and Lee wobbled and lost 21-9, and needed a pep talk from coach Shlok Ramchandran to jolt them into life. They kept their nerve at 20-19 down in the second game to eventually win 22-20 and then sealed the decider 21-15.
It was their second victory in four weeks over Choo and Somerville, having also won in three games at the Saipan International last month.
“We had to completely reset after that error-strewn opener,” admitted Smith, playing at his first HSBC BWF World Tour tournament with Lee. “The second game was tough but we had a lot of momentum coming into the third, we just pushed through with all that energy.”
Lee added: “Our coach kept reminding us to keep our composure and give it everything because we had come all the way to the quarterfinals. That helped a lot.”
The result confirmed Smith and Lee as the first local mixed pair in the US Open semifinals since 2012, when Howard Bach/Eva Lee lost to the American-Indonesian tandem of Tony Gunawan and Vita Marissa. Bach and Lee were also the last to bring home the prize in 2009.
Being in the semifinals has whetted Smith/Lee’s appetite for a bolder hunt – the crown.
“We are still undefeated so let’s keep that going,” said Smith, who turns 20 on Sunday. “To be the ones ending such a long wait for mixed doubles semifinalists means a lot. It also shows USA can still compete with Asian and European countries.
“American badminton is growing all the time. Hopefully we can do our bit to grow it a lot more.”
To move closer to their desired destination, Smith and Lee must first find a way past third seeds Mathias Thyrri/Amalie Magelund. The Danes lie in wait after beating another American pair – Vinson Chiu/Jennie Gai – 21-10 20-22 21-14.