Gronya Somerville on famous forebears and her love affair with badminton. By Cindy MacDonald.


Love game: Gronya Somerville, 20, badminton player

I came and watched badminton when the 2006 Commonwealth Games were on in Melbourne. Me and my mum went to a lot of the different sports but, I don’t know, when I watched the badminton I wasn’t captured by it. 

Then when I was 12 they had this program seeking eight to 12-year-old girls in Victoria, to increase the numbers playing, with the ultimate goal of trying to win badminton medals for Australia. My primary school PE teacher gave me a flyer that said, “Come try out, you don’t need any prior experience.” I went to these trials where you did a lot of fitness tests – running, jumping – and then you had a hit at the end. 

Once I had that hit I just fell in love with it. I think badminton is the greatest sport. Before I started playing it I was doing tennis, gymnastics, Little Athletics and circus – tumbling and flying trapeze. I was always pretty decent at tennis; I just never had the passion for it.

Badminton has so many more physical attributes. And it has a huge tactical side, so from every spot you can hit, like, 10 shots. Tennis doesn’t have the same variety. I also love the variety among the players. You have these huge European players and they’ll compete so closely with these tiny little Japanese players who just get everything back. It’s good like that.

It’s the fastest racquet sport in the world. The fastest smash is 400 kilometres an hour or something like that [the Guinness world record stands at 332km/h]. Because the court is quite small, you are very close to the opposition players and you literally have no time to think.

I mainly play doubles and mixed doubles. My partner is Setyana Mapasa for women’s and Matthew Chau for mixed. It’s only fairly recently that I started playing with Setyana, so we’re still quite a new partnership. And we’re both young as well, so it will be good to develop together. Hopefully by the time the next Commonwealth Games come up on the Gold Coast, we’ll be at medal level. 

The issue we’re facing at the moment is that Setyana is Indonesian. She’s got her permanent residency but Badminton Australia is working hard to get her passport through.

There’s a lot of travel. We had a big Europe tour over November-December where we were exposed to all these top players and coaches, but there’s also a lot of travel to Asia, because it’s a very Asian-dominated sport. 

My [late] father’s Chinese and my mother’s Australian and I’m the great-great-granddaughter of Kang Youwei. He’s quite famous in China; he’s taught in all the history classes in schools. He was a political reformer, calligrapher, scholar.

Initially when the media in China found out, it was quite intense. I had a lot of interviews and flowers brought to me, and weird stuff like that. Every time I go back there there’s a little bit of fanfare around it. I’ve just started learning Chinese through an online school, and I’m really enjoying it.

Gronya is actually an Irish name but my mum’s changed the spelling three times because the original spelling is not phonetic. She fell in love with Ireland when she worked there as a nanny. 

Mum has always been super supportive of whatever I’ve done. She’s a teacher, and after school she’d drive me to whatever sport I did. I had a different activity each day and she’d always take me everywhere. She came to the Commonwealth Games when I played in Glasgow and she’s already booked leave for if I qualify for the Olympics. 

I guess it’s okay being called the “poster girl” for badminton. I think it’s good if I can do my bit to promote the sport and help raise awareness of badminton in Australia and worldwide.

Probably the main person I look up to is Christinna Pedersen. She’s a doubles and mixed player from Denmark. Because our coach is Danish, we’ve been quite closely associated with their team since we were young. Throughout my badminton career Christinna’s helped us, and been an idol I’ve looked up to. 

Usually I train about three to five hours each day, except for Sunday. Two to four hours of on-court training, and one to two hours of gym. We do weights three times a week and I do all my cardio on a bike or deep-water running because I have arthritis in my ankle, so I have to watch my load management.

I guess winning a medal and getting more attention would have its pros and cons. It would open up so many more opportunities but there are also the negatives of fame. Sometimes if I’m getting as much attention as world champions then I feel like, I don’t know… Like I don’t deserve it. But the media works in weird ways. I have been compared to Maria Sharapova and then someone will say, “But she’s won lots of grand slams.” I just stay out of that stuff. It’s not like I’m asking for it. That’s one thing I don’t really like: too much self-promotion.


1 . This week’s highlights

• Horseracing: Blue Diamond Stakes Day

Saturday, 1st race 1pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne 

• Soccer: A-League – Adelaide United v Brisbane Roar

Saturday, 4.45pm (ACDT), Coopers Stadium, Adelaide

• Cricket: Southern Stars v White Ferns, 1st Twenty20 

Sunday, 10.10am (AEDT), Basin Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand

• Badminton: Australian National Championships

Monday until March 5, Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre

• Soccer: Matildas v Japan, Olympic qualifier

Monday, 9.35pm (AEDT), Kincho Stadium, Osaka, Japan

• NRL: Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos

Thursday, 8.05pm (AEDT), Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2016 as "Love game".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.

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