Loughborough Sport win at home on the opening night of the National Badminton League season
After falling at the final hurdle last season, Loughborough Sport kicked off their second campaign of the National Badminton League with an impressive victory over local rivals University of Nottingham.
On a foggy evening in Loughborough, a passionate band of purple clad home supporters made for a lively atmosphere, as Loughborough Sport ran out 3-2 winners in a thoroughly entertaining affair.
Kicking off proceedings for the hosts were Glasgow 2014 double medallist Lauren Smith and current student Jenny Moore, and they wasted no time in asserting their authority on the opening match, winning the first game in minutes.
At 6-3 in the second game Nottingham called a time-out, but it failed to stem the Loughborough tide as Moore controlled her serve to take the second 9-4. At that point Nottingham looked powerless to stop the onslaught as Lauren Smith hit a number of strong winning shots. It was student Jenny Moore who sealed the win though, wisely opting for the power play at 7-1 to wrap it up.
“We played some good rallies; our game plan was to attack a lot and be the more attacking pair and I think that paid off. We nearly forgot about the power play, but when the crowd started chanting it we thought we may as well!” said Moore post match.
Next up was the men’s doubles featuring current student Greg Mairs & graduate Peter Briggs, and they faced a much sterner test. Losing the first game, the duo took slightly longer than their female counterparts to find their groove, and despite leading throughout they also succumbed in the second game to seven.
At 6-7 in the third it looked like this match was Nottingham’s, but Mairs & Briggs fought back, overturning a power play to set up game point, which Briggs duly dispatched. With that the momentum changed, and the Loughborough duo won the fourth 9-5 to set up a tie-breaker.
It was first blood Nottingham in the fifth and final game as Loughborough failed to win the power play they’d opted for. Youngster Mairs showed his athleticism with two gargantuan leaps and winning smashes, but bearing down on the match at 3-1, Nottingham fought back to 3-4 and match point. After a time-out, the pair in purple took it to four all and set up match point for each side, that Briggs thankfully smashed home.
After the match Peter Briggs commented:
“The power play that they took in the third would have given them match point but we snook it with a net cord! It really was one of those super tight matches and from there we managed to push on and win it.”
The fog severely hampered Nottingham’s chances as recent signings Eric Pang, Cheryl Seinen and Yao Jie were all late arrivals on their flights from The Netherlands. With two-time Olympian Jie literally going from car to court, Chloe Birch made short work of the first game, but a well-timed power play at 8-7 saw the former European champion back in the game.
Birch battled back though, regaining her composure to win the third game 9-6. From here on in it was a case of battling for every point, and with a determined look etched across her face, Birch brought it back to 5-5 having trailed 2-5 on the fourth.
At 5-7 down coach Mike Adams called a time-out, and it proved pivotal as Birch won the next two points before smashing her power play past Jie at 7-7 to wrap up victory in the game, match and on the match night.
“I went out their today knowing she wasn’t at the top of her game, but she’s extremely experienced and she showed that in the second set with how she changed the game. It was a great game to win.
“We realised last year how crucial the power plays and time-outs are, and in the first couple of games I don’t think we got those right and that might have cost us. But we learnt how to use them throughout the season and I think that’s what got us to the final. That was a great time-out call by Mike today and it just allowed me to re-focus and it broke her run of points.”
Having won the first game of the men’s singles 9-8, Henri Hurskainen and the home crowd realised they had a real match on their hands as Erik Pang stormed to a 2-9 victory in the second. Pang continued where he left off to take the third, but to the chants of ‘hoover’, his nickname, Swede Hurskainen fought back to send it to a tie-breaker, largely thanks to a terrific cross court backhand to save Pang’s power play.
The longest rally of the entire match-night came at the start of the fifth game, with Hurskainen eventually making a pair of errors, which saw Pang wrap up the final game 3-0 and with it the match.
“Today I wasn’t good enough” said the flamboyant Swede.
“The first set was ok, even if I felt I had to work very hard to win that, but in the second set I gave it to him much too easily. The pace was much too slow, which kept him in the rallies, and when the pace is that slow he won’t make mistakes.
“At the tie-breaker I thought ok, here we go, but we had that really long rally and maybe I played just too close to the net with the final shot, but I felt I had to go for it and not keep rallying.”
With the result already beyond doubt, Olympian Andrew Smith was able to make his Loughborough Sport debut alongside Jenny Wallwork without the usual pressure that comes with the final, and often deciding game. The camaraderie was evident from the very first point as the pair battled the strong Nottingham duo of Chris Adcock and Cheryl Seinen.
In an extremely close and entertaining game of mixed doubles, the Nottingham pair were ultimately stronger on the night, largely down to the lack of match practice that Wallwork and Smith have had together.
None-the-less, those three victories saw Loughborough Sport get off to a winning start, prevailing over University of Nottingham 3-2, which bodes well ahead of the next match night on Monday 7th December at home to Team Derby.
Get your tickets for that match now via www.loughboroughsport.com/nbl/tickets