Loughborough Sport produced the comeback of all comebacks to book their place in the AJ Bell National Badminton League Finals Day with one fixture still to play.
A top of the table clash against Birmingham Lions was always going to be a close affair, but to come from 2-0 down to take victory 3-2 showed the desire Loughborough have to make amends for last season’s final defeat.
Fresh from her first national final the previous day, Loughborough student Chloe Birch faced her victor Fontaine Chapman in an instant rematch. 2-0 down and clearly frustrated, a timeout allowed the tenacious youngster time to regain her composure and subsequently send the crowd into raptures as she played some sublime badminton to level it up at 2-2.
Heading into the final game, where the scoring switches to first to five, Birch was 3-2 down when she played arguably the shot of the season so far, a deft backhand flick to level it up. Birch forged on to make it 4-3 before Chapman levelled to take it to match point.
Birch wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to beat her English rival though, and much to the delight of the 400 strong crowd inside the Sir David Wallace Arena, Birch forced Chapman to fire into the net, blowing the metaphorical roof off the building.
That means Birch extends her unbeaten NBL run to nine straight match nights, and afterwards she was clearly delighted with the outcome.
“I wasn’t playing the right game and when Mike [Adams, coach] came on it was just to re-set really and remind me of what I was trying to do and the tactics that would beat her. In the first two sets I was playing into her hands so it was all about changing the tactics and changing the momentum and really trying to play the way that I know I can.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve beaten her. Once I got that fight back in me in the third game the crowd really started to get behind me, which heaped the pressure on her. I’m just delighted I managed to get the win and help the team out.”
That meant the pressure was well and truly on Jenny Moore and Greg Mairs to complete the turnaround as they took to the court against Alida Chen and Nico Ruponen in the mixed doubles. With the crowd now at fever pitch, the Loughborough duo were almost carried to a 9-5 win in the first game.
Ultimately the Loughborough University students were just the better pairing on the night and wasted no time in wrapping up the final games 9-6, 9-6 to secure match night victory for Loughborough Sport.
With Birmingham 2-0 up on the night, it was doubles aces Lauren Smith and Jenny Wallwork who were tasked with changing the momentum, but they faced quality opposition in the form of Heather Olver and Sarah Walker.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, who had until this point been subdued for the first time this season, they delivered a terrific match winning performance, clinching victory in straight games. Dominant across the court, the duo were in their element with the crowd roaring them on.
“That was great” said Smith. “We had no momentum in the first two games and things were just a bit flat, so it was great to go out there and lift things. It was great to get a convincing win on the board in what could have been a very tricky game.
“It was strange playing against Heather, who’s my partner in international tournaments, but it was great to come out on top! With the NBL you can be two or three love down, but every point counts! Having said that, we’ve done the job now but we know all too well that it’s the finals that are most important.”
First on court were the men’s doubles pairings of Peter Briggs and Harley Towler versus Birmingham’s Lions Gary Fox and Koen Ridder. Loughborough University graduates Briggs and Towler are notorious for starting slowly and nothing changed in this one as the Birmingham pair raced into a 1-0 lead.
Fox, also a Loughborough University graduate was making some brilliant winners, and despite some lengthy rallies, the second game went the way of the first. At this point the men in purple fought back and before long the score read 7-4 in the first to nine format. However after winning the next point, a well-timed Power Play by the visitors brought the scores level at 7-7. With the momentum now back in their favour, it was first blood Birmingham in straight games.
There was another monumental match-up in the men’s singles as Loughborough talisman Henry ‘hoover’ Hurskainen took on English number two Toby Penty. Much like the previous game it was the opposition who raced out of the blocks and into a 1-0 lead.
The Swede wasn’t about to give up without a fight, however Penty was on his A-game, taking the second before a well time Powerplay wrapped up the third.
After a 3-2 match night victory Loughborough Sport remain top of the NBL table on 14 points, three points clear of their closest rivals. Next up the team travel to Milton Keynes to take on MK Badminton on Monday 21st March.
For more information about Loughborough Sport head to www.loughboroughsport.com