Greetings from Gatineau, where the sun has gone down on the 2015 Canadian Badminton Championships.
The spectators witnessed some incredible matches. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, EVERYTHING was on the line: the national title, selection to the national team, government funding, a spot on the Pan American Games team. I'm pretty sure there was a feeling in the air that these matchers were important. The players were edgy, hiding their nerves with ritual preparation. Some would warm up on their own, headphones blaring loud music, trying to find their trance-like optimal performance focus. Others would find comfort in the pack, joking with old friends while going through their preparations to cool their nerves. Whatever their choice of preparation, our RA athletes came out flying.
The first match of the afternoon was the mixed doubles final. Alex Bruce and Toby Ng were up against Philippe Charron and Phyllis Chan. They are old rivals, as well as good friends. On top of that, they are also partners: Alex plays doubles with Phyllis while Toby plays with Philippe! It's safe to say that they knew each other's games very well going in. The rallies showed this. Both teams were vying for control, trying to get on the attack, but the defenders would also know what to expect, so there was often advantage in that, and so it went, back and forth, one team winning some rallies, then the other. Phyllis and Phil were a bit more calm, and this created some winning opportunities. They took their chances and executed well, and won the first game 23-21. In the second game, Alex and Toby had to fight for their lives. Phyllis and Phil were still playing great, and until the 11point interval, it was close. Toby and Alex managed to keep the intensity high and were more scrappy than in the first, and this made all the difference. Through sheer will, they bounced back and finally took a substantial lead, and closed out the second game 21-13. In the third, Phyllis and Phil again found the advantage, getting to 11-8. The teams changed ends at this point, and a remarkable thing happened. They came back! All of a sudden, it was 11-all, then 13-11, then 15-11. They found FLOW, that state where the partners work as one entity, and where each individual is playing their best. From there, it felt like seconds to close down the match - Alex Bruce and Toby Ng were national champions! They had won 21-14 in the final game!!!
The next match was the women's singles. Ironically, as was the case for the men's singles final, two girls from the same club in Toronto, Rachel Honderich and Michelle Li were facing off against each other. Michelle showed her experience and quality, taking the title 21-17, 21-9. Michelle is our top player in any event, ranked around #10 in the World, and so was the favourite to win.
After they played, it was the all-RA men's singles final, Joseph Rogers against Andrew D'Souza. I had hoped for a good match, but I was floored by the quality of play between these two players, which is saying a lot since I see them play about 8x per week! My years of experience being at international tournaments came flooding back to me - I was watching an international badminton match! Both players were patient, both were hungry for the title, and were willing to work for it. The crowd was treated to some stunning rallies. Joseph was THUNDERING smashes all over the court; D'Souza was diving to get them. A second later the roles were reversed, with Joseph soaking up Andrew's attack like a sponge. Both players would immediately sense the other's readiness for their attack, so would then move into a rally game, looking to get their opponent out of position again, and so on.
Joseph showed just a bit more willingness to control the rallies and this payed dividends for him. He won the first game 21-18. D'Souza perhaps was thinking that Joseph would be worn out from his difficult matches in the days previous, but this was not the case.
I think most people could see the level of desperation and intensity rise in the young D'Souza at the start of the second. He went for it, smashing, attacking, pushing the pace, forcing the openings and he got a lead of 4 points early on. He kept this lead until near the end of the second game. It was then Joseph's turn to make a final effort. It was clear that if Joseph wanted this match, he would have to take it in two games. His pace increased, as well as his patience, and while he made a valiant effort, he could only score 18 before D'Souza reached 21.
At the start of the third game, Joseph made some tired mistakes, and D'Souza remained hungry. There were some moments of "back-and-forth" play, but Joseph looked too sore and stiff by that point, and Andrew took too big of a lead. In the end, Andrew D'Souza was crowned national champion, at the age of 20 (the same age that I won my first national title so many moons ago...)! The final score in the third game was 21-10.
The final match of the tournament that I coached was the women's doubles: Alex and Phyllis were up against Michelle Li and Rachel Honderich. Alex and calmed down just enough after her mixed, and was a surgeon on the court. She was dominant in all areas: serving, returning the serve, offence, defence, etc... That being said, it was still a battle. The rallies were fast and hard, but Alex and Phyllis found the right spots to attack to, and were tenacious in finishing the shuttles at the net. Alex and Phyllis won the first one 21-15. In the second, the match was a little bit tighter, and our pair had to struggle hard. It was a great ending when they came from behind from 18-20 to tie it up 20-all in the second game. That momentum carried them to victory, 22-20: Alex and Phyllis were crowned national champion - for the third time in a row!!!
After they played, the men's doubles final was on. In it, Derrick Ng and Adrian Liu won their 5th title in a row, beating Nyl Yakura and Kevin Li in two games, 21-13, 21-17. It looked like an exciting match, but it looked like Derrick and Adrian's experience carried them through, while Nyl and Kevin were struggling to find the path to victory.
All in all I am of course very pleased with the going on's this week. The work is by no means done. I want to quantify what has gone on, so that I can recreate the positive environment that led to this success in the weeks and months that just passed. Surely there is room for improvement. Most of the athletes from my training group played well, but some could have performed better, and so we will tweak things for the next time, so that they can ALL be 100% satisfied with their results. That being said, tonight we are proud of their EFFORTS, of which they gave 100%. We will celebrate our accomplishments, but we look forward to the next challenges. We are satisfied, but we are ambitious and hungry to do better. So goes the cycle of things that has perpetuated humanity to this point. We will do our best to better the sport of badminton as much as we can, to honour those who have sacrificed so much to bring the sport since the beginning. :)
Signing off, dinner is waiting!!! Supper's Ready!
Assistant Pro RA Badminton Club Ottawa
It was a magical night in Gatineau! Let me tell you about it...
As I mentioned yesterday, RA players were playing five semi-final matches: one mixed doubles, one women's doubles, one women's singles and two men's singles semis. That in itself was already a great feat for which I was very happy about, as all the athletes had played well and had overcome various obstacles to get there in their respective events. They were not satisfied, however and put in great performances tonight to really do their best to make the finals.
The first match of the day was Qufei Chen's semi against Rachel Honderich, the number two seed of the tournament. Qufei had an incredibly tough road to get there, compared to Rachel who breezed through her earlier rounds. Qufei started off slowly, her body still sore from the marathon match she had last night. Rachel took the first game very convincingly 21-2. In the second game, Qufei loosened up a bit more and found her rhythm and staged a mini-comeback. She stayed neck-in-neck with Rachel for about half the game, until Rachel pulled away by a few points. In the end, Rachel took it 21-13. Despite the defeat today, Qufei should be very proud of her results. She has played and trained hard and really earned her spot in the semi-finals this time. Tomorrow she must play the 3/4 playoff. She'll be up against Bethany So (Toronto).
The next two matches were the men's singles, Joseph Rogers against Martin Giuffre, and Andrew D'Souza against Andy Lam.
Joseph, most would agree, had the harder of the two opponents, as Martin is a seasoned competitor and plays a very dangerous and tricky game. The last time they faced off, Martin took it in three games. The match started off quite even, with both players trying to find their feel on the court, as well as trying to impose their own games on their adversaries. Both have incredibly hard smashes, and they were not holding back. The crowd was treated to many smash winners on both sides. As the first game went on, Joseph started to get a small advantage here and there, getting Martin later and later, until either Joseph could put it away, or Martin would try too hard for the point and either make a mistake or allow Joseph to counter-attack him. Joseph ended up winning that game 21-16. In the second game, Joseph really figured out what to do, which led to him winning point after point after point. He led 9-0!!! In sports, this is obviously a great position to be in, but also a dangerous position to be in. At that point, players often lose their way, relaxing too much, or getting too excited realizing that they "have it". The opponent usually also relaxes when they are down that much and often starts to play better. A combination of all of those things happened; Martin adjusted his strategy and started to clear higher and lift higher, making Joseph get slightly impatient as well as have to work harder for each point. The unthinkable happened, and Martin caught up to 10-11 before Joseph found his way again, moving ahead by a few points again. In the heat of the match, I don't remember exactly the scoreline, but Joe got up to 19-13 or something like that, before Martin again came back, inching point-by-point to 19-20... and then to 20-all! There was a lot of tension in the hall at that moment. Martin made a huge comeback and Joseph did NOT want the match to go three games. Well, Joseph got his way, winning the next two points to get to 22-20. We were all ecstatic for him. It's been a few years on the adult circuit where he's had close matches, this is the furthest he's progressed since won the junior nationals many moons ago.
Andrew D'Souza has also made some big progress. After the matches were all finished tonight, my former coach John Czich and I were standing around, watching some young juniors playing on the courts once everyone else had left the gym. John pointed out that it was not so long ago that Andrew D'Souza was at the Canadian International watching me playing - and after the matches were done, D'Souza and some other RA juniors were on the courts playing just as these youngsters were doing today. I guess it's that passion for the game and the desire to get on the court whenever there's a chance are critical to build those kinds of champions. Tonight D'Souza was a champion, going out there and making quick work of Andy Lam. He remained focused the whole time, yet relaxed enough to be bold in his play. He was better in all areas of the game, and won it 21-12, 21-13.
Tomorrow Andrew will face Joseph, in an all-RA final. May the best man win. :)
The last match of the night for us to coach was Alex Bruce's mixed doubles, with Toby Ng. They were up against Rachel Honderich and Kevin Li of Toronto. From the start, it was clear that while Honderich and Li were seeded lower, they were not going away. They played with heart and with their heads, and created a very tricky environment for Toby and Alex to really find their way. Alex and Toby could always get an advantage, but had a very tough time to put away the shuttle. Their opponents were tenacious and great defenders. Still, Toby and Alex managed to win the first game, 21-15. In the second, the dynamics of the match changed. Toby and Alex again found themselves in attacking positions, but Kevin and Rachel were doing an even better job to turn the tables on them, probably getting used to Toby and Alex's style of play. While it was close, Kevin and Rachel snuck ahead at the end, winning 21-18. In third game, Toby and Alex found their way, getting ahead, and staying ahead for the rest of the match. The score in the third was 21-16 for Alex and Toby.
They will play Phillipe Charron (Quebec) and Phyllis Chan in the final. Incidentally, they played against them in early January. Toby and Alex won that one convincingly. It should be a good game tomorrow, but I'm hoping that Alex and Toby take control and are patient to wait for the right opportunities to go for the killer shots.
The 3/4 playoff matches start at 9:30am, while the finals start at 1pm.
For times, check out the draws here: draws
Assistant Pro RA Badminton Club Ottawa
Day two saw some amazing, amazing quarter-final matches at the national championships! I am in awe at how well the RA players fought today. First saw the men's singles quarter-finals. Three out of the four quarter-final matches fielded an RA player. Joseph Rogers faced Jason Ho-Shue (Canada's best U19 player from Toronto). Andrew Zhuang faced Andy Lam (Toronto). Finally Andrew D'Souza faced Nyl Yakura (Toronto).
Joseph played a very physical and patient game, winning 21-16, 21-16. Andrew Zhuang unfortunately lost his match 21-14, 21-19; he was just too exhausted after his marathon win against Dave Snider yesterday. Finally, Andrew D'Souza, after a slow start in the first game, won the second easily. The scores were 21-16, 21-8. In the semis tomorrow, Joseph will face the number one seed, Martin Giuffre of Calgary, while D'Souza will face Andy Lam. We wish them the best!
In the woman's singles, we had two RA players involved. Serena Lam faced Rachel Honderich (number two seeded player), and Qufei Chen faced Nadianie Ouaqouaq-Bergeron of Montreal. While Serena fought hard, it was not her day and she lost 21-6, 21-10 to Rachel. Qufei had one of the "matches of the tournament". They played for almost an hour, and had long, intense rallies. Both women wanted to win the match so badly, and this created a wonderful atmosphere for the spectators, who truly appreciated both their efforts. In the end, Qufei was victorious, winning, 19-21, 21-12, 21-19. It was a truly spectacular finish! Tomorrow Qufei will face Rachel Honderich in the semis.
In the women's doubles, Alex Bruce (who trains at the RA) and her partner Phyllis Chan (Vancouver) played against another couple who train at the RA, Sarah Bowman and Chinue dela Merced. Alex and Phyllis were victorious, winning 21-12, 21-8. Tomorrow, Alex and Phyllis will face Vicky Girard and Caroline Beauregard of Quebec in the semis.
In the mixed doubles, Alex teamed up with Toby Ng (Vancouver). They are Canada's top mixed team, and they did not disappoint, beating Maxim Marin and Stephanie Pakenham of Quebec, 21-14, 21-12. Tomorrow they will face Kevin Li and Rachel Honderich in the semis.
Check out the full results from today here: results
You can also find the schedule for the semi-finals tomorrow on the same site. They start at 5pm for those who are keen to watch. Hope to see some of you there! It will be an exciting day, and a great chance to see Canada's best in action!
Assistant Pro RA Badminton Club Ottawa
Quick summary of day one. It was a tough one, MANY matches back-to-back, which created quite a few upsets.
Andrew Zhuang, who trained with us at the RA the last few seasons, had the upset of the tournament, beating last year's national champion, David Snider, in a marathon 3 game match. By the third game, Andrew was cramping heavily in his legs, but Dave was as well! It was truly a war of attrition, with both guys trying to win, but at the same time, trying not to cramp. It was tense, but finally Andrew pulled it off.
Some of our younger athletes did very well in their first rounds. Kartikay Tyagi beat one of the top Quebec players in his first round. Kartikay later lost in the third round to the top seed, Martin Giuffre of Calgary, in two solid games. Kartikay pushed Martin to the limits and they had some huge rallies. Kevin Stadnyk, originally of Nova Scotia, had a great first match, beating Pierre-Etienne Pilote, of Quebec, also in two solid games. Kevin will be leading Nova Scotia's team at the upcoming Canada Winter Games in 3 weeks in Prince George, BC.
Other notable results on the men's side: Andrew D'Souza cruised his way to the quarters. Joseph Rogers also got through.
On the women's side, all of the RA ladies played well. Qufei Chen progressed to the quarter-finals, having to beat two solid opponents from Quebec.
In the mixed doubles, Alex Bruce (RA) and Toby Ng (Vancouver) made it through to the quarter-finals.
Tomorrow will see the first rounds of men's and women's doubles, followed by the exciting quarter-finals starting at 5pm.
Click here to check out all the results: Seeds and Draws
Assistant Pro RA Badminton Club Ottawa
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