In front of a large crowd and beginning #BIGwednesday’s sport, the two Loughborough teams collected Gold medals after two cracking matches of Badminton. David Boyden was there for Label.
With the Women’s 2nd team whitewashing their opponents in the final on Tuesday 24th, there was a great deal of pressure on both 1st teams to deliver on BUCS Big Wednesday. The women were set to play Leeds after knocking out Nottingham in the semi-final, and the men faced rivals Bath after beating Sheffield Hallam in the previous round.
In front of a packed crowd, Tanapat Pisitpong played in the opening singles match for the women whilst Farid Akroum and Alex Merritt started for the men on the courts closest to the spectators. Bath dominated at the start of the opening matches and Merritt was able to pass his opponent and be the first to reach eleven points. At the same point, Akroum had only reached five points to his opponents eleven. Merritt’s match continued to remain very tight on the middle court as neither player could get a big lead on the other, whilst Akroum continued to struggle and fell 17-7 down.
Whilst the men were battling it out in front of the spectators, Pisitpong had won the first set 21-13 on the far court for the women. After a valiant effort, Akroum lost the first set 21-10, but Merritt managed to hold on and take his opening set 22-20 after a very close final five minutes.
Akroum fought hard in the second set and was keeping the score-line tighter than before much to the annoyance of his opponent. Merritt was leading again but this time he was evidently on top. With both of the men’s matches drawing to a conclusion it was evident that both Loughborough and Bath were going to take a point each as Akroum slipped further and further behind and Merritt shot ahead on the neighbouring court. Farid Akroum ultimately lost the second set 21-9 whilst Alex Merritt won 21-11. Tanapat Pisitpong beat Helena Lewczyska 21-10 in the second set to take the women 1-0 up after their opening singles match.
The next round saw doubles matches from both the men and women and a singles match on the top court for Chloe Birch. Kerri Scott and Aimee Moran made a strong start for Loughborough’s women in the opening doubles match as they led the Leeds pair 11-4 at the half-way point. This emphatic start was continued after the break as the girls shot to a 21-10 first set win. Martin Drabble and Matt Bradley did not have the same success in their first set when they met a very competitive pair. The score remained close but the boys could only reach 18 by the time their opponents had taken the first set. By this stage the atmosphere was really taking off with the Badminton Centre full of the sound of cheering and inflatable clappers. Birch managed to sweep her match in straight sets to bring the girls’ lead to 2-0 over Leeds.
Scott and Moran were even more ruthless in the second set as they finished 21-8 up and completed the women’s third consecutive victory. The boys were leading the second set after a string of very long rallies and they fought seriously hard to lead 19-18 in what was turning into the most exciting match of the day so far. Loughborough reached match point at 20-19 but slipped back to the point at which Bath were up 21-20 requiring one point to take the match. The boys managed to save the point to the sound of the crowd’s slow hand clap. Drabble and Bradley finally won the set 25-23 as the spectators went mad.
Drabble and Bradley made a solid start to the third and final set as the volume constantly increased inside the Badminton Centre. At the halfway point, Loughborough were leading 11-9. Both sides kept fighting and coming at each other hard in a desperate attempt to take the victory and the effort was showing as the players dripped with sweat. At 20-14 the crowd were ready to celebrate the remarkable Loughborough comeback but were made to wait until the third match point before they could revel in the truly exemplary achievement from the two Loughborough boys.
Whilst Drabble and Bradley were fighting their way towards their win, Greg Mairs and Conor Bambrick had to compete in another doubles match against Bath. The Loughborough boys made a positive start on the centre court but Bath were on their tail as they went into the halfway break 11-7 up in the first set. Mairs and Bambrick went on to win the first set 21-17. In the second set they continued their domination over the visitors as they built a safe lead of 15-7. Whilst this match was going on, Viki Williams and Jenny Moore were on their way to a crushing 21-6 first set win on the adjacent pitch. This was very shortly followed by the even more emphatic 21-4 win of the next set that put the women 4-0 up against Leeds. Meanwhile, Mairs and Bambrick were still in their second set; this did not last for long as they cruised to a 21-9 win.
With two simultaneous singles matches taking place, the women only needed one more win to take the title. Chloe Birch and Tanapat Pisitpong were fighting hard in their respective matches and both managed to win in straight sets to not only put the women 6-0 up with two matches remaining but they upheld the clean sheet of not losing a set all afternoon. The spectators and badminton club were thrilled with the girls’ achievement as they had clearly worked hard to get where they were. In the meantime, Alex Merritt was struggling against Bath’s animated Chris Evans. Although Merritt showed resistance he could not save the first set from going to a 21-16 loss. The second set was a much closer affair with both players in deadlock at 16-16. Evans was able to breakaway however and went on to win the set 21-18. The Loughborough men now only had a 3-2 lead on Bath.
Farid Akroum was to play his second singles match of the day on the middle court and managed to get to the end of the first set 21-16 up on his opponent. Akroum made a strong start to the second set as well and was leading 11-7 at the halfway point. It was only at the end of the set that Akroum started to show signs of slipping as he went from 20-12 to eventually winning at 21-15. Akroum celebrated with a thrust of the hips, much to the amusement of the onlookers. This was the boys’ fourth win of the day meaning that they only required one further victory to win the final.
In the penultimate match of the men’s’ final, Greg Mairs and Conor Bambrick played their final doubles fixture of the day. The boys played with a very strong attack but Bath knew the importance of this match and came back at them hard. At 20-18 to Loughborough, the set looked as though it was theirs and after a long rally it was. Mairs and Bambrick carried this momentum into the second set as they shot to seven points before Bath could get off the mark. This domination did not stop as Loughborough made it to 19-7 with the title very much in their sights. It was at 21-9 that the Loughborough men officially won the final in front of a jubilant crowd of spectators.
Whilst the boys had been battling their way towards their title, the girls were on the other side of the hall finalising their whitewash over Leeds with an 8-0 victory that did not see the home side drop a single set. This was a seriously big achievement that all in the club can be very proud of.
In the final match of the day, Matt Bradley and Martin Drabble were looking to follow up their dramatic win with another success. The Loughborough boys led at the start of the first set but fell to 11-10 down at the halfway point. The first set eventually went to Bath. In the second set, Loughborough shot into the lead at 7-3 but yet again fell back to 11-10 by halftime. With each side constantly passing one another they both struggled to score consecutive points and break away. Loughborough eventually made it to 20-17 and looked as if they were about to save the match but on set point they slipped and let Bath catch them at 20-20. Drabble and Bradley eventually saved the set and evened the scores. Unfortunately the Loughborough boys could not repeat their earlier comeback achievement and lost the third set, and thus the match, but this did not matter to the overall result of the final as the Loughborough Men won 5-3.
Both the women and men put in an immense level of effort to achieve what they did in their finals and thoroughly deserved their results against stiff competition. I’m sure they celebrated hard later that evening.