The ladies bring the bacon as the semi-final session gets underway
By Katie Garner
After narrowly sneaking a win against the rampant Redbridge in the quarter-final stage, this week saw the return of popular knockout handicap tournament, the Challenge Cup, as the competition was ramped up a notch for the semi-final stage. This time, it was our turn to play host, with the incredibly thoughtful Nick playing it perfectly by bringing an assortment of Kit Kats, brownies and shortbread biscuits for us all to munch on. Our opposition for the evening were Emerson Eagles 2, a club who we played at the semi-final stage in last year’s tournament as well. The handicap worked against us this time, as we started on zero, while the uniformed Eagles received a four point head start.
- Katie and Jess: 21 -13 / 19-21 / 21-14 (W)
- Helen and Barry: 17-21 / 18-21 (EE)
- Stuart B and Gary: 9-21 / 13-21 (EE)
- Katie and Helen: 18-21 / 17-21 (EE)
- Jess and Gary: 18-21 / 21-14 / 18-21 (EE)
- Barry and Stuart: 14-21 / 13-21 (EE)
- Jess and Helen: 18-21 / 21-15 / 21-14 (W)
- Katie and Stuart: 21-17 / 12-21 / 18-21 (EE)
- Barry and Gary: 14-21 / 20-21 (EE)
As you can see, we suffered a 2-7 defeat which isn’t all that great, although I can’t 100% pin point an exact reason why we lost the games. Obviously the handicap was doing its job and creating a fairer playing field, however I wouldn’t say we were four points better than Emerson Eagles, so it did make a challenge for us. On the plus side, the ladies of the squad were the breadwinners here as Jess and I won our ladies doubles, and Jess won again with Helen later on in the evening to give us our two wins. Let’s hear it for the girls!
Ladies doubles with Jess:
This one was probably my favourite game of the evening, in part because it’s been forever since I played ladies with Jess, but also because I think we both played well here. We adopted a front and back tactics formation which I think worked really well here, despite our opposing pair using this style also. They definitely honed in on leftie Jess’s backhand which caused a few issues for us, but in these cases, I tried to intercept at the net as much as possible. Our team work gelled together nicely as if she had never been away, and I feel our court rotation provided solid coverage.
We both delivered some good smashes this evening, which I am rather proud of if I do say so myself and for myself, I would say that my short serve and return of serve were both on point tonight, as I sent the shuttle scurrying for the tramlines with a sharp smash and a straight line. Jess intercepted well at the net, which was ideal as we had already identified this as a key area to gain control of. Any floating shots we sent their way, we knew would be succinctly dealt with, so we tried to play it hard and fast with the drives, down the centre with the power shots and nice and tight for the net play. Everything seemed to come together beautifully, with my short serve causing them to lift the shuttle continually into Jess’s welcoming racket head. We had a disappointing flicker in the second game where we momentarily forgot where the tram lines lived which ultimately cost us that game, but we were luckily able to claw it back for a final victory, which is always wonderful in the first game.
Ladies doubles with Helen:
In this game, I felt that the Eagles ladies had the tactic of focusing on one person, aiming every shot at them and wearing them down completely. Unfortunately, Helen was at the receiving end of this aggressive style of play; however our plucky teacher delivered some of her own fighting spirit in retaliation. I personally found it quite hard to get involved in the rallies as they all seemed to headed to Helen, however I made sure to whack the return of serve in some tricky places, either straight down the tram line with a smash, or a cross court drop to catch them off guard. We played sides in these games, which I’m not really used to, so adjusting to that was a tad tricky at times, but on the whole, I feel that Helen played really well. Her cross court backhand was on fire today and her movement was speedier than normal meaning she was whizzing back the returns, usually low and fast over the net. Luckily for me, they often left a dwindling shot sitting above the net, a prime target for me to attack with gusto, so I grabbed these presents eagerly and with aggression. Despite not nabbing a win in this succession of games, we earned 18 and 17, which I feel are very respectable scores. It was close but no cigar on this occasion.
Mixed doubles with Stuart:
I love a bit of mixed doubles, so I must confess I was looking forward to my game with super smasher Stuart. Again, the Eagles duo seemed to concentrate more on the back of the court and wearing Stuart out, so I found it difficult to engage in some of the points, but I did my best to intercept and send the shuttle left and right with annoying regularity to wrong foot the male Eagles player. The guy for Eagles had a brilliant smash on him, so the smash and lift and drive interchanges between him and Stuart had me ducking for my life and thankful for my squatting capabilities. When the shuttle did enter my front of court range, it was normally annoyingly out of reach and skimming the furthest tram line which made them tricky to get back.
I once again employed my short serve to force our opposition to lift, giving Stuart as many chances as possible to smash his way to a winner, which half has me fearful for my life, and half in complete admiration of the light-year style speed. Again, I feel my return of serve was particularly good this evening, which closed a few rallies nice and quickly in our favour as I really concentrated on performing excellent shots with good placement. Stuart played amazingly well, managing to get back so many fantastic shots, however we weren’t able to steal the win despite taking them to a decider after winning the opening game.
On the whole, I would say the games were really close, and at times could have gone either way. I would have been interested to see how the score lines would have fared without the handicap, as I think it may have then tipped in our favour – but then again, that’s the whole point of the Challenge Cup. The handicap worked with us to defeat Redbridge but then against us to lose at this stage. It’s all swings and roundabouts. Emerson Eagles played well throughout the course of the evening, and in particular, I think their male players really excelled. It’s always nice to have that mix of ladies and mixed games all muddled together in one evening, so that was fun, and I was just glad to take away one win from the evening. So, unfortunately we are not through to the final, but all is not over yet. We still have one mixed match remaining, also coincidentally against Emerson Eagles 3, so it’s all to play for there. Ladies pairs A also have one match remaining, but instead of battling for top spot, we are fighting to stay in Division One, which we desperately want. For up to date league tables, please check out the league website for more information.